The fact that Game 4 of the Spurs’ first-round playoff series against the Memphis Grizzlies will go down as an instant playoff classic, clearly the most dramatic game of this NBA post-season, won’t mean much to Spurs fans disappointed by the outcome: a 110-108 overtime loss at FedEx Forum.
To Gregg Popovich, it was something to be savored by anyone who appreciates great basketball, win or lose.
“It was a great game by both teams,” Popovich said in an interview televised by NBA-TV. “Played their hearts out. Just a fantastic basketball game. The fans got their money’s worth tonight, that’s for sure.”
The Spurs lost despite one of the greatest playoff games in franchise history, 43 points, eight rebounds, and a playoff career high six steals from Kawhi Leonard, whose seventh 3-point basket tied the game at 108-all with 7.2 seconds left in overtime.
It was the third-most points in a playoff game by a Spur, the most since George Gervin scored 44 in 1980. Leonard became the sixth Spur to score 40 or more in a playoff game, joining Gervin, David Robinson, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and LaMarcus Aldridge.
The 7.2 seconds that remained in overtime after Leonard’s last basket turned out to be just enough time for the Grizzlies to get a game-winning basket from All-NBA center Marc Gasol, a 12-foot floater over the outstretched arm of LaMarcus Aldridge, with only 7-tenths of a second remaining.
“The effort from both teams was marvelous and we got down a couple times but stuck with the program,” Popovich said. “People kept on playing, which is always a great thing to see.
“Usually, when it comes down the stretch it comes down to making shots. Kawhi hit a great shot on our last play, then Marc made a big shot on their last play. It happens over and over in the playoffs. At the end, Marc hit a great shot. LaMarcus contested it very, very well, and it went down.”
Out of time outs, the Spurs needed a miracle shot to win. Danny Green’s heave from 59 feet wasn’t close.
It was what Leonard did in the final 4:06 of the fourth quarter that elevated Game 4 to classic status. After the Spurs missed nine of their first 10 shots in the quarter and fell behind, 88-80, Leonard scored 16 points, willing his team back in the game and running his point total to 35.
Proving he was human, he missed a 20-footer at the regulation buzzer, forcing the game to overtime.
“All season long he’s been aggressive, very confident, an MVP candidate,” said veteran teammate, point guard Tony Parker, who scored 22 points. “We’re going to need him to keep playing like that. Then, go home and play a little bit smarter and play even better. It’s a must-win situation for us.”
It won’t truly be a must-win situation for either team until one of them has lost three games, but Parker understands how much more difficult it is for any team to win in Memphis’ home arena, where the Spurs are now 0-4 this season.
The Spurs’ best chance to avoid the gravity of Game 5 was snuffed out by a great defensive play by Memphis rookie guard Andrew Harrison. Parker had gotten a steal with 1:41 remaining in overtime, the Spurs with a 102-100 lead after a driving layup by Leonard. Parker threw a long pass downcourt to Patty Mills, a full stride ahead of Grizzlies defender Andrew Harrison. Harrison, a 6-foot-6 rookie from Kentucky, swatted Mills’ shot just before it hit the backboard, a couple of inches from a goal tend.
James Ennis’ long rebound of the blocked shot was passed ahead to Marc Gasol, who scored a driving layup that became a 3-point play after a foul by Spurs forward David Lee.
Instead of a 104-100 lead, the Spurs were in a 103-102 deficit with 1:31 left.
Grizzlies head coach David Fizdale compared it to the game-saving run-down block by Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James on Golden State’s Andre Igoudala in Game 7 of last season’s NBA Finals.
“Something we teach is how do you save a possession,” Fizdale said. “This one, the track down was unbelievable. That was just an incredible play by a rookie player.”