Over the course of an 82-game NBA regular season, most games are pretty good. Sure, some are duds. But I like the run-of-the-mill game in the middle of the season. My standard post-game notebook is built for their incidental pleasures and random occurrences. For the match-ups and great plays and the glimpses of young players developing and colorful bits of in-arena action and other items not necessarily crucial to the course of a season.
But some games overwhelm all that. Some games you don't even want to write about. You just want to wave your arms and point. Or turn into Chris Farley. Do you remember that Rudy Gay dunk? That was awesome. That Tony Parker three at the end of regulation? Oh man. What, you missed it? Your loss pal.
For three quarters and change, this was already at a playoff intensity. But it was controlled enough to savor the usual details.
There was Tony Allen, on his birthday, with his gas turned up. Moving with purpose and rare efficiency on both ends. Getting steals, getting in transition, quick to loose balls.
There was the great moment late in the first half where Allen came in for a defensive possession, immediately forced a turnover, gave his trademark “first down” signal, then went and sat back down. All in the game.
There was Marc Gasol and Tim Duncan, going at each other in a match-up of tough, skilled big men that feels like my own personal basketball heaven. Gasol blocked Duncan at the rim twice in one possession. He hit Duncan's trademark bank shot over the master himself. He faced up on Duncan, drove right, spun left, and kissed the ball off glass yet again. And Duncan gave as good as he got.
There was the Spurs in transition, always finding their shooters, who were always finding their spots.
There was Tony Parker in the pick-and-roll: Getting Zach Randolph on a switch, getting around him, and finding Randolph's man, Tiago Splitter, for a baseline layup. Surgery.
There was the epic, sad-trombone miscommunication at the end of the third quarter when, down 71-68, Jerryd Bayless and Rudy Gay managed to botch a two-on-none fastbreak and give their coach a near coronary on the sideline.
There was the standard “basketball is a game of runs,” with the Grizzlies building a 12-point lead in the third quarter, only to watch their offense go flat and the Spurs to go on a 31-12 run over a 12 minute stretch to take a seven-point lead of their own in the final quarter.
From there, it could have gone either way. The Spurs could pull away and the drama could dwindle. Or the Grizzlies could rally and we could get a big finish. Energy was there, but nothing would fall: Mike Conley got a steal but Allen missed a short jumper on the break. The Grizzlies get the loose ball and Darrell Arthur misses a dunk. The Grizzlies force a turnover and a Rudy Gay jumper spins around the rim and pops out.
Finally a shot falls — Gay from long-range — and from there on we got what could have been Game 7 from that series two years ago.
Stephen Jackson falls or flops and Arthur hits a soft baseline jumper to tie. Randolph faces up Duncan and darts past him to float one in. Parker spins in the lane and hits a teardrop. Gay looks to Lionel Hollins for instruction on an in-bounds and loses Kawhi Leonard just long enough for Leonard to slip to the rim for a lay-up. Spurs by four. Three minutes left.
Then the Spurs got up. Gay helped, missing two free throws. But it still took two Spurs three-pointers in the final five seconds — the last from Parker, at the buzzer, streaking all the way down court with 3.5 seconds to go, Gay running with him but no-one fouling or even really pressuring in a bad defensive lapse — to send the game to an overtime that didn't seem possible just seconds before.
It was like a great Bruce Springsteen concert, with overtime as encore.
Parker corner three. Randolph willing one in. Duncan blocking Gasol. A missed goal-tend call on a clean Gay block that was overturned but a penalty anyway, with a jump ball at center court.
Hollins tried to bring Gasol back off the bench for the jump, but it wasn't allowed, which was maybe fortunate. Forced to jump against Duncan, Arthur — the Man of the Match, for the record — won it and Gay got redemption, pulling up from 14-feet for the go-ahead bucket. Final punctuation couldn't have been more appropriate: Allen racing down a loose ball and sending it ahead to Arthur for an exclamation dunk. The best basketball game played in FedExForum this season.
Season series now even. The Grizzlies, on a four-game winning streak, now only 1.5 games back of the Spurs. And they'll do it again next Wednesday in San Antonio.