A wary Lorenzen Wright sizes up the formidable Tim Duncan.
Photo by Larry Kuzniewski
When 19,351 hoopheads showed up for a Pyramid party Sunday night, the aim was humble: prolong the inevitable. With their beloved Memphis Grizzlies battling the talent-laden (and world champion) San Antonio Spurs in Game 4 of their best-of-seven first-round series, local fans were simply hoping for a little more of the best professional basketball team ever seen around these parts.
Had Mike Millers desperation buzzer-beater in Game 3 been, oh, two inches shorter, Game 4 would have included an element of pressure on the modern-day Goliath we know as Tim Duncan. The lone certifiable superstar in this matchup, San Antonios Duncan had the luxury Sunday of knowing he was merely one win (in four chances) from the second round.
The game went according to the home crowds script for, oh, three minutes. When Grizzly forward James Posey slammed home a breakaway dunk for a 10-4 lead, the arena volume raised legitimate concerns about paint peeling from the collection of Renaissance art housed elsewhere in the building as part of the latest Wonders exhibition. (The only time Ive heard the Pointy Building louder was a night when Paul Stanley of KISS was behind a microphone.) The five Elvis dunking acrobats were shaking, Growl Towels were mussing hairdos from court side to the cheap seats, and there was plenty of leg room . . . as every fan was standing. And later in the first quarter, when the p.a. announcer described a foul on number 21, Tim Duncan, all appeared possible.
But wait. A referee marched to the press table upon the previous announcement, which was amended: Foul on number 12, Bruce Bowen. Such was the night for the home team.
As blow-the-lid vibrant as the atmosphere was in this finale to professional basketball in The Pyramid -- the bunting! the homemade signs from local high schools! -- its sad to reflect on the most unified, intense crowd chant of the evening: We want new refs! This came midway through the third quarter, the Spurs having enjoyed a double-digit lead for most of the game as the mighty Duncan, alas, avoided foul trouble. San Antonio would end up shooting 34 free throws to the Grizzlies 23, but foul shooting was merely a footnote to this mismatch. This was a night for the birthday boy (Duncan turned 28) to shine . . . so to speak.
Certainly the most off-base jab from the crowd came as Duncan walked to his bench after mildly protesting a foul call in the second quarter. Someone bring Duncan a pacifier! Go play in your playpen, Tim! No, Tim Duncan is the Mans Man of todays NBA. Just named to his seventh consecutive All-NBA team, Duncan was at his best Sunday night. Playing like the quiet, efficient machine hes become, he scored 26 points by dropping 10 of 18 shots from the field and all six free throws he attempted. And he did so in a manner about as spectacular as the colors his Spurs wear: short jumpers, second-chance dunks, off-the-glass setshots. No fist-pumping, no finger pointing, no smiles.
With David Robinson enjoying his gold-watch years, point guard Tony Parker has seized the role of Redford to Duncans Newman. The third-year playmaker from France led all scorers with 29 (he was four of five from three-point land) and added 13 assists, many of them deliveries to the two-time MVP patiently waiting for the ball on the low blocks.
Considering their win total (50) and their popular-as-the-King-himself leader (Coach of the Year Hubie Brown), the NBA fates were cruel in leaving Memphis up against the defending champs for their first foray into the postseason. The Griz played a solid 48 minutes by normal standards (48 percent from the field, 20 points from Posey, 22 from Pau Gasol). But against the hottest team in the game -- the Spurs have now won 15 straight -- it was mere distraction.
Say it! See it! Believe it! So said the mantra for this first two-game introduction to postseason basketball in Memphis. Fans left The Pyramid after Game 4 with those six words emphatically describing the chances of a San Antonio Spurs championship repeat.