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WEDNESDAY WIRE

One Play Could Mark the Turning Point for San Antonio

Those of you who are married have probably found yourselves in a situation like this many times. You and your spouse are kicking back one afternoon and arrive at an impasse during a life-changing conversation about what color your 90 year old neighbor’s hair really is. As both of you scramble to track down the correct answer to one of life’s more pressing issues, the truth becomes painfully clear, you are wrong. This is the point in the conversation when you go take a long bathroom break and hope your spouse forgets about it. I don’t know how it works for you, but in my house victory is not simply a passing moment. Instead, it is marked on the calendar and celebrated by daily taunting. I am reminded by the sinking feeling I get every time we leave the house and my wife sees the dear old neighbor and politely shouts out, “Hi, what beautiful PINK hair you have!” A constant living memorial to the “ONE” time I was wrong. The Spurs have done that to me and many of their fans this year. Every time they step out on the court that sinking, disgusted feeling creeps back in and we are once again reminded of our new and humbling place in the NBA, middle of the pack and run of the mill. The only thing they have done well this season is not doing things well, and I have completely run out of creative ways to describe their mediocrity. A faint ray of hope now shines. If the Spurs somehow manage to scrounge out a playoff spot and make waves in the post season, we will trace the turning point to one person, making one play, just one week ago.

On February 24th the Spurs were locked in a fiercely contested battle. The young and upcoming Oklahoma City Thunder had something to prove when Kevin Durant took flight to deliver the knock-out blow against a battle tested, weary squad, trying with every ounce of failing energy to hold on to a win. Then the unexpected happened. Mustering all of his strength Manu Ginobili runs down a future NBA MVP and denies his rim-rocking, back-breaking, demoralizing jam. Once again, Manu had delivered the unthinkable, and changed the course of yet another important game. It is not just the block that is significant, it was the one time this season that I remember a San Antonio Spurs player not shutting down at the end of a game changing play. Manu said after the game that he expected to be on the wrong end of a Kevin Durant poster, but he attacked anyway. This is the Spurs of old, clawing together wins at whatever cost. When I saw Manu go up and get that ball, I took mental note. How the Spurs respond to this moment would make or break the rest of the season. They followed Manu’s heroics with a 14 to 31 point first quarter massacre at the hands of the Houston Rockets, and humiliation rained down once again. While the first quarter was forgettable, the Spurs’ bench led the team back. In surprising fashion, the second and third team players resisted the urge to quit, outscoring Houston’s starters 35 to 24 in the fourth quarter, eventually losing the game by only 5 points. On paper it is a loss, but for the Spurs it was a step in the right direction. The Spurs have ridden Manu’s energy shock wave to beat the Thunder, Suns, and Hornets. The improvements are subtle, but when you look closely, they are key signs that this sleeping giant finally has a pulse.

In the last four games the Spurs are showing signs of life. Rebounds are up and turnovers are down. We are putting up 4 more points per game, while scoring 6 more points in the paint, leading to more free throw attempts. Richard Jefferson has picked up key areas in his game including shooting nearly 50% from the field, scoring more points, and grabbing an average of 3 more rebounds. Manu is filling in other areas, nearly doubling his rebounding, while adding more assists and steals. George Hill is thriving in his new role as a starter averaging 39 minutes per game, shooting 54% from the field and a sizzling 57% from down town. He too has increased rebounding and adds 7 more points per game to the mix for San Antonio. After 58 games, we are beginning to see what this team is capable of.

The Spurs have been comatose; no hustle, no heart, and no pulse. Lying there on the table with no signs of life, the flat-line calls, signaling the end, is here. Dr. Ginobili scrambles to the ready, pulled out the defibrillator, and shocks us all. The numbing drone of the line is interrupted with one quiet beep. Then another, and another, everyone scrambles back to their positions, fighting for more life! Can they maintain the energy and focus? Will they be able to finish the task at hand? It is yet another turning point for the Spurs, if they let this one slip by, they will be fumbling away the last opportunity they have to regain any life this season. March 8th we travel to Cleveland to rumble with the King, we will find out there, how this story will end.

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