Twilight was approaching for the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday.
They trailed the Houston Rockets and were without their franchise player, Kawhi Leonard, who suffered an ankle injury in the second half of a pivotal Game 5.
This, on top of Tony Parker's absence, seemed to doom Gregg Popovich's crew. They were without an experienced play maker — forced to rely on LaMarcus Aldridge, of all people.
Then Manu Ginobili reminded everyone he's not done yet.
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By now, you've seen the play a thousand times and from every angle. Knowing James Harden needed to take a 3-pointer with the clock ticking toward all-zeroes, Ginobili leaped first, meeting the MVP candidate at the apex of his shot for one of the biggest blocks of this NBA season.
Regardless of how the 2017 playoffs shake out for the Spurs, that play will go on an endless loop in Ginobili's career highlights — and it wasn't just his defense that carried the day in Game 5, given that San Antonio led 110-107 when he came away with that rejection.
Every time the Rockets threatened to pull away, Ginobili kept the Spurs in the game with a big play, including a momentum-shifting dunk, because age is apparently an illusion. He had just 12 points but added seven rebounds, five assists, and most importantly, didn't commit a turnover.
Truly, Ginobili saved San Antonio's season on Tuesday night, silencing anyone who questioned why the future Hall of Famer came back for another year.
Unfortunately, all Ginobili did in Game 5 was delay the inevitable.
This Rockets-Spurs series has perfectly illustrated San Antonio's shortcomings in a potential Western Conference finals series against the Golden State Warriors. It's not that the Spurs lack athleticism, although that will be a problem against the team that went to back-to-back NBA Finals.
And it's not that the Spurs are doomed from behind the arc. San Antonio can chuck with the best of them. If they take care of business against Houston (no sure thing, to be sure) and keep the pace slow against Golden State, the Spurs might be able to hang around.
The problem continues to be LaMarcus Aldridge. Outside of a spectacular Game 3 performance, the Spurs big man is borderline unplayable against precise offensive teams that move the ball and look for the best shot.
He's the reason San Antonio keeps switching all of its pick-and-rolls, instead of fighting through screens and having Kawhi guard Harden one-on-one. Aldridge simply doesn't have the ability to jump out, corral the ball-handler, and recover to his man in time. He never has.
So the Spurs have made a conscious decision to switch everything, keeping shooters in front of them and goading Harden into trying to beat Aldridge off the dribble in isolation. It's probably the right play, assuming Leonard doesn't have the energy to carry San Antonio on offense and wreak complete havoc on every defensive possession.
Against the Warriors, though, that's not going to work.
Golden State will exploit Aldridge on both ends of the court, with or without Steve Kerr drawing up the schemes. In fact, Stephen Curry & Co. have to be salivating over the prospect of playing San Antonio and not Houston.
The Rockets can put the fear of God into the Warriors with their 3-point-heavy approach. They'll let fly from deep and let variance sort out the rest.
The Spurs, though, they want to play real basketball — and they're just outmached against your betting favorites to win the 2017 NBA title. No amount of heroics from Ginobili, Leonard, Patty Mills or even Aldridge will see San Antonio through to the Finals.
Moreover, a team that struggles in the slightest to defend pick-and-roll ball-handlers is in a world of pain against Golden State. Aldridge, for all his skill, would be a liability in the next round.
And if Leonard is at all hobbled by his ankle injury headed into the next round? Forget about it. Warriors in 3 — if not Rockets in 7.
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Yet Ginobili's Game 5 performance is still worth celebrating, as it reflects the complexity of sports.
We know only one team can win the championship in a given season. By that measure, every other franchise suffers abject failure.
But being a sports fan is so much more than the glory of a ring. It's riding the highs of a single game's outcome and the lows of an 82-game campaign. It's embracing the team concept and what it means for what we can do when we strive together. It's the camaraderie that comes with the tribalism — us against the world, even if we've never met before.
And it's enjoying the company of an old friend who can still summon up his familiar tricks when he must.
The Spurs lived to fight another day on Tuesday, even with the specter of annihilation looming ever closer.