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A Playoff Game To Set the Standard For All Others

A Daily Babble Production

Can you top this?

That's the question the San Antonio Spurs and Phoenix Suns left to the other 14 teams in the NBA playoffs after they spent nearly three hours posing it back and forth to each other on Saturday afternoon in San Antonio.

Regulation wasn't enough.  Neither was overtime.  And it took four minutes and 58.2 seconds of the second overtime to even begin to establish any definitiveness regarding the game's ultimate outcome.

When it was all over, the Spurs and Suns had set the definitive benchmark for the 2008 playoffs -- and quite possibly played the best playoff game of the last decade.

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Possibly the best playoff game of the decade.  As in maybe.  Or maybe not.

And at least for today, we're not going to try to find out.

Earlier in the day, it seemed that perhaps I wanted to do just that.  I had the obligatory discussion with not one, not two but three of my closest friends (on three separate occasions) regarding where this game ranked over that span.  But for now, it doesn't matter.

It doesn't matter if we can figure out whether or not this game was more worthy of the 'best game' distinction than Game 7 of Mavs-Spurs in 2006, when Tim Duncan went for 41 points and 15 boards but was slowed down in the overtime that turned out to be the finest hour of DeSagana Diop's career.  Or if it beat Game 4 of Suns-Lakers that same year, when the Lakers came back to tie it in regulation, forced Steve Nash into a jump ball call with time winding down in overtime and won on a Kobe Bryant jumper at the buzzer with Mike Breen giving us one of his best "Bang!" calls of all time.  Or one of my personal favorites, Game 5 of the 2005 Finals, when Robert Horry put everyone to shame with his unbelievable fourth quarter and overtime, including the game-winning trey.  How about Horry's three for the Lakers in Game 4 against the Kings in 2002?  Larry Johnson's four-point play for the Knicks against Indiana in 1999?  The 2002 Celtics fourth-quarter comeback for all time against the Nets?  LeBron's "I Am God" Game 5 against the Pistons just a year ago?

The list goes on.  We've got a lot of great playoff memories from this last decade alone, each one for its own special set of circumstances.  Trying to compare them all is something toughest to do immediately after a new one has been forged.   Some day in the future, perhaps we'll be able to sit down and hash this all out, figuring out the best playoff games of the decade, perhaps of all time, in some sort of order.  But what matters right now is that this game joined the pantheon with all those others, and it seems only fitting to simply take a few minutes to absorb and appreciate what we had the privilege of seeing less than 24 hours ago, of what made this one special.

We saw four, count 'em, four absolutely huge shots in the final seconds of regulation or overtime, three of which came from beyond the arc: Michael Finley's three to tie it at 93 with 15 seconds to play in regulation, Tim Duncan's three at the end of the first overtime, Nash's three with fifteen seconds to play in the second overtime, and Manu Ginobili's winning lay-up with inside of two seconds to play.

We saw in Finley a guy who started his day 1-for-5 from behind the arc and had the confidence to bang two tying treys in the final quarter, the first to even it up at 84 apiece prior to the Spurs taking their first lead and the second to tie the game in the waning moments of regulation.

We saw in Nash the wherewithal to take and make one of the highest degree-of-difficulty last-second shots that has been witnessed in quite some time.  Sure, he got away with a disgraceful walk on the play, but hey, welcome to the NBA.  It happens.  The shot was still incredible.

We saw in Manu the determination to do whatever it took down the stretch of this game.  He only got stronger as the game went on, abusing Suns galore on his way to the basket time after time, including for the game-winning lefty lay-in.

We saw the man likely to one day retire as the greatest power forward of all time add one more feather to his cap: His fourth career 40-point, 15-rebound playoff game and a shot that went way beyond improbable.  And what makes Tim Duncan all the more lovable was his comment on how he felt taking three-pointer that sent this game into another stratosphere: "I just threw it up there and hoped for the best."

We saw a play that looked like it simply had to be designed in the Ginobili-Duncan set that led to the Big Fundamental's bomb.  Which means that Gregg Popovich has gigantic cojones.  We're talking Sam Cassell territory here.

We saw three members of this allegedly too-old Spurs team play more than the 48 minutes regulation affords (Duncan, Finley, Parker).  Raja Bell did it for the Suns, and Amare Stoudemire and Manu Ginobili both went for 45 minutes each as well.

We saw one team make a 16-point comeback on its home floor and drain not one but two big-time shots to tie the game.

We saw one team blow that same 16-point lead. 

We saw deflation.  The mental edge that the Spurs have to hold over this Suns team that it has owned for so long must be enormous.  Blown double-digit lead.  Dagger three in regulation.  Dagger three in overtime.  Bucket at the gun to lose it.  Wow.

But we also saw resilience.  For all the Suns' historic troubles against the Spurs, giving up the lead in regulation should have done them in.  But they fought back in overtime, and they forced the Spurs right down to the horn in the second one.  No matter how hard it gets hit, this team isn't going down without a fight. 

We saw passion.  It will be hard to forget ABC's shot of a fouled-out Amare Stoudemire with his hands in his hands on the bench, unable to bear watching without being able to help his 'mates on the floor.  All he did was go for 33 points and 7 boards on 13-for-26 shooting when he was involved.  Even more ingrained in memory is the cut to Tim Duncan being interviewed on the floor after the game, looking more drained than ever, with beads of sweat simply flying down his face.

We saw emotion.  After his unexpected three, the usually stoic Duncan let loose with a fist pump unlike anything witnessed from him before.  It was the beginning of the end from the Suns.

On Saturday in San Antonio, we saw basketball.  And it was beautiful.

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