“GINOBILI!”

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For a season that started with such promise, Spurs fans sure have been left clamoring for some positive news following some of the unfortunate, potentially disheartening and even depressing stories that have been written this season. Even the Rodeo Road Trip, the mythical cure for all that ails the Spurs, ended with disappointing losses at Philadelphia and Detroit.

Though the Spurs have sputtered to a 5-5 record in their past 10 games, over that time the Spurs may have received the greatest news of the season. Manu Ginobili is back. And the Spurs may have a puncher’s chance after all.

Stop by the Express-News website and read his own words for yourself:

“I feel great, and I bet you can tell,” Ginobili said after submitting Exhibits A through Z in a Wednesday night victory against the Thunder. The performance gave every Spur aboard the short flight to Houston reason to believe a late-season surge is possible.

Ginobili has been an effective player all season, reinventing himself as a playmaker extraordinaire, or the intangibles of Jason Kidd recast as a shooting guard. There have been the occasional scoring bursts and reminders of what Ginobili once was, but give any of those early games a closer look and you will only find mirages.

When the Spurs lost their playoff series to the Lakers a few years ago, a hobbled Ginobili offered false hope for Spurs fans when he exploded for 30 points and was apparently back in the Spurs lone win of that series. But it was a hoax. That entire night was exciting to be sure, but Ginobili’s points were more the result of a ridiculous shooting night than his trademark “el contusion” forays to the rim.

Likewise, his early scoring exploits this season have been hoaxes, contingent on him catching fire from the outside to mask dwindled athletic ability. When his shot was on, he’s still been crafty enough to create space for his jumper, like when he scored his season-high 36 points by shooting 6-for-8 from the three-point line. But otherwise he’s struggled.

Listed below are all the games in which Ginobili scored 15 or more points through January and his three-point percentage for those games, all higher than his season norms.

Opponent Points 3-Pointers
NOR 16 2-5
POR 17 2-7
TOR 36 6-8
SAC 20 2-2
CHA 22 4-5
LAC 17 4-6
NYK 17 2-6
MIA 18 0-3
DET 16 2-6
NJN 21 1-3
UTH 22 1-4
Average 20 47%

The Manu Ginobili we’ve seen since February has been no fluke. For the month he’s averaged 19.4 points per game in 30 minutes, quietly reestablishing himself as one of the elite per minute guards in the league. More impressive has been the way he’s been scoring, getting to the rim regardless of the defense or an inconsistent three-point shot.

“Before, I was feeling every time I was penetrating I was going to get blocked,” he said. “Now I feel I can go over somebody or around somebody.”

Wednesday night was the epitome of how Ginobili can push the Spurs over the top. It was pure, vintage Ginobili. Fearlessly attacking the rim and finishing, drawing fouls and generally wreaking havoc on what has been a pretty good Thunder defense this season. He may have struggled again from the three-point line (1-for-4), but even his lone make was in the most clutch of moments.

And that defense. In Tim’s discussions with Wayne Winston we can see an apparent decline in Ginobili’s defense after being one of the best in the NBA in past seasons. But against the Thunder, Ginobili was everywhere. Just ask Kevin Durant.

Ginobili healthy is the ultimate x-factor. As I’ve written before, he is the lone Spurs player to work outside its system. The artistry and impulsiveness makes the Spurs unpredictable and really holds everything else together. Consider what he brings to the defense.

Over the past several games Ginobili has been more important than a high scoring superstar. He’s been, for lack of a better word, a pest. Defensively he’s been relentless; seemingly in every passing lane or contesting every drive while never truly leaving his man. I’m not sure if his new teammates have finally adjusted to his tendencies–I recall a few rotations overreacting to his gambles early in the season–or if he has simply been feeling better but think of the implications of that previous sentence.

If you have to account for a player at all times, every pass, every spin move, even every outlet pass is slowed a fraction of a second while an offensive player checks for a lurking Ginobili (and with the way he has played the past few weeks, you’re really going to want to check for a lurking Ginobili).

That little bit of extra bit of hesitation is often the difference between an uncontested shot and a turnover in the NBA. The renewed aggressiveness on the boards by Manu also leads to quicker transition opportunities. Both lead to easy baskets and a running game that extends beyond the one-man fast break that has been Tony Parker.

The Spurs certainly aren’t going to be favored heading into the playoffs, assuming they get there. But should this Manu Ginobili hold up they’ll have something they’ve lacked in their last two playoff exits, a second player who refuses to let his team lose and has the ability to impose his will.

“Thank goodness for that guy,” McDyess said. “I’ve never played with anybody who wanted to win more than he does”

And for the time being, he’s back.

  • Cory Clay

    Great read!
    The Spurs will only go as far as Manu will take them and I am starting to get excited with his performance in recent weeks!

    We are a completely different team w/Manu at the top of his game.
    The Laker series in 08 is a great example and another one is our playoff series in 05 vs the Pistons. The Spurs easily won the first two games and then if memory serves me, close to the end of the 2nd game Manu suffered a thigh contusion and was never the same during the series. So a Finals that looked like we might win in 5 or at most 6 games ended up going to a game 7 that Manu ended up taking over in the 4th quarter.

    For the reasons mentioned above the Spurs heirarchy goes as follows:
    1A-Tim Duncan
    1B- Manu Ginobili
    Tie for 3- Tony Parker and Coach Pop

    So basically all I have to say is Go Manu Go!

  • Martin

    It’s unbelievable, but now everybody is on the Manu for President bandwagon. A week ago many people was claiming his head in order to get what…Tyrus Thomas?? are you kidding me?

    Imagine that happened and then Manu came back with a vengeance.

  • http://www.aegisediting.com SpursOK

    I’d keep Manu’s aging intangibles over Parker’s any day!

  • idahospur

    When Manu can be the leading scorer, for the Spurs, in any game, this team wins. The Spurs no longer strike fear in the hearts of the Western Conference, mainly because of injuries and lack of defensive dominance. If Manu is Manu of 3 years ago, this team can win. We need to be healthy for the rest of the year and just win!

  • Gary

    With Tim, things run smooth and steady…
    With Tony, you can get a 10 point speed burst…

    With Manu, you can get them an offensive foul + three 3pointers in the final minute :D

  • VP of Common Sense

    Teams may not fear the Spurs as a whole anymore, but there will always be a fear of Manu Ginobili.

    El Contusion, which is Spanish for… The Contusion!

    Ginobiiiilllllliiiii!

  • http://www.nba.com fatsocalifornia

    Please Frontoffice Spurs ship Richard Jefferson for Raja Bell with Manu’s feeling it right now, and Tim playing well do not lose apportunity – get Championship, NOW. Tomorrow never comes.

    I love you Manu, Spurs is my team just for you – Love watch U Play.

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  • Hernan

    Manu is a great player and passion for (winning)the game is his fuel… he feels that passion more than ever when wearing the argentine jersey… If you love him and the way he plays, then you should not complain if he decides to go to the World Cup in Turkey later this year.

    He is a winner, he was born to compete (and to win). You can not expect him to sit down and watch his former teammates on TV… I hope he finds a way to play the world cup without being away from his kids (yet to be born).

    Vamos Manu !!! Tomes la decision que tomes estamos todos agradecidos por todo lo que nos diste en los ultimos años.

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