58 Minutes of Hell and 44 seconds of Manu
SAN ANTONIO — Manu Ginobili has made a career out of being the reason for your gray hair. But Gregg Popovich — whose hair can hardly get any whiter — was beyond justifying the hate with love in the relationship between the player and coach. He was ready to ship him out of town.
In an epic sequence that was a microcosm of his Hall-of-Fame career, Ginobili jacked up a significantly less-than-ideal 3-point attempt that clanged off the rim with 44 ticks left and the Spurs up three, opening the door and allowing the Warriors to reel off four lead-changing points in the span of about 40 seconds. But just as Manu (16 points, 11 assists) was about to descend into depths of unenviable notoriety, he reminded his detractors of the type of magic spells he’s capable of casting.
Ginobili — an intended decoy in a last-ditch effort to rescue one of the wildest games in NBA history — found himself inexplicably wide open, and just as he’s done so many times before, calmly sank a huge shot to secure what would eventually become a 129-127 double-overtime victory and a 1-0 lead in the Western Conference Semifinals.
“I went from trading him on the spot to wanting to cook him breakfast tomorrow,” Pop said at the podium. “That’s the truth.”
It’s a sentiment shared by anyone who was wearing black and silver colors on Monday night. As low as Manu’s lows can be, his highs are explosive. And it took a special type of explosiveness to overcome the freak show that was Stephen Curry’s third-quarter performance. From a ballistic assault that seemed to have no end in sight, to gut-wrenching and show-stopping Manu moments seconds apart, it’s the extremes that turn games into classics like the one we just witnessed. And fittingly enough, it was Ginobili who left his indelible mark on the final score. Just like the marks he continues to leave on his coach.
“(Pop) has faces that mean a lot, and I already knew when I shot that one from the top of the key — I kind of turned from the side of my eye and saw his body language,” Ginobili said. “He was right. It was a terrible shot in a key moment, so it really helped me that I made that last shot because it would’ve been a tough night.”
At that point in a double-overtime game that had already featured an almost miraculous comeback, both teams were trying for the knockout punch. The one that would slam the proverbial nail in a coffin that was nearly impossible to close for good.
“I know I took a really bad shot. I had no chance whatsoever to make it to the basket, to penetrate,” Manu said. “I was very tired and [Jarrett] Jack gave me a couple of feet.
“I thought I could make it.”
He didn’t. But it didn’t matter. It’s because of that mentality that made his last shot possible, and his defense on Jack on the game’s final play punctuated the end of one of the craziest stories in Spurs history. It was a bad overall game for Manu, whose 16 points came on 5-for-20 shooting. But that’s all forgotten now.
“The last play wasn’t for me, they just left me open,” Ginobili said. “When I caught it, I saw [Kent] Bazemore flying, so I just gave it a lot of air and it went in.”
But thousands of Spurs fans who were once in the arena on Monday night didn’t get to see it fly. The AT&T Center went from a packed house to start the evening to something that resembled a scene from the Spurs-Pistons game in early March by late fourth quarter. It’s a shame, because what transpired last night beat the hell out of beating traffic.
The Spurs may have just taken the Warriors’ best shot and survived it. Even with Curry’s 44 points and 11 assists, even facing a 1 in 200 chance of winning, down 16 with four minutes remaining, San Antonio took about 45 minutes to overcome an eight-day layoff and snatch away what seemed to rightfully belong to the Warriors.
Just like the droves of ticket-holders that filled the exits in last night’s fourth quarter, the Warriors didn’t see Manu’s shot coming. And based on his career accomplishments, it’s difficult to be sure of why.