San Antonio Spurs 92, Charlotte Bobcats 82: Manu Ginobili is a Spur, wizard

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How do you ask someone truly brilliant in what they do, without coming off like a dumbass, when you know that there’s no real way to explain it? When someone very clearly has a gift or a knack for something spontaneous, is there a way to get them to break it down, verbally, in the right amount of time for a sound bite? And if so, what’s that question?

I fought with that in the locker room after the San Antonio Spurs took down the Charlotte Bobcats 92-82 on Friday night. Struggling for much of the night, Manu Ginobili turned it on in the third quarter, scoring eight points on 3-for-5 shooting, including two 3-pointers.

The spurt helped the Spurs turn a 45-41 halftime deficit into a 66-65 advantage going into the fourth quarter. With just over two minutes left and the game knotted at 80, Kemba Walker drove to the hoop with intentions of breaking the deadlock. Drawing from that reserve that Ginobili seems to have that many others in the NBA don’t, Manu rotated over from the weak side and blocked Walker’s shot attempt at the rim.

Obviously not known for being a shot blocker, it was surprising. One of those plays where someone goes above and beyond what is asked of them.

It wasn’t quite as glamorous or as difficult as when he swatted a Kevin Durant dunk attempt years ago, but this block materialized about as suddenly.

The Spurs were unable to score on the other end, but the following defensive possession again featured Ginobili, as he fought for position when Al Jefferson slid across the lane in an attempt to gain post position. Ginobili drew contact and went down, awarded with a charge call from the officials, one Charlotte coach Steve Clifford didn’t agree with.

“You’re against an elite team, tied at 82 on the road, we did everything up until that point you have to do to win. And then you get one tough play on a call that has to be made on a flop, and they have to call it,” Clifford said. (NOTE: The game was actually tied at 80 still.)

Following that defensive stop, the Spurs took the lead on a jumper near the elbow from Tim Duncan, who was freed up with a pin-down screen. The Spurs reeled off eight straight points in the final three minutes to put breathing space between themselves and the Bobcats for the first time all evening.

Which led to me standing there, trying to think of some way to ask Ginobili how he managed to rotate over and block that shot at a crucial juncture in the game. But instead I stared at the floor as the interview passed by and I tried to formulate a decent inquiry.

The Spurs weren’t always in the game. They’re developing a nasty habit of starting slow. It’s one that isn’t a big deal right now, in the regular season, but could bite them in the ass come playoff time.

Luckily for all in camouflage on Friday night, San Antonio is excellent at the NBA’s great equalizer: the 3-pointer.

After falling behind by 14 in the second quarter, the Spurs chipped away behind 4-of-5 shooting from 3-point range over the last eight minutes of the first half. They also had just four turnovers, which sounds like a lot for eight minutes, but trust me, it wasn’t. San Antonio finished with 19 giveaways on the evening, 12 of them in the first half.

The Spurs finally took the lead in the third quarter when Manu Ginobili drained a trey to give San Antonio a 51-49 advantage. The Bobcats boasted the sixth-best defensive efficiency coming into the game and this contest felt like it was straight out of the ’90s. I’m so happy that both teams broke 80 points, I can’t begin to tell you.

The Spurs then picked up a couple of old-fashioned three-point plays from Tim Duncan and Patty Mills to build a 57-53 advantage. The biggest shot at that point of the night came with 2:19 left in the third quarter. Duncan grabbed the defensive rebound and fired an outlet to Boris Diaw at midcourt. Diaw passed the ball ahead to Mills, who drove baseline and found Marco Belinelli on the right wing. Belinelli hesitated a beat to draw the on-coming defender and kicked to Ginobili in the corner for an open 3. The new-school 3 gave the Spurs a 64-57 lead and forced a Bobcats timeout.

Charlotte fought their way back to an even game (how else do you get to an 80-all tie, right?), which set up Ginobili’s defensive playmaking. And with the Spurs leading 82-80, Belinelli drained a 3 to give San Antonio an 85-80 advantage. Following another defensive stop, Ginobili drove on the right wing and hit his defender with a hesitation dribble—attacking, stopping and attacking again—to free himself for a floater off the glass, drawing the foul. At 88-80 with 47 seconds left, it was all but over.

Sometimes life is more fun when you can’t explain it. There’s something there, you know it, but words can’t do it justice. There’s something that Ginobili reacted to on that play which led to him rotating over and meeting Kemba Walker’s shot at its highest point for the block. What was it? How do you explain it? I don’t know, but sometimes the mystery is all the more satisfying.

  • spurs10

    Yes, it must be hard to ask a question about something that is second nature to a player. Manu is a competitor and never stops. Good call about both those defensive plays being pivotal. Often times things of beauty are hard to describe. They just are…. Great write-up.

  • Ali

    YO @Andrew, I thought Kwahi has more impact on the game than Manu. Maybe you should notify Pop, because he played Manu over Kwahi down the stretch. You know more than Pop right?

  • http://48minutesofhell.com Andrew A. McNeill

    Yes, I have a blog, so clearly I know more about basketball than Pop.

  • LukeDawg

    Ginobili always finishes games, so really it’s more like Pop chose to play Patty or Belinelli over Kawhi. That being said, I do always find it a bit odd when an organization that prides itself so much on the “building process”, rather than game by game result, benches its up and coming young star in crunch-time situations. Don’t get me wrong, Pop pulled all the right strings in this one, and made excellent personnel decisions the entire way to give the spurs the best chance to win this relatively trivial March game. But what if Kawhi missed out on a valuable teaching moment or crunch-time experience that would have helped him and this team be more confident and successful when it matters most. Maybe its not a big deal, but when you are so close to a championship, these are the kind of details you obsess over that might be the difference in the Spurs making one more perfect defensive rotation or securing one extra rebound in June.

  • I need more cowbell

    Manu is a progress stopper!

  • I need more cowbell

    Manu is alright. Occasionally great. But he’s getting old. Kawhi right now is better than him.

  • Ali

    Remember how Pop benched Parker in his early stages? Where is Parker now? Remember how he used to bench George Hill? Trust in Pop he knows what he is doing. Plus Bobcats have no one for Kwahi to defend.

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  • LukeDawg

    Well dang you for making me go here, but unfortunately all I remember is the more recent history when Pop benched defensive cornerstone Tim Duncan, up 5 in the final 20 seconds of regulation in game 6 of the NBA finals, a move that probably cost the spurs a couple of crucial rebounds and most likely a championship. If that’s not enough, I also remember in overtime of that same game, when Pop Inexplicably had his offensive cornerstone Tony Parker sitting beside him on the bench for the most important offensive possession of the season, with the spurs down one and only ten seconds remaining. He instead he elected to have Manu handle the ball, resulting in his 8th (!!!!) turnover of the game. Look, I think Pop is one of the greatest ever and for the most part I do trust Pop, he knows a heck of a lot more than me. But to assume he is infallible and that every move he makes is divinely inspired is obviously pretty silly. At some point every coach gets too cute and falls victim to over-coaching, Pop included. I’m hoping we can all just agree that you keep your best players on the floor for the most important plays of the season and move on. Now I’m in a bad mood.