Manu Ginobili

In praise of the brilliant, baffling Manu Ginobili

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When I went to San Antonio to write this piece on Gregg Popovich (and, later, this piece on Tim Duncan) I was told, time and again, that the most popular San Antonio Spur in town, by far, is Manu Ginobili. At first, I found it a bit curious. I mean, Ginobili has been a terrific player, no question, but he’s certainly not Tim Duncan — who is the best, well, the best whatever-position-he-plays (big-power-center-forward-postman) in the history of professional basketball.

Manu is an amazing scorer and distributor and shooter, but he does not seem quite as much the force of nature that is Tony Parker, who is flashier and a bit less mercurial and speaks with a cool French accent and was married to Eva Longoria.

But, again and again, people said they loved Manu most of all … and watching him again these last few weeks I think I’ve figured out a reason why. I think there’s something about Manu Ginobili that is easy to recognize in ourselves. In the end,we might not connect with the consistent, almost numbing, every day brilliance of Tim Duncan, every move right out of a coach’s clinic, every game a perfect repeat of the one before. That kind of greatness may leave us wonderstruck but, like the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, it is hard to relate to.

MORE: Duncan, man of mystery … and fundamentals

And so it goes with Tony Parker’s blurring quickness — could we ever identify with a player who, at any point, can simply run around LeBron James? He’s so quick, so mind-blowingly quick, that sometimes he skips a video frame. He’s an optical illusion, and when watching him makes one of those moves you might involuntarily gasp, then pause for an instant to let the mind catch up, then explode in a croak that is half cheer, half disbelief. But, can you envision yourself — even with a few extra helpings of talent — making that move yourself?

Ginobili meanwhile — he’s utterly human. He makes preposterous blunders. He dishes no-look passes that blast the mind. He takes ludicrous shots. He makes some of them. He seemingly wins games singlehandedly. He seems to lose games all by himself too. At times, he seems like the gunner who shows up at the gym and takes every shot. At other times, he seems like the one guy on the floor who sees the game clearly, like he’s wearing Terminator goggles.

Obviously, you only have to look at the last two NBA Finals games to see the contrast. In Game 4 against Miami, Ginobili was a rare kind of abysmal. The numbers don’t quite quantify it — he shot 1-for-5, missed all three of his three-pointers, committed four fouls and one turnover. It’s not good, but it doesn’t tell the story. Maybe this does: Minus-22. That was how his team fared against Miami when he was on the floor. They were outscored by 22 points. There was something about Ginobili in Game 4 that seemed almost jinxed. He was like that guy Mayhem in the insurance commercials.

And Game 5? Well, you already know: Brilliant. Amazing. Spectacular. Ginobili started for the first time all season — seriously, Gregg Popovich should be given some sort of basketball knighthood and just wear robes when he’s on the sidelines — and he made eight of 14 shots, scored 24 points, dished 10 assists, added a steal and a couple of rebounds, and yes, this time he was plus-19. The Heat had no idea what to do when he was on the floor.

MORE: Pop — the bully, the buddy, the winner

The extremes are greater now that Ginobili is older and his body is beat up, but really this has always been true of him.  He has always been great and terrible, unstoppable and un-goable. Thirty two times in his career, he scored 30-plus points. One hundred thirty times he has played at least 20 minutes and scored single digits. He’s had nine games with double digit assists, and 10 games with double digit rebounds, and almost exactly as many when he had no rebounds (10) and no assists (13). He takes dives that are sometimes embarrassing, and he also makes no excuses and points at himself when things go bad. He ranges from the best player on the floor to a very good player to an OK player to invisible to car wreck.

And watching this, night after night, I can see how that gets inside you. Just when you think he’s shed the inconsistencies of the past, he has a game that makes you want to poke out your own eyeballs. Just when you wish the Spurs would just get rid of him, he saves a season with some bit of transcendent genius. In a weird way, it’s like the relationship with your kid. One minute, you want to ship them off to boarding school. The next minute, they bring you to a level of joy that never seemed possible.

I think now of a Spurs fan who tweeted me after Game 4. I had cracked wise about how great Dwyane Wade was in that game and how dreadful Ginobili had been. A brilliant reader named Ray Bailey tweeted back:

And so it was. See, that might be the best part of being a fan of a player — when you know them so well, so deeply, that you sense their patterns and feel their pain and know their rhythms. San Antonio certainly treasures Tim Duncan for being so reliably awe-inspiring and San Antonio certainly adores Tony Parker for being a wizard capable of powerful magic.

But you could see how it is something a little bit different with Ginobili. They have lived with him, died with him, screamed at him and blessed his name. He could cost them Game 6 or he could win them Game 6. They know him, maybe, at a deeper level. And at some point, with Manu, there’s really nothing left to do but love the guy.

Three Things We Learned Sunday: Are we taking Westbrook’s destruction of NBA for granted?

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) dunks as New Orleans Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday (11) and forward Dante Cunningham (33) look on during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Oklahoma City, Sunday, Feb. 26, 2017. Oklahoma City won 118-110. (AP Photo/Alonzo Adams)
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Well, this was inevitable (just like the Steve Harvey jokes), but also damn funny.

Sunday around the NBA, everyone who earned a win was announced as such, here are the three big takeaways.

1) Have we started to take Russell Westbrook’s destruction of the league for granted? Sunday Russell Westbrook had 41 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists — his fourth 40-point triple double of the season— and enough highlight plays to fill his own segment on SportsCenter. Yawn.

On the season he is averaging 31 points, 10.6 rebounds, and 10.3 assists per game, he’s very likely going to be the first player in five decades to average a triple-double over the course of a season. Whatever.

It seems like we’ve become numb to what Russell Westbrook is doing this season. He has 29 triple-doubles, he is carrying the Thunder to the playoffs (they are on pace to win 47 games). When he is on the court, the Thunder outscore their opponents by three points per 100 possessions, when he sits they get outscored by 10.5. Sunday against the Pelicans he scored 21 of his points in the fourth quarter when his team needed the buckets to get the win.

We can’t do that — we are never going to see another season like this. Westbrook has been nothing short of phenomenal. Does he occasionally hunt triple doubles? Sure, but he’s actually in the position to hunt them, and his team gets wins because of it. Is he turning the ball over more than coach Billy Donovan would like? Sure. It’s not like has the ball in his hands every time down and is the only reliable shot creator on the team… oh, wait, it’s exactly like that.

Step back and savor this. It’s a season for the ages.

2) The flip side of item No. 1: Pelicans lose again, DeMarcus Cousins picks up technical 32 seconds in and will miss next game. Since the trade that was going to turn their season around, the New Orleans Pelicans have lost three in a row — the latest Sunday to Westbrook and the Thunder — and slid farther out of the playoff picture in the West, 3.5 games back of Denver (they could make up the ground, but they need to leapfrog four teams now to do it). Cousins also picked up technical No. 18 just 32 seconds into the loss Sunday for a silly retaliation move on Steven Adams — meaning Cousins is suspended for the Pelicans upcoming game against the Pistons (after 16 techs you sit out for every other one).

New Orleans is not a playoff team, not this season. They aren’t turning this around fast enough. We knew it would take a little time for Cousins and Anthony Davis to mesh, and was painfully obvious in this game: Davis scored 24 in the first, Cousins zero; then in the second quarter it flipped and Cousins had 19 while Davis scored zero. At the end of the game Davis and Cousins combined for 69 points, the next highest Pelican player had 10. Cousins is putting up numbers — he has averaged 23.3 points and 13 rebounds per game since coming over — but the Pelicans are not a team yet. And may not be until next season.

3) Jusuf Nurkic is tougher than you — has two teeth knocked out, stays in game. We found out after the game they were two crowns, but still. Nurkic, a new Blazer since the trade deadline, fouled Toronto’s P.J. Tucker with a couple of hands to the back, but as they came down Tucker swung his arm and caught Nurkic in the face, knocking out some teeth/crowns (Tucker did get a technical for that).

The Raptors went on to win 112-106, behind 33 from DeMar DeRozan and a solid 18 and 10 from Serge Ibaka (who was key).

 

DeMar DeRozan powers Raptors past Trail Blazers, 112-106

BOSTON, MA - MARCH 23:  DeMar DeRozan #10 of the Toronto Raptors dribbles against the Boston Celtics  during the first quarter at TD Garden on March 23, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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TORONTO (AP) DeMar DeRozan scored 33 points, Serge Ibaka added 18 and the Toronto Raptors beat the Portland Trail Blazers 112-106 on Sunday night.

The Raptors won their third in a row and wrapped up a second straight season sweep of Portland. They previously had beaten the Trail Blazers 95-91 in Portland on Dec. 26.

Damian Lillard scored 28 points for the Trail Blazers, who got 18 from Maurice Harkless.

Up 98-96 with 4:41 remaining, the Raptors scored the next six points, with back-to-back jump shots from Ibaka and a pair of free throws from DeRozan putting them up by eight with 3:16 remaining.

The Trail Blazers answered with six straight converted free throws sandwiched around a three-point play from Cory Joseph, before Lillard drove on Ibaka and converted the layup to cut the lead to 107-104 with 1:42 to play.

But DeRozan scored the next four points, hitting a jump shot and two free throws to put the Raptors up by seven with 30 seconds to play.

In a back-and-forth first quarter featuring 11 lead changes, Portland took control, overcoming 12 points from DeRozan to emerge with a 28-25 edge after 12 minutes.

Al-Farouq Aminu led the way for the Trail Blazers in the second with nine points as they extended their advantage to 12 points with 4:52 to play in the half. But the Raptors shot 61 percent in the period and went on a 15-2 run to close out the quarter and head into halftime lead 53-52.

Toronto scored the first six points of the third quarter to extend its lead, but Lillard had 10 points in the period to the Trail Blazers stay close. They retook the lead with 1:47 to play, before the Raptors surged back to enter the fourth up 82-80.

TIP-INS

Trail Blazers: G Evan Turner and C Festus Ezeli (left knee) did not play.

Raptors: G Kyle Lowry (right wrist) missed the game. Joseph made just his third start of the season in his place. . Toronto has now completed season sweeps against five teams this season (Brooklyn, Denver, Utah and the Los Angeles Lakers).

LACK OF LOWRY

Toronto coach Dwane Casey said Lowry’s sore right wrist was assessed over the weekend and it was still structurally sound.

“The images weren’t significant, there was no significant showing,” he said. “So it’s going to be day-to-day, treated symptomatically. Swelling’s gone down, so that’s a good sign. So we’ll see. He’ll be a day-to-day thing. It wasn’t broken, so that helps.”

UP NEXT

Trail Blazers: Visit Detroit on Tuesday looking to snap a three-game losing streak against the Pistons.

Raptors: Visit New York on Monday aiming for a sixth straight win over the Knicks.

Late 5-point possession lifts Celtics over Pistons 104-98

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 15:  Jaylen Brown #7 of the Boston Celtics in action against the New York Knicks during the second half of their preseason game at Madison Square Garden on October 15, 2016 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) Jaylen Brown sank a 3-pointer from the right corner while being fouled with 37.6 seconds remaining, part of a five-point possession for Boston that lifted the Celtics to a 104-98 victory over the Detroit Pistons on Sunday night.

The Celtics were down 96-95 when Brown connected while being fouled by Marcus Morris. Brown missed the ensuing free throw, but Detroit couldn’t come up with the rebound, and Tobias Harris was called for a loose-ball foul. Marcus Smart added two free throws to put Boston up 100-96.

Isaiah Thomas led the Celtics with 33 points. Andre Drummond had 17 points and 15 rebounds for the Pistons, but he went 1 of 11 on free throws and was taken out for some key possessions toward the end to prevent Boston from fouling him.

Detroit went 16 of 35 from the line, while the Celtics were 24 of 30.

The Pistons rallied from a 15-point third-quarter deficit and led 96-95 when Reggie Jackson missed a 3-pointer with just under a minute remaining. That gave the Celtics a chance to take the lead, and Brown capitalized.

HONORED

The Pistons retired Richard Hamilton’s No. 32 during a halftime ceremony attended by several other players from Detroit’s 2004 championship team.

TIP-INS

Celtics: Thomas has scored at least 20 points in 43 straight games. … Boston led 54-50 at halftime and began the third quarter with a 13-2 run. … The Celtics were without G Avery Bradley, who was out with a sore right Achilles tendon.

Pistons: Detroit recalled forward Henry Ellenson and guards Darrun Hilliard and Michael Gbinije from the team’s Grand Rapids affiliate in the D-League. They did not play.

UP NEXT

Celtics: Host the Atlanta Hawks on Monday night.

Pistons: Host the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday night.

Russell Westbrook scores 41 in triple-double as Thunder top Pelicans (VIDEO)

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) Russell Westbrook scored 41 points in his 29th triple-double of the season to help the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the New Orleans Pelicans 118-110 on Sunday night.

Westbrook had 21 points in the fourth quarter. He shot 7 for 19 from the field the first three quarters and was 7 for 10 in the fourth. He also had 11 rebounds and 11 assists in the 66th triple-double of his career.

Enes Kanter had 20 points and nine rebounds, and Steven Adams added 13 points and 10 boards for the Thunder, who won their third straight.

Anthony Davis scored 38 points and DeMarcus Cousins had 31 points and 10 rebounds, but he played just 22 minutes and fouled out while getting dunked on by Westbrook. The Pelicans fell to 0-3 since acquiring Cousins in a trade with Sacramento.