Who is washed up? Ginobili bounces back with huge game to lead Spurs


SAN ANTONIO — When you walk around San Antonio you see more Manu Ginobili jerseys than anything else Spurs. More than Tony Parker. More than Tim Duncan. More than the Coyote mascot. More than anyone.

But after some rough games through the NBA Finals this year — he was a passive 1-of-5 shooting in Game 4 — the beloved Argentinian was getting ripped by fans and media. And himself.

“I was angry, disappointed,” Ginobili said. “We are playing in the NBA Finals, we were 2-2, and I felt I still wasn’t really helping the team that much. And that was the frustrating part.”

But his teammates never lost faith in him. Neither did coach Gregg Popovich, who said he still trusted Ginobili

Trusted enough that Popovich decided go start Ginobili in Game 5 to counter the Heat’s small ball game and it turned out to be a brilliant move — Ginobili helped fuel the Spurs hot start and finished with 24 points and 10 assists as the Spurs won 114-104 to take a 3-2 series lead.

“I found out yesterday before practice,” Ginobili said about starting. “(Popovich) came to me and told me I was going to start because of the way they had been starting. Not anything else. He wanted to play from the beginning four smalls. So he told me I was going to start….

“I made the first two shots. I played with Tony more, so I was off the ball in more situations. I attacked better, get to the free-throw line a little bit more, and those things combined got me going.”

The Heat’s defense likes to pressure and trap the guy with the ball. When Ginobili comes off the bench for the Spurs he is that guy — Parker and Duncan usually sit and Ginobili has the ball in his hands, he is the focal point of the offense and the defensive pressure.

But in Game 5, while the Heat were pressing Parker, Ginobili was finding his lost rhythm. The first play for the Spurs wasn’t designed for Ginobili, it was actually for Parker but became a broken play where Ginobili drained a long two. It was a shot he needed and after that he started to attack (half his shots came inside the restricted area at the rim).

“The first two long-distance shots went in, and that helped,” Ginobili said. “I knew that I was going to be more aggressive regardless if those shots didn’t go in. But I really didn’t expect a 24-point game. It didn’t happen all season long.”

The assists came in the flow of the offense — Ginobili moved the ball but guys like Danny Green couldn’t seem to miss. The Spurs as a team shot 60 percent, Ginobili himself hit 8-of-14.

Then he keyed a big run — Miami had cut the San Antonio lead to one late in the third when Ginobili led a 19-1 run that included him with seven points and an assist to help put the game away.

And as his points and impact piled up, the fans everywhere wearing his No. 20 jerseys started chanting his name. It rung throughout the AT&T Center.

“I needed it,” Ginobili said. “I was having a tough time scoring, and I needed to feel like the game was coming to me, and I was being able to attack the rim, get to the free throw line, and make a couple of shots.

“So it felt great when I heard that. To feel that I really helped the team to get that 20-point lead, it was a much needed moment in the series. So I’m glad to see it happen.”

He’s not going to hear that kind of love from the crowd in Game 6 on the road Tuesday. However, if he plays like this again what he will hear from the Miami crowd is silence because the Spurs will be on the verge of another title.

James Harden scores 34, Rockets hold off Timberwolves 129-120

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — James Harden had 34 points and 12 assists, and Houston held off a fourth-quarter rally to beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 129-120 on Sunday night for the Rockets’ 26th win in 28 games.

The West’s top team led by as many as 25 before the Timberwolves, holding on for dear life in a tightening playoff race, pulled within five in the fourth. The loss dropped the Wolves into the eighth playoff spot after they started the day in a three-way tie for fifth.

Harden had 11 points in the final 6:34, including a 3-pointer with 58 seconds left that effectively secured the win.

Chris Paul and Clint Capela each had 16 points for the Rockets.

Jeff Teague led Minnesota with 23 points, Andrew Wiggins had 21, and Karl-Anthony Towns and Jamal Crawford each added 20.

The Wolves got a burst of energy after a fourth-quarter scuffle between Gorgui Dieng, Paul and Gerald Green. Green was ejected for coming to Paul’s defense after a frustrated Dieng pushed him down after a foul. With the pumped-up crowd chanting “Gor-Gui!,” Derek Rose had back-to-back layups to pull the Wolves to 109-102. But Paul hit a jumper with Crawford in his face, and Harden easily drove past Dieng for a layup to give the Rockets some breathing room.

Minnesota’s 19-6 run made it 115-110 with 3:58 to play before Trevor Ariza hit a 3, and the Rockets were able to answer every Wolves bucket to hold off the rally.

The game was seemingly over by halftime; Houston shot 63 percent, hit 11 3-pointers and led by as many as 24 in the first half while turning the ball over only three times. Harden had 10 assists in the first half, when the Wolves were as close as three before Houston reeled off a 12-0 run and didn’t allow Minnesota to recover.


Jimmy Butler targeting return to Timberwolves before end of season

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Jimmy Butler could return to the court for the Minnesota Timberwolves before the end of the regular season, if he stays on track with his rehabilitation from knee surgery.

Butler spoke to reporters Sunday for the first time since the meniscus injury he suffered Feb. 23 at Houston . He confirmed an initial recovery estimate of four to six weeks. Even on the long end of that timetable, he’d likely have two games with the Timberwolves before the postseason.

Butler said he’s confident in both his ability to heal in time and the team’s ability to hang on to a spot in the playoffs. The Wolves entered their game against the Rockets in a three-way tie for fifth place in the Western Conference, but no room for a slump.

For more AP NBA coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

Gerald Green ejected for pushing Gorgui Dieng into stands (VIDEO)

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I don’t know why everyone in the NBA is so geeked this weekend. Coaches are getting fined, referees are throwing dudes out left and right. Maybe it’s because most of us recently saw the sun for the first time in five months, although I couldn’t tell you for certain.

As the Minnesota Timberwolves and Houston Rockets went head-to-head on Sunday, something had players on both sides itching. Early in the fourth quarter, Timberwolves big man Gorgui Dieng got into it with Houston’s Chris Paul and Gerald Green.

The incident came as Dieng was being defended by Paul in the low post. Paul was whistled for a foul while trying to get the ball away from Dieng, but even after the whistle blew the Rockets guard did not stop trying to get the ball. Dieng responded by pushing Paul, who fell to the ground as if someone cut the strings on him.

That prompted another whistle from the refs, and a crowd of players ensued. Green rushed to push Dieng, sending the Timberwolves center into the stands.

When the scene settled, Dieng was issued a technical foul and Green was ejected.

After the game, Dieng told reporters he thought Paul’s constant digging for the ball was a cheap shot, so he responded in kind.

Minnesota, energized, tried to make a late push on the top team in the Western Conference but came up just short. Houston beat the Timberwolves, 129-120.

Alvin Gentry, Stan Van Gundy fined $15,000 each for criticizing officials

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All is not right between NBA players, coaches, and the referees. What else is new?

After contentious games on Saturday night, both Detroit Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy and New Orleans Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry expressed their opinions about what they felt was a poor officiating.

Van Gundy — whose team lost to the Portland Trail Blazers as they continued on to their 12th straight win — complained that his players were being “screwed” as they were knocked down, hammered, and hit. Gentry was especially infuriated after a late foul call went against his team as James Harden was hit on the hand while shooting a 3-pointer.

Now, the NBA has announced that both coaches have been fined $15,000 each for public criticism of officials.

Things were slated to get better between the NBRA and NBPA after the All-Star break. The two sides were supposed to have a meeting which discussed some of the more concerning trends that players and coaches have publicly complained about this year. That meeting got moved up to December, with more talks to come later. It’s not clear if they’ve done any good.

Right after All-Star Weekend guys like LeBron James were still making waves about how they are being officiated. Coaches like Doc Rivers continue to openly complain about the referees and draw fines. Van Gundy and Gentry are just the latest additions to the list, and it’s unlikely they’ll be the last before the season ends.

Hell, the end of the game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Toronto Raptors was just about as bad as we’ve seen all year. In that game, Raptors coach Dwane Casey was ejected after a comment made by a fan sitting near the floor was incorrectly attributed to him.

The NBA lost a lot of veteran officials due to retirement in the changeover to this season, and the transition has been rough. They’re going to need to figure some things out over the summer. I expect bigger announcements about those efforts to come out after the NBA Finals as a means to restore public faith in the officiating crews.