The evolution of Manu Ginobili

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SAN ANTONIO — Manu Ginobili was picking apart the Heat in Game 1 — 16 points on 10 shots, plus 11 assists. He was attacking off the pick-and-roll, making sharp passes to a rolling Tim Duncan or Tiago Splitter, plus he was getting open looks (7 of his 10 shot attempts were on uncontested looks, a sign of smart play and good ball movement).

His influence on the outcome of Game 1 was massive — but it was very different from the way he would have influenced a game just a few years ago.

The Spurs offense has evolved, and more importantly so has the 36-year-old Ginobili as he has aged. He influences outcomes much more with his mental game now.

“He’s still Manu, but he’s not the Manu he was a few years back where he could take over games in an instant,” Danny Green said.

It all started a few years back when Gregg Popovich decided to change the offense, picking up the tempo and turning the keys over more to his guards Tony Parker and Ginobili. Popovich saw his team’s roster, saw the direction the league was moving (with more pick-and-rolls and shots early in the clock) and became an early adopter.

“When you look at tapes of how we played in the ’02-03 season, we were very different,” Ginobili said. “We were pretty much a team of going past half court, feeding Tim (Duncan), space around and try to get something out of that.

“Now we try to be way more mobile and move the ball much better, more passes. And I think in the last few years we did it so much better. Everybody is feeling important. Everybody is feeling that they are helping the team do better. It’s been a fun change to be part of.”

Popovich saw it as a trade off.

“We’re not as good as we used to be defensively,” he said of his aging roster. “So if that’s going to diminish, you need to do something at the other end of the floor to make up for it. We changed our pace, and the way we approach things at the other end of the floor to make up for what we’re going to lose defensively. That’s the bottom line.”

Ginobili said the new offense works because it is “more unpredictable.”

But there were other adjustments needed for Ginobili — father time was catching up with him.

Ginobili was always a crafty player, but people underestimated his athleticism, his ability to get by his man, get into the paint and cause problems. Age ultimately robs all players of that, some just adjust better than others.

“I had to learn to play with less explosiveness in my legs,” Ginobili said. “Before my game depended a lot on my ability to go by my defender or attack one-on-one, or run more in transition. But now I know I can’t do that, or I can do that for a few minutes and then I run out of juice.

“So I had to develop more my passing ability, my understanding of the game and the system. The fact that you get to understand the system very well helps because you know where your teammates are going to be in each situation. The things you get with experience.”

That evolution was not always smooth.

“Last year he was more aggressive and trying to take over some games sometimes and Pop had to tell him ‘you can’t do it all at once or do it by yourself,’ you got to trust your teammates,” Green said. “And he did last year for the most part. But he still found himself being the guy who tries to take over. And he’s capable of doing it, and some nights he’s not, when he’s not shooting it well. But he’s been very consistent this year trusting everyone around him, finding guys, and playing his part.”

It was the step needed to not only get the Spurs back to the NBA Finals but to make the Spurs a bigger threat to the Heat — last season Miami’s pressure defense caused some ugly games for Ginobili. He had eight turnovers in the painful Game 6 loss.

It’s just one game, but Ginobili handled the Heat’s pressure with much more aplomb in Game 1.

“(Heat defenders’) hands and their blitzes, they didn’t bother me as much as last year in some games,” Ginobili said. He added that with that he was sharper hitting cutters with his passes.

It’s all just part of the evolution of Manu Ginobili.

Pacers erase 17-point deficit to take 2-1 lead over Cavs

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Bojan Bogdanovic scored 30 points, leading the Indiana Pacers back from a 17-point halftime deficit for a 92-90 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday night for a 2-1 lead in their first-round series.

Cleveland was 39-0 during the regular season when leading after three quarters and kept that perfect mark intact with a Game 2 win.

The incredible second-half charge came exactly one year after Indiana blew a 26-point halftime lead in a historic playoff collapse against the Cavs.

This time, the Pacers delivered a devastating blow to the three-time defending Eastern Conference champs – on a night LeBron Jones joined Michael Jordan as the only players in playoff history to record 100 double-doubles. James finished with 28 points and 12 rebounds, but it wasn’t enough to prevent Cleveland from losing its first game this season after leading following the third quarter.

The biggest reason for the collapse: Bogdanovic.

After charging back with striking distance, he completed a four-point play to finally give the Pacers an 81-77 lead with 6:10 left. Bogdanovic followed that with another to make it as seven-point game.

Then James answered with the next seven to tie it.

Bogdanovic came right back with a layup and another 3 before Thaddeus Young scored to give the Pacers a 91-84 cushion with 53 seconds left.

James knocked down a 3 to cut the deficit to four, and the Cavs got another 3 from Kevin Love with 7 seconds left to make it 91-90.

Darren Collison made 1 of 2 free throws with 5 seconds left, giving Cleveland one more chance. But J.R. Smith‘s long desperation heave came up short..

Shaq attacks verse in new TV series "Poetry in America"

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Shaquille O’Neal called himself “The Big Baryshnikov” and “The Big Socrates” in his days in the NBA. Now he can add “The Big Shakespeare.”

The basketball Hall-of-Famer, TNT TV analyst, commercial pitchman and onetime rapper is putting poetry on his lengthy resume as part of a new public television series.

He brings his best bard to a dramatic reading of a poem in his episode of the 12-part “Poetry in America ,” then discusses it with Elisa New, a Harvard English professor who hosts the show.

“I’ve always been into poetry,” O’Neal said in an interview with The Associated Press in a sunlit conference room overlooking the Los Angeles skyline. “I’ve been writing rhymes all my life.”

“Poetry in America,” distributed by American Public Television and presented by WGBH in Boston, is airing at various times on local public TV stations. Some episodes, including Shaq’s, are already available to stream.

On the show the 46-year-old former All-Star from the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat recites “Fast Break,” a poem by Edward Hirsch from his 1986 book “Wild Gratitude.” It describes some very imperfect players who manage to put together a perfect basketball play.

“A hook shot kisses the rim and hangs there, helplessly, but doesn’t drop,” the poem begins, “and for once our gangly starting center boxes out his man.”

O’Neal, whose 350-pound bulk would never be called “gangly,” still related to the center in the verse, but said he initially missed the poem’s point.

“The first mistake I made was thinking it was about basketball,” he said. “I read it real quick I said `fast break, shovel passes, sure, this is what I do.”‘

He said New, who sat next to O’Neal in the interview and like almost everyone is utterly dwarfed by him, gave him whole new insights that led to a fast friendship.

“When she broke it down intelligently for me, I was very astounded and very amazed,”

The poem is written for a close friend and playing partner of Hirsch’s who had just died. That’s easy to miss if you skip past the dedication at the top, as most readers do.

“It’s fun that only later as you’re reading, you look back at that dedication,” New said. “One line can change everything.”

Suddenly it becomes an examination of transcendent moments and human connections.

“It’s about friendship, it’s about caring, it’s about emotions,” O’Neal said. “I had missed that.”

His latest learning experience took O’Neal’s thoughts back to high school, where he had a 69 percent in English after blowing a test during the basketball playoffs, and needed a 70 to stay eligible for sports.

The teacher allowed him a retest, and suggested a tutor.

“This guy, his name was McDougal, he was a geek, he saved my academic life,” O’Neal said. “Everybody bullied him in school, except me.”

O’Neal said he took the work and “broke it down, made it seem so simple.”

“I retook the test, got an 80, and we won the state championship,” O’Neal said.

“Now,” he said, “I always tell kids I’m a geek.”

The professor had another name for him. “He’s a learner!”

O’Neal partly looked the poet during the interview in a polo shirt and jeans, having traded his basketball sneakers for a pair of slip-on Toms shoes, size 22.

When he wanted them, a company executive told him “it wouldn’t be worth it to make them in my size unless I bought 500 of them,” O’Neal said. “I told him to give me 2,000.”

 

Rumor: Grizzlies had to choose between Marc Gasol and David Fizdale

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David Fizdale has been linked to most of the NBA’s head-coaching vacancies.

He developed a legion of backers as lead a Heat assistant, and he did good things guiding the Grizzlies before they unexpectedly fired him. He deserves consideration.

But he also must explain his fractured relationship with Memphis star Marc Gasol. They weren’t speaking for a while.

And maybe the problem was even worse than that.

Marc Berman of the New York Post:

According to a source close to Fizdale briefed on the Grizzlies’ decision, it was ownership having to make a choice — trade their All-Star center Marc Gasol, who has fallen in love with its small-market city, or fire the coach. Their relationship had gotten that bad.

If Grizzlies ownership felt it had to choose between Gasol and Fizdale, it’s not clear why.

Fizdale benched Gasol down the stretch during the coach’s last game, and Gasol publicly expressed his frustration.

But Gasol denied issuing a me-or-Fizdale ultimatum. Fizdale said focus on his relationship with Gasol was “overblown,” adding he cared far more about whether he could win with a player than whether they got along personally.

Memphis obviously sided with Gasol – probably too strongly.

LeBron James bought Cavs teammates matching designer suits to wear to game tonight

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I’m still trying to decide if this is cool or a little too Stepford.

The Cavaliers rolled into the Bakers’ Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis tonight wearing matching designer suits, all paid for by LeBron James and custom fitted to each player.

If a college team rolled into a game in four-digit designer suits, the NCAA would have questions. And not about the vests.

The Cavaliers are LeBron’s team, and if he wants to buy his teammates suits and tell them to wear them it’s going to happen. Is it a bonding thing that helps bring them together? Sure. Is it in place to make sure LeBron remembers which ones are his new teammates? Probably not.

Do the suits help on the court? No. And the Cavaliers better bring it in Game 3 because if they go down 2-1 in this series — something that is a realistic possibility — the whispers of doubt are going to get a lot louder.