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.

James Harden reveals he’s playing through ankle injury

AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
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James Harden didn’t lead the Rockets in scoring in their Game 4 win over the Thunder yesterday.

He didn’t even rank second – or third.

Nene, Eric Gordon and Lou Williams each outscored Harden, who scored 16 points on 5-for-16 shooting, including 0-for-7 on 3-pointers.

What happened to the Houston star?

Calvin Watkins of ESPN:

Houston Rockets star guard James Harden said he has been hobbled by an ankle injury that occurred in Game 3 of this first-round series against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Harden made the revelation to ESPN’s Lisa Salters after the Rockets’ 113-109 Game 4 victory on Sunday afternoon.

“It was pretty tough; we don’t make excuses,” Harden said in a news conference when asked about his health. “We just try to go out there and get the job done. You build trust, and trust in your teammates all year long. When there’s moments like this, guys step up and they did tonight. We have another opportunity in a few days to go out there and win on our home court, and we’re going to have to get off to a really good start.”

Many players are grinding through injuries this time of year. Is Harden’s exceptionally bad? There’s no way of telling from the outside.

But he didn’t look quite right in Game 4, and if he’s hobbled, that opens the door slightly wider for Oklahoma City to come back from its 3-1 deficit.

Video Breakdown: Rockets launch Eric Gordon from 3-point range against Thunder in Game 4

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The Houston Rockets beat the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday, 113-109, and now the series heads back to Texas with the Rockets in the lead, 3-1.

Houston and OKC played a weird game, with Nene scoring 28 points off the bench for the Rockets and serious mischief in the final moments. The end of the game included a purposely missed free throw by Steven Adams that allowed Russell Westbrook to grab a quick 3-pointer and a missed call when James Harden shoved Alex Abrines out of the way like an NFL tackle.

While the Rockets didn’t shoot a stellar percentage from 3-point range — just 31.5 percent — they still knocked down 11 buckets from deep. Part of that action was a play run for Sixth Man of the Year candidate Eric Gordon that included a little semi-Pistol action, and a stagger screen that allowed Gordon to work his way free.

I picked this play to go over this week because it exemplifies just how committed to the 3-point shot the Rockets are. Plus, Gordon ran around three screens just to get this one bucket, which is always fun to see.

Watch the full video breakdown above.

Jimmy Butler on Marcus Smart dustup: ‘He’s not about that life. So, he’s calming down’

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Marcus Smart and Jimmy Butler had to be separated during the Celtics’ Game 4 win over the Bulls after Smart pushed Butler, who was hounding him defensively in the backcourt.

Butler:

As far as the Marcus Smart situation goes, he’s a great actor. Acting tough, that’s what he does. But I don’t think he’s about that, and I’m the wrong guy to get in my face. So, he needs to take it somewhere else because I’m not the one for that.

Was that their first run-in? Butler:

That’s the first time. Last time, too. We’re not going to sit here and get in each other’s faces like that. Like I said, he’s not about that life. So, he’s calming down.

The Bulls, who’ve lost two straight to allow Boston to tie the series 2-2, is angling for any edge. Butler tried to intimidate Smart on the court, and the Chicago wing might actually rattle the too easily shakable Smart with his postgame comments.

The irony: Some might say Butler, who did come up hard, lost touch with his roots as he entered stardom. I don’t buy that, at least not majorly.

But even if both – or neither – are posturing to any degree, this will be a matchup to watch in Game 5.

Remembering former NBA official Jess Kersey, who passed away Saturday

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Jess Kersey, who officiated more than 2,200 NBA games, including being part of 19 NBA Finals, passed away over the weekend, losing his battle with cancer at age 76.

Kersey was a well-respected official who feared nothing. Maybe the most remembered image of Kersey is him trying to break up a fight between Mitch Kupchak and Hakeem Olajuwon, essentially trying to tackle Olajuwon with his head in Olajuwon’s chest and his arms wrapped around him. Kersey got in the middle of everything if that was what was required.

Our thoughts go out to the Kersey family for their loss.