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.

John Wall scores 40, dishes 14 assists as Wizards drub Lakers

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WASHINGTON (AP) Amid all of his team’s losses and infighting and roster flux, John Wall showed just how well he’s capable of playing, producing 40 points and 14 assists to lead the Washington Wizards past a sluggish LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers, 128-110 Sunday night.

A day after he and Lonzo Ball each registered a triple-double in a win at Charlotte, James was limited to a season-low 13 points, along with six rebounds and three assists, while making just five of 16 shots. The four-time NBA MVP sat out the fourth quarter.

The Wizards emphatically ended a four-game losing streak, going up by as many as 18 in the first quarter and 27 in the third.

They took full advantage of an opponent playing on a second consecutive night, although James and the Lakers had been 5-1 in the second half of back-to-back sets this season.

The Lakers opened Sunday’s game by going 5 for 19, 0 for 8 on 3s. Washington, meanwhile, made its first five shots and 13 of its first 18, taking a 26-8 lead on Wall’s layup.

Wall’s play was often spectacular, including one no-look, through-the-legs pass to Sam Dekker for an easy bucket.

The All-Star point guard ended the first half with a step-back baseline rainbow jumper over 7-foot-1 center Tyson Chandler to make it 71-51. Wall turned and slapped palms with a couple of front-row folks, then spread his arms wide and basked in the ovation.

By then, Wall already had 28 points, outscoring LA’s five starters – James, Ball, Chandler, Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart – by six.

Recently acquired reserve forward Dekker scored a season-high 20 for Washington, including a buzzer-beating bank shot at the end of the third quarter that put the hosts ahead 99-76.

Washington’s Bradley Beal added 25 points and 12 rebounds.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored a season-high 25 points for the Lakers, 15 in the second quarter.

Washington was without starting center Dwight Howard, who had back surgery, and injured starting forward Otto Porter Jr., while a pair of players – Kelly Oubre Jr. and Austin Rivers – were unavailable because they are on their way out of town via a trade that is still not officially complete.

“We’re playing against one of the greatest players to ever play the game,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said before tipoff, “and we definitely are undermanned.”

Didn’t matter on this night.

TIP-INS

Lakers: C JaVale McGee missed the game with flu-like symptoms. … A pair of sneakers James wore during a game at the Wizards a year ago Monday – one black, one white, with the word “equality” in capital gold letters on the back of each – was recently placed on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. … Ball finished with 10 points, five rebounds and four assists.

Wizards: The deal bringing Trevor Ariza to Washington from the Phoenix Suns is still not official, so Oubre and Rivers were listed as inactive Sunday because of “trade pending.” … Markieff Morris left at halftime because of a neck strain. … Porter missed his third game in a row with a bruised knee. … Jeff Green started in Porter’s place and scored 20 points.

UP NEXT:

Lakers: At Brooklyn on Tuesday to close a four-game road trip.

Wizards: At Atlanta on Tuesday.

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Paul George asked Billy Donovan not to run plays for him last year

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Oklahoma City Thunder are top-heavy team. Outside of their top three or four players, the Thunder aren’t very deep, and if any either Russell Westbrook or Paul George are out for any length of time, they are in serious trouble.

This season the Thunder are a surprising 18-10, good enough for third in the Western Conference at the time of publication. It’s been a bit of an adjustment for Paul George since coming to Oklahoma City last season exchange for Victor Oladipo, and according to a recent feature at ESPN George asked his coach for one specific thing.

This may seem strange, but George reportedly wanted coach Billy Donovan to stop running plays for him.

Despite Donovan having watched hours of game film on George to see where he could get him the ball where he’s most successful, that kind of careful planning didn’t fit how George likes to attack the game.

Via ESPN:

“At times he’s like, ‘Stop — just let me get it,'” Donovan said. “I had to learn him. I can watch things on film and say, ‘Oh, that’s a good play and he made that shot, let’s run that,’ but there’s a lot more to it than that.”

“I’ve always been a guy to just let the game come to me. Just play the game,” George said. “If it’s a shot for me, if I can make a play, create for someone else, I’ll do that. A lot of times you run a play, everybody’s watching, everybody’s locked in, everybody’s pulling over and it just makes the game tougher for me.

“I like it when I can kind of manipulate and be on attack mode where they don’t know what to do, as opposed to a play other teams [can] scout.”

Basketball is a team sport and it’s not just about the guys who are on the court. No doubt it was difficult for Donovan to give up some of the play-calling he specifically designed for George, but apparently it was the best thing for the team.

Report: Sixers want first rounder, have shot down multiple trades for Markelle Fultz

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What’s going on with Markelle Fultz? That’s the question everyone wants to know not only in the Philadelphia 76ers organization, but around the NBA.

The former No. 1 overall pick has struggled with his shot the last two seasons, and his recent diagnosis of the thoracic outlet syndrome isn’t the end of the story. Teams have reportedly been asking around about Fultz, and there have even been some denials about which teams are interested in the young guard.

This week Candace Buckner published an excellent profile of Fultz and some potential issues caused for him by an over-domineering inner circle. That profile also had sourced information from Buckner saying that the Sixers continue to field trade calls from interested parties for Fultz.

Via Washington Post:

While the Sixers pledge to support their player in his recovery process and are believed to have a relationship with Brothers and Fultz’s inner circle, the organization has been protective in its own way. According to people in the league, the Sixers have rejected multiple trade offers for Fultz. It’s not just that Philadelphia remains hopeful of getting Fultz on track to be a star in Philadelphia — much like prior top picks Ben Simmons and Embiid, who both missed their rookie seasons because of injuries. The Sixers have not received trade offers with what they believe to be equal value, a telling sign that indicates how other teams in the league view Fultz and the rocky start to his career.

If you are a fan looking in from the outside, this tells you two things. First, that no matter how much a player appears to be damaged goods, NBA GMs will do their due diligence and make a call to see if they can nab a player on the cheap.

Second, it lets you know that Fultz’s value right now is only at that “first call” level. Fultz showed a lot of promise during one season with the University of Washington, and that’s enough for Philadelphia to hold out on trading him for spare parts at this juncture. When we start getting word of teams sending actual, meaningful offers, that might give us a sort of triangulated idea of his stock around the league (and perhaps his recovery).

The Sixers’ asking price, for the moment, remains high. According to Philly.com’s Keith Pompey, 76ers brass are looking for a first round pick as part of the exchange in any Fultz deal. What that translates to is, Philadelphia isn’t ready to deal just yet.

Via Philly.com:

The ownership group also isn’t in total agreement with what do with Fultz, according to league sources.

A league source said the Sixers don’t want to part ways with Fultz unless a first-round pick is packaged in a deal for him. And they’re not talking about a late first-rounder, either.

League executives believe the Sixers will settle for less as it gets closer to the Feb. 7 trade deadline, because there really isn’t a trade market for Fultz right now. There’s too much skepticism surrounding his shooting woes and his shoulder issues.

Fultz is due $9.7 million next season but then has a player option for 2020-21 of $12.2 million. Since the Sixers still have time, we might be hanging around for a while to see Fultz in any other jersey outside of Philly.

What was Klay Thompson trying to say during this interview?

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In-game interviews are both an interesting layer of texture that adds depth to a TV broadcast and perhaps a distracting commitment for those playing or coaching in an NBA game.

So I guess we shouldn’t be surprised when things like this happen.

As the Golden State Warriors took on the Sacramento Kings on Friday night, Klay Thompson was pulled aside for an in-game interview with our friends over at NBC Sports Bay Area. Thompson was asked a question by Kerith Burke about ball movement leading to 3-pointers. Thompson was apparently in need of some sports drink because his answer was a little loopy.

Here’s what Thompson said in response to Burke:

“It’s great on both si— uh. It’s great, both of them are great. And we’re getting out and pushing them on the pace. That’s when we’re at our best.”

I’m not sure what I can parse from that. Maybe you can do better?

Thompson had 27 points, nine rebounds, and three assists in the win over the Kings, 130-125.