We’re not going to know Manu Ginobili is gone until he tells us, and the way the oldest Spur is playing this season, it may be a while before he does.
It may not be quite as subtle as Tim Duncan’s short goodbye, his retirement announced by the Spurs in a press release. The Argentine dynamo is apt to pronounce the end of his Spurs career in his very own blog, in both Spanish and English.
But, when one of the most exciting careers in franchise history is over, fans will want to recall nights like Wednesday at AT&T Center, when Ginobili commanded a key stretch of the third quarter that turned a close game into a relatively easy 119-98 win.
It was the fifth straight home court win for a Spurs team that lost three of its first four games at AT&T Center, but is now 10-4 at home.
For the final six-and-a-half minutes of the third period of Wednesday’s game, 39-year-old Ginobili turned the clock back to his early seasons in silver and black, when he combined exceptional athleticism and one of the most daring approaches to basketball ever seen to thrill Spurs fans everywhere.
Ginobili scored only 12 points in the game – LaMarcus Aldridge again led the Spurs with another near-perfect shooting night that produced 27 points – but 10 came in the decisive final minutes of the third quarter. He made 2-of-3 3-point shots, 3-of-5 overall, grabbed three rebounds and rejected one Phoenix shot.
He was a dynamo on the floor, his energy infecting teammates, Spurs fans, and Gregg Popovich alike.
“He does things that you just don’t expect,” Popovich said, “whether it’s a loose ball or a blocked shot or making a (3-pointer) or making a pass. He’s just really special in that way and always has been.”
By game’s end, Ginobili had blocked three Suns shots, only the fourth time in his career he blocked three shots and just one shy of his career high. His last three-block game was nearly two years ago on Jan. 18, 2015.
“That’s my game,” Ginobili said, feigning seriousness. “That’s what I do. Intimidation.”
Ginobili even threw down his second dunk of the season, though his teammates were undecided about whether or not it qualified as a bona fide dunk.
“His dunks?” said Aldridge. “I don’t know if they count because he just kind of grabs the rim and the ball just falls in.”
Ginobili didn’t argue about that, either.
“I agree,” he said. “It was pretty embarrassing. I should not try again.”
The Spurs played without two-time Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard, who missed the game after a bout with gastroenteritis, and for one half they didn’t seem to know how to play defense without his ability to take big chunks of defensive territory away from most opponents. By halftime, they were more than a little embarrassed by a 9-22 Suns team that made 25-of-37 shots, 67.6%, good for a 64-58 halftime lead.
Popovich requested an adjustment in defensive intensity in the second half and his players responded. They held the Suns to 18 points in the third period, 16 in the fourth, outscoring them by 27, 61-34, in the second half.
“The whole game for us was picking up the intensity in the defensive pressure in the third and fourth quarters,” Popovich said. “(The Suns) scored 34 in the second half and that was the ball game.
“We didn’t have that kind of focus in the first half and, combined with turnovers, that kept them in the game. But I thought we did a really good job of turning it up defensively in the third quarter and on into the fourth.”
Ginobili, who added two steals to his three blocks, attributed the difference to frustration at their defensive torpor in the first 24 minutes.
“At halftime, we were frustrated, so we all brought it in the second half,” he said. “They scored 60-something in the first half and 34 in the second. So, we all understood. Still, it’s kind of frustrating we need a half to realize and can’t bring it from the beginning. So, (these are) things we’ve got to work on, but the second half was very aggressive and we showed more determination and aggressiveness.”
Once the Spurs asserted their defensive domination Aldridge, Tony Parker, and Pau Gasol showed the way on offense. Aldridge had another phenomenal shooting performance, making 10-of-12 shots. Parker made 10-of-16 shots and scored 20 points. Gasol was 6-of-12 from the floor and scored 16, with 10 rebounds.
Combined with his 15-for-20 shooting in Sunday’s win over the Chicago Bulls, Aldridge is 25-of-37 from the field in the two games, 67.5%.
“Good rhythm, playing confident, shots are going in, and teammates are doing a good job of just finding me out there,” Aldridge said. “They’re making it easy for me.”