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Ginobili vs. Dracula, Chapter 4

Tony Parker felt the rhythmic slap of the ball as if it were dribbling his right hand. The air stuck him to the spot like concrete. The court shifted in space to place Tony at the top of the key. Manu was wide open under the rim, and Derick Fisher plodded toward him, bloody fangs barred and ready  to swipe. But Tony could not move nor pass the ball ...

The down pillow shot from Tony's arms. Sacre Bleu! Only a dream.

"Of course, I always want to play in the fourth quarter, but Pop made a decision and stuck with it," Manu said. "My hamstring is not worse than the game before. It's actually better."

Popovich smirked when he heard Ginobili mock-complaining to the Express News reporter in the locker room.

When Pop called Manu out the game and handed him the clipboard and the pencil, he calmly sat on the bench. Manu discretely closed his eyes and kept them shut as he drew. The announcer yelled "Twooooo Minutessss, two minutes!" over the SBC center's PA. Manu handed the clipboard back to Pop. On it was an exact fourth quarter shot chart and what would be the final score: Thunder 102, Spurs 98.

* * * * *

The red, purple, and gray of a November evening hushed on San Antonio like a lonely mood. The Spurs afternoon practices kept getting later and later. It was as if Coach Popovich was physically preparing the team to play the games after midnight.

Shooting coach Chip Engelland and Tim Duncan were early, and as always, working on Tim's free throws.

– Swish – Clunk – Swish – Swish – Swish – Clunk – Clunk – Swish – Swish – Clunk –

Sixty percent; below career average. Engelland wrinkled his brow. "Now, the blindfold, Tim -- Pop's orders "

Tim fixed the official NBA Spurs headband over his eyes.

Swish – Swish – Swish – Swish – Swish – Swish – Swish – Swish – Swish – Swish – Swish – Swish – Swish – Swish – Swish – Swish – Swish – Swish – Swish – Swish – Swish – Swish – Swish – Swish – Swish – Swish – Swish – Swish – Swish – Swish – Swish – Swish – Swish – Swish – Swish – Swish – Swish – Swish – Swish – Swish – Swish – Swish – Swish – Swish – Swish – Swish – Swish – Swish – Swish – Swish – Swish – Swish – Swish –

Pop sat on the bench in silence, eyes closed, diagramming plays in his head. On Dracula's court there was no light, no sound, no movement. He did not yet know when Dracula would strike nor from where. But it was his job to make sure his Spurs would be ready.

* * * * *

Derek Fisher walked the darkend halls of the Staples center. Coach Jackson told him to meet the team's new owner in his executive luxury box. Derek was lost in thought. Pau Gasol out with hamstring injury and now Luke Walton set to miss at least six weeks with a pinched nerve. A pinched nerve! Seriously, these were not real injuries. Something else was keeping Pau and Luke away from playing -- fear. They could all feel it, even Kobe. Something evil festered in the Lakers organization.

Derek was not afraid. Champions had no time for fear. He would do whatever it took to win. Derek walked deeper into the darkness and embraced it. 
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