His field goal percentage was nearly sixty percent. He was hitting over half of his three point attempts, and ninety-three percent of his free throws. He scored right at 20 points per game in less than 26 minutes of playing time. When you throw in his rebounds, assists, steals and defense you begin to see that this wasn't just the beginning of any season. Through the first five games, Manu Ginobili was on fire.
We've seen The Chemist go through hot streaks before, and even start seasons off with a bang. But has there ever been a time when the team seemed to need him as much as now? With the compressed schedule making every game more important, and Duncan's slow start, the Spurs relied on heavy doses of grit from the man with no swagger, and he delivered with games like the one against the Jazz on New Year's Eve, when he went 9-10 from the floor and scored 23 points while playing only half the game.
And then he broke his hand last night, trying to steal the ball from Anthony Tolliver. Tim Duncan reached out to him as he walked to the trainer's room, to ask him how he was, but Manu wouldn't even look at him. A shake of the head was his only reply. Just like that, it's a completely different season, a different team.
We can talk in the coming days about where this puts our hopes for a run at the championship with what might be Duncan's last as a Spur, but right now I'm just trying to put this into the context of the last few years. The Spurs won the championship in 2007, and every season since then has seen my favorite player go down from one injury or another. Let's review:
'07-08: left ankle - played through at roughly 50% effectiveness, Spurs lose in Western Conference Finals with Manu being outplayed by ... Sasha Vujacic. Yes, you read that right.
'08-09: right ankle stress fracture - shelved him after 44 games, Spurs were eliminated in the first round by the hated Dallas Mavericks.
'09-10: broken nose - played through after a Dirk Nowitzki elbow caught The Schnoz in the first round of the playoffs. San Antonio gets into the 2nd round but is peremptorily swept by Phoenix.
'10-11: fractured elbow in the last game of the regular season - Pop held him out of the 1st playoff game, and the arm hampered him in the 5 he played against the Memphis Grizzlies.
'11-12: fracture of the fifth metacarpal in his left (shooting) hand - no timetable yet for his return.
When Ginobili was healthy, the saying went, the Spurs won a ring every odd-numbered year. Since he's been hurt, that's not been the case. Before I lay my head down and cry, I'll make a point that may just be the one scrap of silver on this particular cloud: at least it's not the end of the season. There's time to recover and get that shooting stroke back. This was not the 82nd game with a playoff series looming like last April in Phoenix.
Please, Manu, finish this year healthy.