Let's be crystal clear: Tony Parker was the player of the game. He was magnificent and he toyed with the Bulls in his father's hometown, showing off his full arsenal of feints, pump-fakes, up-and-unders, spins and balletic lay-ups, not to mention a pretty accurate jumper, to score 16 of his 20 points in the opening quarter as the Spurs ran roughshod over the surging Bulls to the tune of 38-14 and coasted from there to win their seventh straight. Parker also had a game-high nine assists and zero turnovers in a tidy 24:34 of work, ensuring that he'll have plenty in the tank for the SEGABABA against the dreaded Blazers.
But to me, the story of the game was Manu Ginobili.
To be more specific, it's the difference between this Manu, the one who should be the odds-on favorite to earn his second Sixth Man of the Year award -- the case illustrated wonderfully by J. Gomez here -- and the one we saw limp his way through a career-worst season in 2013, culminating in a mostly-awful Finals.
Most of the stats between last year and this one are actually pretty similar. Ginobili is averaging just a tenth of a minute more per game, scoring .6 more points, pulling down .3 fewer rebounds and dishing .1 fewer assists. His percentage is a lot better from two and from the line, but otherwise there isn't much difference.
Look deeper at the numbers though and Ginobili's efficiency and difference-making emerges. He leads the Spurs in offensive (114.6) and net rating (14.0), and it's not particularly close in either case. Last season, he was sixth on the club in net rating with 7.8, well behind Parker's team-leading 10.7 and an unbelievable eighth offensively.
To state it more clearly, Ginobili's 14.0 net rating leads the entire league, among players who've played a significant amount of minutes. His offensive rating leads everybody who averages at least 20 minutes a night.
His +/- per game of 6.7 leads the Spurs by a bunch and is eighth in the league. Last year it was 3.9 and ranked sixth on the team, behind the entire starting lineup. His Win Shares Per 48 minutes of .179 is 18th in the NBA. Last year it was at .155 and was, again, only good for fifth on his own team. Already, Ginobili has contributed 2.8 offensive win shares for the Spurs in 52 games. Last year he had 2.1 in 60 games.
All those numbers are well and good, but they don't explain the biggest difference between THAT Ginobili and THIS Ginobili. If you recall, last year's edition had three debilitating hamstring injuries.
The first, suffered on Jan. 13 against Minnesota, came when Manu was on his best form of the season, in rhythm and attacking the basket aggressively. When the injury happened it looked scary, but he only missed four games. No big deal, right? Wrong.
It turns out the Spurs, uncharacteristically, didn't err on the side of caution with the injury and Ginobili rushed back too soon. He tweaked the hammy again on Jan. 30 against Charlotte (happy birthday to me) and missed five more games, and this time when the Spurs brought him back, they really eased him into action by playing him very few minutes.
He lasted 18 games, but hurt himself for the third time on Mar. 29 against the Clippers and this might have been the most serious of the three, as Pop took no chances. He sat Ginobili for the next nine games and and gave him a cameo in the season-finale against the T-Pups and then it was off to the playoffs.
It's tempting to look at those injuries and draw similar conclusions to Ginobili's 2013-14 campaign thus far. After all, he tweaked his hammy the first time, on the final play of overtime at Memphis on Jan. 7, right in that same time frame as the original injury last year. He missed two games and was back out there. Eight games later, on Jan. 28 at Houston, he strained it again on a dunk. Again the same window of time as last year's second injury.
Obviously we're all having the same panicked thought right now: He's gonna hurt it again in late March/early April, just like last year.
Look, I don't know. Maybe he will.
What I do know is that last year's Manu was never himself as a scorer once he suffered the initial injury against the Wolves. He had seven games where he scored at least 20 points (season-high 23 at Houston in an overtime game on 12/28) but only one of them came after that first tweak, and it was exactly 20 points, on Jan. 26 at Phoenix. After the second injury he never scored 20 again until the playoffs, reaching 18 a couple times (at Warriors Feb. 22 on 8-of-17 shooting and vs. Chicago on Mar. 6 on 7-of-14 shooting).
Worse still were his percentages. He averaged 11.2 points last February, with a slash-line of .426/.294/.688, which is simply dreadful. The numbers got even worse in April, with a 10.4 average and a cover-your-eyes-bad slash-line of .379/.319/.765. The playoffs weren't much better: 11.2 points and a .399/.302/.738 clip. And remember, there wasn't a single back-to-back in that bunch and plenty of time off between a pair of series sweeps.
Contrast that battered and bruised Ginobili to this one, the one who's already scored over 20 points in eight of 52 games compared to seven of 60 last year. The one who's already topped last season's high of 23 points four times.
Last year's Ginobili need forever to get back into rhythm after missing games. This year's version got his season-high of 29, vs. Portland, his third game back after his first hammy tweak. This year's version is averaging 13.1 points with a .544/.378/.875 since his second setback. Hopefully it's his last setback.
Even if it isn't though, I don't think it necessarily means Ginobili is doomed. Healthy or not, he's just different this year -- stronger -- and I think getting to play with Marco Belinelli, as well as a rejuvenated Boris Diaw and Patty Mills, is also buying him some room on the floor. It's like the Spurs signed a brand new bench in the off-season, and it's been a godsend.
(The starters outscored the Bulls 19-8 in 7:01, by the way, which works out to 130-55 in a full game. Sshhhhhh.)
Be sure to read J. Gomez's recap if you haven't already.
Standard Pop Quote:
"The defense was excellent. We got our hands on a lot of balls, a lot of deflections. We didn't give up any offensive rebounds, and it fueled us offensively. We were able to get some open shots and we knocked them down. But the defense and the boards really fueled us and got us off to a good start."
By the Numbers:
21,634: The paid attendance at the United Center
21,633: Number of folks who were left thinking, "Man, I wish the Bulls were playing somebody easier, like Miami."
1: Number of Scottie Pippens in attendance, and he doesn't care who they're playing because come on, he's Scottie freakin' Pippen.
7: The Spurs hit their seventh three-pointer of the game with 9:19 to go in the 2nd quarter. At the time the Bulls had seven made field goals, total.
48.2: The Spurs shooting percentage from two (28-of-58).
57.1: The Spurs shooting percentage from three (12-of-21).
38: The Spurs scored a season-high 38 points in the first quarter. It took the Bulls 26:47 to score 38 points.
81.8: Ginobili's field goal percentage for the game (9-of-11 shooting). It's the third-best mark of his career in games in which he's attempted at least 10 shots. He had a pair of 9-of-10s against Atlanta in 2003 and Utah in 2011.
64: Points for the Spurs bench.
-20: For Cory Joseph, in 8:24. Ow.
Sequence of the game:
Probably the end of the first quarter where Ginobili just made Taj Gibson look like a clown. He pump-faked him into the air at the three-point line on the wing but instead of driving right away, he hesitated a bit, made another move past the befuddled Gibson, drained the clock all the way down and scored on the reverse layup with just a second to go in the quarter. Good statement game from Gibson, the 6MOY year candidate, by the way. 1 point, 5 boards, 2 turnovers and 0-of-5 in 23 minutes. Solid.
Tweets of the Night:
Spurs take 21-6 lead, and Popovich is the one taking the game's first timeout. Would someone check if Thibs is still alive?— Jeff McDonald (@JMcDonald_SAEN) March 12, 2014
Perhaps this is part of Thibs' long con. If the Bulls win too many games then their owner will trade Noah in the off-season. Gotta stay under the radar.
Spurs with 21-6 start;crowd in awe of 4 amazing box outs, 3 incredible defensive switches, 2 diagonal cuts and a partridge in a pear tree— Sam Smith (@SamSmithHoops) March 12, 2014
Is Smith praising the Spurs? Mocking them? Insulting the Bulls? Showing his boredom? All of the above.
Tony’s hacked the system and is playing on Easy mode.— Pounding the Rock (@poundingtherock) March 12, 2014
He should save that cheat code for the Thunder series.
There’s a guy shouting "WHAT. WHAT. WHAT. WHAT. WHAT. WHAT. WHAT. WHAT. WHAT" can someone please answer him— Pounding the Rock (@poundingtherock) March 12, 2014
YE-AHHHHHHHHHHHHH! (ummm, that link contains NSFW language)
Spurs are up 30 and we have played 16 minutes of basketball.— Pounding the Rock (@poundingtherock) March 12, 2014
Well, the Spurs have played 16 minutes of basketball. Not sure what the Bulls were doing.
A reminder: Heading into night, Bulls had more wins since Jan. 1 than any team in the NBA.— Jeff McDonald (@JMcDonald_SAEN) March 12, 2014
I'm guessing that one's not gonna hold up all regular season.
"The Bulls make you take it from them." /Spurs execution kicks them in the nuts, takes their lunch money— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) March 12, 2014
You could say the Spurs get so little media attention that the whole team is Incognito. (Hey-O)
Wow. RT @JasonMinnix Last time I watched a blowout like this in Chicago, DeMarcus Ware was still a Dallas Cowboy.— Jeff McDonald (@JMcDonald_SAEN) March 12, 2014
I enjoyed that game because I suspect only terrible people root for the Cowboys.
Pop calls timeout to nip 2-0 Bulls run in the bud.— Dan McCarney (@danmccarneysaen) March 12, 2014
Any coach can call them after a 10-0 run, it's the Hall-of-Fame coaches who do it at 2-0.
Starting to worry that the Spurs are looking this good and it’s "only" March. Two whole months left for something terrible to happen.— Pounding the Rock (@poundingtherock) March 12, 2014
Pop's so bored he's hacked into PtR's twitter feed.
Mayhaps we're giving the boys too much credit.
Spurs bench now with 46 points (18-22 FG)— Aaron PS (@DukeOfBexar) March 12, 2014
A starting lineup of Mills-Ginobili-Belinelli-Diaw-Baynes would get the fourth seed in the East.
Is it just me or does it seem like half the time when Ginobili checks into a game he's just NOT mentally ready to participate for a minute or two? Tonight at Chicago was a classic example. He struggled to catch a simple outlet pass from Leonard after the rebound. He had all kinds of trouble dribbling the ball --against no pressure, mind you-- up the court. Once he got the ball in the half court, he tried what would've been an ambitious, at best, over-the-head, behind-the-back pass, only he never had control of the ball and it was easily stolen. Basically for 15 seconds there Ginobili looked like somebody who'd never played basketball before, like one of those "Space Jam" aliens sucked out all of his ability. And I swear this happens to him like every other game, where he immediately gets that first turnover out of his system on that first touch before he settles in and finishes with just four or five more the rest of the night.
Yes, I can make jokes like that because I love Manu Ginobili.
Also, I couldn't believe the Bulls never got T'd up in the third quarter. Between Noah and Boozer there was a lot of chirping at the refs for a solid 12 minutes out there. Maybe the refs decided, "I'm not gonna make it easy on you and toss you. I'd rather you just endure this like I have to."
Your Three Stars:
3) Kawhi Leonard (53 pts): For the first time all season, YTS has the exact same three guys on the exact same three spots of the podium.
2) Manu Ginobili (71 pts): What does this mean?
1) Tony Parker (100 pts): I have no idea.
Vs. Portland Trail Blazers (42-22), Wednesday, Mar. 12:
As recently as January 18, Portland was the feel-good story of the league. They had just destroyed the Mavs on the road by 16 points to finish off a Texas road BABA, having won at San Antonio the night before (LaMarcus Aldridge was one of three Blazers to score at least 21 against the Spurs and Manu had a season-high 29 in defeat) and their 31-9 record was the best in the West. Unfortunately for them, it's been their high-water mark for the season. Since then they lost 9 of 14, won five in a row against no one remotely good, and have lost four of their past five, including the last three in a row. Like the Spurs, they're gonna be on a SEGABABA on Wednesday, but it's gonna be another road-road one for them, as they dropped one at Memphis 109-99, allowing the Grizzles to shoot an obscene 56 percent from the field and 50 percent from downtown to offset Damian Lillard's 32 on the other end. Aldridge, meanwhile, scored 19 on 23 shots and Wesley Matthews made 1-of-7 field goals. As you're probably aware, the Spurs recent history against Portland isn't very good, but they did prevail in their last meeting, Feb. 19, on the road, even though they were without Duncan, Parker and Leonard (Aldridge was out for them). Patty Mills led the Spurs with 29 and four others scored at least 15. The Spurs haven't beaten Portland at home since 2012 and they lost by 30 to them last year during "Military Appreciation Day," which was the worst military-related disaster in San Antonio since, well, you know. (This year they got wise and scheduled the Bobcats for that.) It seems unlikely that Green will play and Duncan is dragging a bit to be sure, but if there's ever a good time for the Spurs to catch the Blazers, it's now. Just one more solid win and the boys can go on a bit of a vacation against the dregs of the West.