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Manu 24, Hawks 23

Game 55 @ Atlanta: Spurs 103, Hawks 96

Before I write anything, I just wanted to share something I found on Youtube the other day that's even cryptically more weird and disturbing than Matthew's love note for Manu:

I'm not saying Matty's responsible for this homoerotic monstrosity, but I'm not not saying it either.

Anyway, about this game, true story: I got to my place a bit later than usual because I had a meeting with one of my editors at the paper. I didn't really care because I was recording the game anyway, but the second I sat down in front of the computer was when Manu was shooting the last of his three free throws and the 24th of his 24 consecutive points for the Spurs. Obviously it took me a couple of minutes to comprehend what I was watching.

Then I started touching myself.

Fast forward a couple of hours after I finished watching the game from beginning to end and I think it's safe to say that it was one of the more enjoyable contests of the season for your humble narrator. Alright, alright, it was the most enjoyable, by about a hundred times. The only other game that I can think of that comes anywhere close was that huge second half Udrih-led comeback at Houston.

Anyway, before we get to the Manumania, let me just dispense with a few observations about the nuts and bolts of the game:

1. Normally I rip Pop for playing Tinyball and he certainly used a lot of it here, with the bigs combining for only 74 minutes between them, but he really had no choice in this case. Neither Elson nor Oberto could breathe out on the floor before being whistled for another foul. Each had five called for them in twelve minutes of inaction. Meanwhile Horry was unavailable because it was a segababa and Bonner is just coming back from his injury, plus he was wholly ineffective (a team worst -14 in 12 minutes) when he was in.

2. As a consequence our rebounding suffered terribly, especially in allowing multiple put-back opportunities for the Hawks. When our centers did play they were pretty decent in this regard, coming up with a combined nine rebounds in 24 minutes. Both Bruce and Manu helped to pick up the slack on the glass somewhat, but we were pretty weak in the paint for most of the second half.

3. Tony had a nightmare game for the most part, scoring only six points on 3-14 shooting in 24 tendonitis-hobbled minutes and Pop didn't even start him in the second half. However in the last five minutes he made several clutch plays, hitting two of his final four shots and setting up a couple of scores for Tim and Brent to seal the win.

4. Barry came up big in the final eight minutes as well, scoring 11 of his 18 points late after Gino was clearly exhausted. He, Timmy and Tony pretty much carried the team home. Pop played him the final 16:52 straight.

5. Tim seems to really be in rhythm with his banker. He hit three of them in this one from the elbows, both right and left and I can't really recall any game in the last two years where he's made so many. At this rate when the talking heads say it's his bread and butter shot in May, they might actually sound like they know what the hell they're talking about.

Okay, enough of that. Back to Manu... by now you've all heard that his 24 consecutive points for the Spurs broke the old record of 23 set by George Gervin, but what was so weird about it was that while it was happening, the two chuckleheads in the booth seemed to have no idea about it. All throughout the game we heard about the 13-0 Ginobili run overlapping the 1st and 2nd quarters (although for a while the number "15" was bandied about for whatever reason) and eventually they figured out that when it was all said and done that Manu scored the first 16 Spurs points in the 2nd, but they never were able to put two plus two together. Marvin Williams of the Hawks hit two free throws with 30 seconds to go in the 1st to precede Manu's run and it was like presto!, these dudes totally forgot who scored the past six points before then. It's amazing that two announcers, a producer and god knows how many production assistants all failed to notice it or even glance at the play-by-play sheet. The AP recap and ESPN made sure to point it out later.

Then again, trusting the score sheet isn't always the wisest thing to do, as I've pointed out before. NBA scorekeepers are terrible, imprecise and never seem to bother with double checking their totals. The box score of this game will read - for ever and ever mind you, that Manu finished the game 12 of 22 shooting, but it simply isn't so. He was 12 of 21. They have him going 2 for 4 from three pointers, but all you have to do is look at the play-by-play to see that this is total nonsense.

The official account has him missing a three with 10:07 to go, getting an offensive rebound at 10:03, and then making a three simultaneously. Um... that didn't happen. He shot the ball it hit the front rim its backspin bounced it backward and it rolled in. The only three he missed was his last field goal attempt of the game, a near air ball with 6:58 to go, after which Pop immediately took him out because he needed a blow badly.

Also, I will forever be puzzled about the subjectiveness of assists, much like errors in baseball. In the 1st quarter Manu passed the ball to Timmy at the left elbow, Duncan turned to face the basket, hesitated, got Zaza Pachulia to put his weight on the wrong foot, and drove left on him to score, maybe two full seconds after he had received the ball from Ginobili. Still, an assist was given. However, with 2:17 to go in the fourth quarter when Manu swung it to Barry, he paused for perhaps half a second before draining a 28 footer. No assist was given. I'll never understand it.

Finally, the oddest stat of the night: For all of Manu and Timmy's brilliance, it sure didn't reflect on the evenings +/- numbers. Gino finished a mere +5 and Duncan was a shocking -1. Bowen meanwhile led everyone with a +19.

Anyway, here's the anatomy of Manu's streak. It started with 2:27 to go in the 1st and ended with 9:40 remaining in the 2nd - 24 points in 4:47 of game time. The only Spur with a chance to break it up at any time was Bones, who had a lay up attempt blocked by Joe Johnson between Manu's second and third baskets. The only shot Manu missed during the streak was a jumper a couple of feet behind the free throw line with the possession before that. When it was over he had outscored the Hawks up to that point in the game 24-23. Also worth noting is that he had a nine point streak overlapping the 3rd and 4th quarters...

2:27 1st quarter, cuts hard from the top of three point line to the left corner of the key, receives a bounce pass from Vaughn on the left wing as he's driving toward the basket, beats Marvin Williams on the play and teardrops over Sheldon Williams' outstretched arms. Two.

1:49: Runs weave with Barry at the three point line, receives the pass going from left to right, gets past Josh Childress into the lane, takes two nimble steps around Sheldon Williams and reverses it off the right side of the backboard with his left hand. Four.

0:56: After Brent's lay-up was blocked out of bounds by Smith, Vaughn took the inbounds pass from behind the left side of the basket and deftly bounced it to Manu who was cutting hard right. Once again he lefty reversed it, beating Speedy Claxton on the play. The TV cameras missed this live as they had a graphic on about the Gino-Joe Johnson match-up. Six.

0:11: Vaughn got it to him at the top of the three point line, Oberto screened M. Williams while Manu drove left, found himself being guarded by S. Williams in front of the basket, spun around him to the right and was fouled by Claxton. Sank both free throws. Eight.

11:49 2nd quarter: Parker hands it off to Manu down the right sideline, Oberto screens Childress on his right side, but Gino goes drives right anyway, cuts left sharply to get by S. Williams and banks it in with his left off the left side of the backboard while falling sideways thanks to a shove in the back from Williams. And-1. 11.

11:27: Curls to the left elbow, cuts right around Marvin Williams who is sealed off in pursuit by Oberto, drains a jumper from the left corner of the free throw line before Childress can challenge the shot. 13.

11:07: Bowen deflects the ball on a Childress drive, it comes out to Manu who races down the right side of the floor, he sees Smith waiting to challenge the drive, jumps into the shotblocker while turning away from the basket, absorbs the contact and flips it in off the backboard with his right hand. And-1. 16.

10:49: Parker passes it from the top of the three point line to Manu on the left wing extended. He gives a slight head and shoulder fake to freeze Joe Johnson and shoots the three right over him. 19.

10:06: Runs a curl toward the top of the key, fakes Johnson who was over-pursuing and cuts back hard toward the basket while receiving a pass from Vaughn and lefty reverses yet again before Smith can get to it. 21.

9:40: Grabs a defensive rebound, runs down the heart of the floor, stops a few feet left from the top of the three point line, pump fakes M. Williams, gets him in the air, leans in and draws contact. Hits all three free throws. 22, 23 and 24.

Or you can just watch the video...

Imagine how good he'd be if he wasn't stuck in a down year...

Your 3 Stars

3. Jacque Vaughn - Filled in admirably for the gimpy Parker and had a team leading six assists in 23 minutes. Fully aware of his limitations, he took only three shots. Has become extremely adapt at getting the ball to Manu and getting the hell out of the way as often The Schnozz is the only decent player out on the floor with Vaughn. The trading deadline behind him, he's got a stranglehold on the backup job.

2. Tim Duncan - Scoring by quarters: 7, 6, 10 and 7. Yikes. Paced the team with 17 in the second half and hit all eight of his freebies. But why only nine rebounds? C'mon you pansy.

1. Manu Ginobili - Finished with a Spurs season highs of 19 points in the second quarter, 27 in one half and 40 for the game. For someone who supposedly "doesn't show up on the road" according to Simmons, it's one hell of a coincedence that all three of his career 40 pointers have come with the black jersey on. His three quick hoops to open the fourth put the team ahead to stay for good. But man, not even one dunk? Just one? Geez.

Record: 37-18 Streak: W-4
Up Next: Vs. Seattle Supersonics

A well rested San Antonio squad welcomes back old punching bag Bob "Boner" Hill to the Alamo after his club lost a heartbreaker to the Nooch Friday night. We all know how our glorious leader feels about Rayneesha Allen and I have no doubt that Matty boy will be feeling all warm and happy after this one's over.