What follows is a translation of the latest Manu Ginobili column for La Nacion
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Such a special night. It's the fourth time I got to live something like this. I didn't remember the feelings you experience in such an emotional moment. Some instants move you, like when they show the video on the jumbotron; when you get the ring for the first time; when they unveil the new banner. Those are moments in which the crowd goes crazy and it gets to you. The atmosphere is different and it makes you feel things you wouldn't if you were celebrating alone. 19.000 people in the arena, your family watching, your teammates, who went through everything you went through - having them there magnifies the effect. It was a great night. It's a good thing for me because a night like that helps charge the batteries. After a party like that, you walk onto the court and want to be champion again in the first ten minutes. You eat whoever is in front of you alive. That's how it is.
You quickly have to come down from the excitement, get your feet back on the ground and calm yourself down. But it's useful at the beginning since it motivates you in a different way. Because the first game of the year is not always special, though this time it was spectacular. It happened to be against a team we have a rivalry with, a team we played a game seven against in the past playoffs. And they are one of the contenders now because they made good additions. So a lot of things conspired to make this one special. It also helped that I played well for the first time in the season. So it was a great start, with a playoff atmosphere.
The ring ceremony helps bring closure to a cycle. We celebrated, we started to see over the summer what we've done in some clips. But in the debut there's a clear sign of closure and a new beginning signified by the tip off. That's the start of a new race in which everyone starts from the same place. We don't get a 20-2 record automatically for being the defending champions; everyone starts from the same spot. And it's the start of a new chapter, filled with hardships, in which we'll try to get back to experience what we did last season.
We know it won't be easy to reach the level we showed during the finals against Miami again but we don't feel pressure to do it. I think other teams will try to emulate what we did because they saw that it pays off. We might have the advantage of knowing we are actually capable of doing it, although achieving the level of execution we showed in the finals will be hard. We just did everything almost to perfection. The good thing is we know we can get there.
We are far from that level now. Although we played a better game than expected against Dallas, there's still a long way to go if we want to reach the goal of playing at the level we showed against Miami. Whenever we start believing we are playing great, we will watch those videos and realize we are not at that point yet. That's why trying to repeat that performance is a nice challenge. We don't need to play like that in November but in April. The focus now should be on getting our injured guys back (Leonard, Splitter and Mills) because we miss them and will continue to until they return. It's a bit different with Patty because we knew he was going to be out until January. But Tiago and Kawhi are players we weren't expecting to lose and they are essential to what we do.
The good thing is we always find tools to achieve our goals. Duncan was fantastic. There was a span in the second half in which he put on a clinic. He might not be the fastest guy out there, he might not be the best at defending the pick and roll anymore or not able to get as high in the air to block a shot. But you know he will always be in the right spot. With his fundamentals and his length he makes a huge difference. His presence steadies the team. He was flawless last season and apparently things don't change much in four months. He's one of our biggest weapons.
Fortunately, I also had a good game. It's true I was struggling before the first game, turning the ball over a lot and not being on target with my shot. Maybe the emotional aspect of the debut helped me break out of it, I don't know. Because it's not like I wasn't training properly on those areas. The truth is, in that context, it was more likely I'd have a good game against Dallas than for me to play like I did before the start of the season. Sooner or later it was going to turn and it fortunately happened when the game was important. I don't consider that performance to be the standard at all, just a good game after many poor ones.
We have a lot of help in this new process that we just embarked on, as Ettore Messina is with us now. He watched the finals from afar, has a great understanding of the game, is a veteran of a thousand battles and he can give as the type of different perspective that people that are submerged in the NBA world just can't give us. He's a guy who has been a head coach at the FIBA level for years, in different countries and at the Euroleague level. I'm sure he will add a lot to the team once we find the ideal mixture between the leadership Pop always naturally provides and what Ettore can contribute. They knew each other from before but they never worked together. They are getting to know each other, to try to help us play as best as we can. The good thing is they are both winners with a lot of experience. So surely the two of them together can only makes us stronger. The same could happen with Becky Hammon because she lends us another set of eyes. She experienced and excelled at a different type of basketball, so she has a different view. The more eyes you can add to a problem, the more likely you are to find solutions.
It's going to be a long, hard season. Everyone is chasing the title and each conference will have contenders. The East had the more drastic changes, essentially to two teams: Chicago and Cleveland. The Bulls reloaded with Rose and Gasol and Cleveland, with LeBron leading the way, has some scary names on its roster. It's possible they dominate the scene and not Indiana as much as last season. Indiana has its work cut out for it because they [lost] a very important player like Lance Stephenson [in free agency] as well as a difference-maker in Paul George. It won't be easy for Luis (Scola's) team. They will have to reshuffle some roles and I'm sure they will be a favorite to make the playoffs. But I'm not sure they are a clear cut contender to reach the East finals like they were last season.
On our side, the West, there weren't as many changes but it will continue to be tough. Oklahoma, despite losing Kevin Durant for a month, is always a contender because they have above average talent and athleticism. Portland has a great team. Houston and Dallas are strong and have a year of experience and hardships under their belts that will help them grow. Phoenix is improving. And Golden State is always liable to get hot and beat anyone, anytime. Unlike the East, in which the fight seems to be between four teams, the West is more balanced and tough. We'll try to get the same record as last season but it won't be easy at all.