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Ginobili powers Spurs past Pacers in Messina's coaching debut

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It was a Kinder Bologna flashback for Ettore Messina and Manu Ginobili, only with fewer dunks and a lot less hair.

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Game 14 Vs. Indiana: Spurs 106, Pacers 100 Rec: 10-4 T-3rd in Southwest, 5th in West Streak: W-5

While technically the Spurs 106-100 win over a frisky Pacers squad at the AT&T Center came on Thanksgiving Eve, it had more of a "Freaky Friday" feel to it. The underdog Pacers were missing all of their projected starters yet never felt sorry for themselves for an instant and controlled the contest for most of the night, thanks to superior effort, some deadly three-point shooting from various unheralded benchwarmers and sharp ball movement. By contrast the Spurs looked sluggish for most of the first half, playing for a coach unproven at this level and had to rally behind their stars, with their "big four" of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard combining for 87 points and 33 of the team's 41 field goals. In fact, aside from Aron Baynes you'd have to go back until Marco Belinelli's backdoor layup with 5:31 to go in the second quarter to find a bucket made by someone besides those five Spurs.

The story, of course, is Belinelli's countryman Ettore Messina, who's had a long, distinguished career piloting various Euroleague teams before signing on with the Spurs over the summer to be Gregg Popovich's top assistant and possible successor. He got one practice run in the top seat in a preseason game at Phoenix where Pop and several of his stars stayed at home ("When I see that Tim and Kawhi are back I feel a much more comfortable," Messina joked before the game) but found out yesterday that he'd be in charge for a game that counts because Popovich will be sidelined a few days for what the team termed "a minor medical procedure."

When asked if he'd spend the game staring into a "W.W.P.D." bracelet, Messina didn't deny that he'd be sorely tempted to do just that. "You surely think, ‘What would he do now?,' and ‘What would he like?' and ‘Who would he play, now?' he confirmed, before adding, wisely, "So what I think I should do is try to be myself, with my limitations rather than to be a poor imitation of Coach Pop because whatever kind of imitation you can try to make will be a very poor one of Coach Pop."

For what it's worth, even if Messina wasn't trying to imitate Pop, it turned out that he's done this coaching thing a time or two before. The rotations and minutes remained more or less what you'd expect and he yelled when it was appropriate to yell, cajoled when it was time to cajole and tried to work the refs the best he could. The Spurs certainly seemed to get more than their fair share of 50/50 calls in the second half, with several plays that could've been charges or illegal screens being called for blocks or just being ignored altogether. If nothing else, he gave Austin Daye a DNP:CD, which instantly earned him points in my book (to be fair, it helped that Matt Bonner was available to play after missing the last three games with a nasty stomach virus).

Ultimately the game turned in Messina's favor thanks to Ginobili, his prized pupil from the Kinder Bologna days. After combining for only 19 points on 6-of-17 shooting over his previous four games, Manu scored a season-high 28 against the Pacers in just 26:19. He single-handedly kept the Spurs in the game when Indiana was threatening to run away and hide. Overlapping the third and fourth quarters,  Ginobili had a hand in 21 consecutive points for the home side, scoring 15 and assisting on three other baskets. His best play in that stretch was a wondrous aerial save of a Parker pass headed for the fourth row. In one swooping motion Ginobili gathered the ball in his left hand and rifled it to Baynes all alone in the paint for a lay-in.

"I told Manu, 'I owe you another win in my career,' Messina said afterward. "He was unbelievable. He was all over the place, not only basketball-wise, but his effort and his desire was contagious. I think after that awkward start our veterans took ownership."

It was the most Ginobili's scored in a game since getting 29 against Portland on Jan. 17 last season and for the last time he made 10 field goals in a regular season game you'd have to go all the way back to April 6, 2011 versus the Kings -- he has done it a couple of times more recently than that in the playoffs, in April 27, 2011 versus Memphis (with a broken arm) and June 4, 2012 versus Oklahoma City.

"I was feeling good before the game, I felt healthy and energetic -I don't know what happened-but it was an exception I guess," Ginobili joked. "But the game started and I was feeling aggressive, feeling like I could do things, but the first (few) shots were not falling and then as you said a few shots fell and I started to attack the basket better and things happened."

Despite Ginobili's best efforts, the Spurs still trailed by 87-83 midway through the fourth quarter when Messina gave him a rest and were behind 91-86 with 7:16 left when they went on a 13-0 run to break open the game. Leonard soared for a rebound and went coast-to-coast for a layup (with perhaps the benefit of an extra step) and scooped up another board the next trip down, which led to the most efficient shot in all of the NBA right now, a Tony Parker three-point attempt. Parker canned it from the left corner and it tied the game at 91. It's his 15th three in 23 attempts. Parker's most accurate three-point shooting season of his career was 2006-07, when he made 39.5 percent of them, going 15-of-38 for the whole year.

Leonard followed with another three from almost the same spot the possession after that to give the Spurs a lead they wouldn't relinquish, Parker found Duncan on a pick-and-roll layup after that and Ginobili put the exclamation point on the run with a three from the wing. The Spurs would go on to make it a 18-2 run in all, with another "and-1" layup from Ginobili for good measure.

The Argentine couldn't deny having flashbacks to his days in Serie A, where he blossomed under Messina's tutelage. "Yeah, I did, it was great to see him out there, start to take over the team and yell at us, and get upset and it really got me thinking about 13 years ago, Ginobili said. "It's not easy to replace Pop, even if it's for just a game, so he needed this win and we're happy that we did give it to him."

That finish will make the turkey and pumpkin pie taste that much better --though we're not positive the Ginobili clan even celebrate Thanksgiving-- and the only question for the moment is how many more games Messina will get to coach while Pop recovers.

"I think (Ginobili's) going to talk to somebody about not having Pop here anymore and let Coach Messina let him play out there," Duncan deadpanned after, before wishing everyone a happy holiday and encouraging them to stuff themselves. He'll probably have to gorge vicariously through us since he'll have to get more than his fill of DeMarcus Cousins on Friday. The Kings were the last team to beat the Spurs, you know.

Your Three Stars:

3. Tony Parker (30 pts)

2. Kawhi Leonard (19 pts)

1. Manu Ginobili (16 pts)