Over the course of his 13-year NBA career, we've seen many different iterations of Manu Ginobili. We've seen Good Manu, Bad Manu, Sixth Man Manu, and a sort of Super-Saiyan form he enters into when he's in the zone. After 13 years of watching him hoop, fans can almost predict when something is going to happen. You can tell when he's going to pull up from 3 in semi-transition. There's a sense of when he's about to try and nutmeg his defender. Longtime Ginobili observers can feel it when a "No...no...no....YES!" moment is about to happen.
For the better portion of his career, Ginobili was a huge positive on the floor, though he could always have moments that would make Gregg Popovich sick to his stomach. He was a whirling dervish, befuddling anyone who tried to make sense of his plan. Ironically, he usually didn't have a plan. His ability to improvise in any situation was what made him unpredictable, and impossible to defend. His free-flowing brilliance complimented the Spurs' more rigid systems perfectly. The court was his canvas, and he the painter, leaving his mark all over whatever game he was in.
In recent seasons, his production has declined. He's aging, and his athleticism is eroding a bit more each season. The Spurs' roster has been bolstered with talent, giving Ginobili, Tim Duncan, and Tony Parker more time to save energy so that they can perform when the situation demands it.
Even so, there are games when his age shows. Though there's been no sharp decline in Ginobili's game, it's been noticeable enough. Ginobili's game has become less reliable. To make up for it, he presses in some situations, which can turn good to great -- but also good to bad, and bad to worse. He still enters The Manu Zone here and there, and Good Manu is still mostly around, but the dark side creeps into more and more game situations than ever.
Wednesday's game versus the Memphis Grizzlies was perhaps the best showcase of the worst version of Ginobili. For much of the game, with other key perimeter players Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard out for the night, Ginobili took ownership of the contest. He was a steadying force that provided crucial baskets to keep San Antonio from being blown out in the first half. At the end of regulation he played point guard, using his cunning to set teammates for baskets. No play he made was bigger than the assist he made on Danny Green's corner 3 that sent that Spurs up 3 before Marc Gasol's prayer put the game into overtime.
With about 20 seconds left in overtime, with the Spurs up by two, Ginobili made a horrible, inexcusable mistake. After getting the ball in the backcourt, instead of bringing it up slowly and killing the clock before a game-clinching shot attempt, he instead lobbed the ball up the left sideline towards Danny Green. The pass was stolen by Courtney Lee, and led to a Marc Gasol layup that sent the game into a second overtime.
That second overtime followed, as did the third. On the final possession, Ginobili found himself with a chance to make the wining play. After a defensive rebound, he came up the floor with no timeouts, got a screen from Tim Duncan, and fired a lame-duck 3-point attempt with 5 seconds left. It missed badly and it effectively ended the game. On first look, it seemed like a bad shot attempt, and that there was room to drive that he just didn't take. Ginobili confirmed as much after the game, saying: "But I had no legs to get to the rim...It was a bad shot. I'm disappointed in the decision I made."
Manu had some fantastic plays Wednesday night. He kept the Spurs afloat for much of the game. He had 21 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists. He even dunked the ball. He spent a good deal of time in The Manu Zone. But, as the game wore on, his body betrayed him, and he looked more and more human as the overtime periods stacked up.
He's still a good player, capable of having great stretches in games, and showing off what used to make him one of the most feared players in the league. But I'm afraid that he's just as likely to be out of sorts, making a turnover he shouldn't, or forcing a shot up when he should have passed. Missing a clutch free throw with the game on the line.
It's no secret that Ginobili doesn't have much time left in this league. He's a unique, special type of player whose artistry we'll never see duplicated. No matter how he plays, I'm going to make the most of the time I have left to watch him.
QUOTE OF THE GAME
"This is the Association. This is what it is. This is how it be."
--Zach Randolph, postgame, via Sean Grande
This is how it be, indeed.
MVP OF THE GAME
Danny Green - 25 points, 7-13 from 3PT, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, 5 blocks
The Verde was cooking on Wednesday. Green drilled shot after shot from beyond the arc, repeatedly bailing out the Spurs on both broken plays and ones that fell deep into the shot clock. In addition to his shooting exploits, he was making plays all over the defensive end. He defended Mike Conley well, got his hand on the ball when digging down on Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, and helped tote the rebounding load for San Antonio in the absence of Kawhi Leonard.
NUMBERS ON THE BOARD
- 23: The number of points that the Spurs were down in the 2nd quarter before they slowly started to work their way back into the game. The Spurs have to be given credit for sticking in there and fighting back versus a surging Grizzlies team instead of just calling it a day.
- 14: Missed free throws for the Spurs tonight. They shot 48.1% from the charity stripe as a team. It's cliche to say so, but still, you've got to hit your free throws.
- 5: Blocks for Danny Green tonight. Remember: Danny Green is a 6'6" guard. It's mind-blowing to see him have that many blocks in a game, regardless of whether it happened over a regulation game and 3 overtimes. He played lights out.
- 1: made 3-pointer on the season now for Marc Gasol, thanks to his step-through prayer he launched at the end of regulation to send it into overtime.
- One of the more frustrating parts of Wednesday's game was San Antonio's inability to control the ball when getting up the court after rebounds and inbounds passes. When Spurs gained possession, the Grizzlies would sneak in and try to swipe at the ball to create a turnover. It worked multiple times, giving Memphis extra shots close to the basket.
- Win or loss, this is the craziest game I've seen all year. It seemed like everyone stepped up late for both teams with players hitting zany shots left and right. The Grizzlies stepped up a little more, and they got the win. It's a long way away at this point, but if we get this matchup in the postseason, it'll be a fun one. With that being said, Memphis' win came against a Spurs team that was without Parker or Kawhi Leonard. As well as the Grizzlies are playing right now, and as much as they've improved since last year, I'd still favor a healthy Spurs team over them. Leonard can create an assortment of problems for Memphis on both ends, and Parker is the other nightly perimeter scoring threat that San Antonio lacked tonight.