Even as Manu Ginobili's bald spot grows, as his athleticism deteriorates, as his body prevents him from replicating the magic of his younger years, he's still the same cold-blooded basketball killer when the Spurs need him most.
With Portland mounting a comeback in the fourth quarter, Gregg Popovich inserted Ginobili to stop the bleeding.
In the span of two minutes, Ginobili scored nine consecutive points, culminating in a dagger 3-pointer from above the arc. What once was a three-point lead ballooned to 10 points under Ginobili. After not scoring in the first half, Ginobili responded with a 17 point second half.
Take a deeper look and the numbers reveal that Ginobili has been one of the most important players on the team. Aside from Kawhi Leonard, a destructive force on defense and the team's primary offensive option, there's a case to argue for Ginobili as the second-most productive player thus far. (Thus far being key, because Tim Duncan, LaMarcus Aldridge, Tony Parker and Danny Green figure to be in that mix too.)
With Ginobili on the floor, the Spurs outscore the opposition by 23.8 points per 100 possessions. Ginobili's net rating is higher than everyone on the Spurs not named Matt Bonner, who has played a total of one minute this season. When Ginobili sits, the Spurs outscore the opponent by 1.8 points per 100 possessions.
Even the Golden State Warriors, decimating everybody by 16.5 points per 100 possessions, aren't in the same realm as the Spurs with Ginobili. The Spurs offense is at its best when Ginobili is at the helm, finding openings in the defense before the openings even seem to exist. As Jeff McDonald tweeted yesterday, Ginobili's brilliance is of the soccer variety. He passes to open spaces, not open bodies, which creates a unique set of opportunities for a bench unit that already includes Patty Mills and Boris Diaw.
He is quite literally the engine that makes everything go - pardon the overused cliché - and without Ginobili caretaking the offense, who knows what happens? Mills and Diaw's job would certainly be more difficult. The Mills/Ginobili/Leonard/Diaw/Aldridge lineup, the second-most used Spurs lineup, wouldn't be as efficient (+21.3 net rating). It may seem ridiculous to heap as much importance on a 38-year-old guy playing just a smidgen over 20 minutes per game, but such is the unique nature of dissecting the Spurs machine. Every Spur that plays prominent minutes in Popovich's rotation is capable of making the extra pass and moving the ball quickly, but none reaches the level of Ginobili. He is capable of making any basketball play at any time even at his advanced age.
Let's play a quick numbers game to make a point.
Player A: 19.7 points, 6.7 assists, 5.8 rebounds, 2.7 3-pointers, 2.7 steals, 50 percent shooting, 24.7 PER
Player B: 20.0 points, 4.1 assists, 5.0 rebounds, 2.1 3-pointers, 1.0 steals, 33.6 percent shooting, 12.4 PER
Player A is Manu Ginobili's per 36 minutes line this season. Player B is Kobe Bryant per 36 minutes.
However you slice it - statistically or otherwise - Manu Ginobili is still the Manu Ginobili we know and love. He may not have the energy in his body to do it every night but once in awhile, he's capable of doing something truly special. He's the Spurs silent assassin that waits in the darkness until the moment is right.
That's the Manu way, after all.
Manu Ginobili: 17 points on 7-14 shooting, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 3-pointers, 1 block.
What's amazing is that Manu did this in just 23 minutes. Don't forget his team-high +18 either.
Quote of the night
"If we would have played like this offensively in Portland (last week), we would have lost by 20."- Manu Ginobili on the Spurs 93-80 victory over Portland
By the numbers
- 5. Straight wins for the Spurs, who are second in the Western Conference behind the Golden State Warriors.
- 66. Aldridge finished with six points, snapping a streak of 66 consecutive games with at least 10 points.
- 93.2. The Spurs' defensive rating this season, which is first in the entire league.
- 6. Turnovers for the Spurs, the best-mark all season.
- 29.8 percent. Spurs field goal percentage in the first half. AND THEY LED AT HALFTIME.
- +77. Spurs point differential when Boris Diaw and Patty Mills share the floor. For context, the Spurs are +9 with Tim Duncan and LaMarcus Aldridge.
- 8. Shots for Aldridge, who is making $84 million to score points.
- 1. Kawhi slam. Oh, it was glorious.
- The Spurs offense has been un-even and the starting lineup has been outscored by 10 points per 100 possessions. But the end result is a 8-2 record. There's real reason to expect improvement, even though the Spurs are already second in the conference. While the Warriors are setting the league on fire, the Spurs are taking care of their business. Their wins haven't been spectacular and the opposition hasn't been elite but what else can they do? Look at the schedule and it will be awhile until the Spurs have an opportunity to get that "signature win" under their belt.
- Uh, what happened in the second half? LaMarcus Aldridge attempted one shot, a mid-range jumper that clanked off the rim. That should never happen. Ginobili said postgame that the Spurs need to give him the ball more often in the flow of the offense rather than utilize him as a crutch late in the shot clock.
- Already addressed in this space, but Boris Diaw's butt creates so much space. His patented move - backing down his opponent from the 3-point line, using an array of spin moves and up-and-under fakes - is one of my favorite plays to watch. It's a slow-developing play that you can see happen from a mile away and the opponent is powerless to stop him. Maybe teams will start to send extra defenders Diaw's way.
- Off game for Patty Mills, who missed six of eight shots. He wasn't forcing anything though. The shots just didn't go in.
Feel like this is an appropriate time to use this: pic.twitter.com/uJytpNOHho— Quixem Ramirez (@quixem) November 17, 2015
Manu: "Huh. Not bad." https://t.co/cuRbxATapc— Caleb Saenz (@calebjsaenz) November 17, 2015
Spurs lead 65-60 at the end of the 3Q. Winner of this game advances to face Michigan State in the Sweet 16 in Topeka.— Jeff McDonald (@JMcDonald_SAEN) November 17, 2015
Kawhi dunked this... pic.twitter.com/qS4knt4Gsx— Matthew R Tynan (@Matthew_Tynan) November 17, 2015
MANU AGAIN MANU FOREVER— Pounding the Rock (@poundingtherock) November 17, 2015
My reaction before the Spurs game and then at halftime. pic.twitter.com/g6qt0gbFrL— Aaerios (@Aaerios) November 17, 2015