NBATV did something cool yesterday, celebrating Manu Ginobili's 38th birthday by showing five of his classic playoff games. Here were their choices:
Before writing anything further, let me begin by stating that it was a wonderful gesture by NBATV and as a Manu fanboy I truly appreciated it, especially on an otherwise boring late-July day. I certainly wasn't planning on waking up to a bunch of Ginobili awesomeness on my television, and there it was, so thank you, cable channel I frequent.
However, as you might suspect, I have issues with both the list and the execution of said list. The choices seemed lazy, all being playoff games, and they skewed late in Ginobili's career. In two of the five cases the Spurs didn't even go on to win the series in question, and in another they didn't make it to the Finals that year. As for the games themselves, the editing was sloppy and haphazard. I understand they need to run commercials and chop these suckers way down, but often the edits came at the expense of Ginobili buckets while the stretches of games we saw had him chilling out on the bench. If the whole point of this exercise was to celebrate Ginobili, shouldn't they have shown him wrecking fools out there?
Anyway, you know about those five games. You've watched them to death and we've written about them ad nauseam. Let's instead look back on 20 lesser-known Manu games to commemorate No. 20. I'm just going to go in chronological order to keep it simple.
Naturally, after criticizing NBATV for including games in series the Spurs lost, I kick things off with a game they lost. Ginobili had a fine rookie season and the Spurs won the Finals in 2002-2003, but our first glimpse into what he would become came early the following season, when Tim Duncan and Tony Parker were sidelined by injury and he had to go it alone against the Shaq, Kobe and two other first-ballot Hall-of-Famers.
He almost pulled it off, but not quite.
It's not the NBA, but Ginobili himself would probably tell you this was the most important game of his career and his performance in it gave him the confidence to become a force of nature the next season. Not only did he beat Duncan and a host of other greats (and also Richard Jefferson), but the upset forced USA Basketball to revamp their entire program.
And thus begins Mr. Ginobili's wonderful relationship with the upper-class citizens of our 48th state. Speaking of 48, Manu scored a career-high 48 points here. In the back end a TNT doubleheader, the Spurs roared back from a 17-point deficit against Steve Nash, Amar'e Stoudemire and the "Seven seconds or less" Suns, behind a lineup of Duncan, Ginobili, Brent Barry, Beno Udrih and Devin Brown.
Joe Johnson still has no idea what happened.
The Spurs lost the opening game of the '05 playoffs at home vs. the Nuggets. Pop's response was to bench Ginobili, even though he had played better than any of his teammates. (That'll learn 'em!) Manu led the Spurs with 32 points and the Spurs regained home-court advantage in the series. Also, Carmelo Anthony turned into a goon.
The spunky Sonics, led by some random named "Ray Allen" who'd never be heard from again, surprisingly blew out the Spurs twice at home to even up their second-round series. Ginobiili restored order in Game 5 at home with a playoff career-high 39 points and 6 assists. Seattle was so overwhelmed by this Manu game that they decided to shut down the franchise soon after.
Game 7 gets all the attention, but the cooler Manu game against the Pistons was Game 2, where he scored 27 points on eight field goal attempts, canning four threes and 11-of-13 freebies, to go along with a game-high seven assists. If you asked anyone after this game, Ginobili was a top-5 NBA player. And then he disappeared down a mine shaft for the better part of the next four Finals games after sustaining that nasty thigh bruise early in Game 3.
(Clip also includes highlights of Game 1, which are also cool)
Ginobili played very poorly in Games 3 and 4 in Sacramento and had a critical, game-losing turnover in the former. It was the first time any of us saw him fail, really. It was comforting to see him bounce back in Game 5 with 27 points and 9 rebounds. It was also the penultimate important game the Kings would play to this day.
There's uh, no evidence of this on YouTube, but here's highlights of the aforementioned Game 3!
The Spurs fell behind 3-1 in their second-round series with the upstart and very much loathsome Mavs. They eked out a close win at home in Game 5, but they had to win on the road to extend the series. They did just that, behind Ginobili's game-high 30 points and 10 boards. Then, in Game 7 ... well, never mind that.
Somehow, this is the only game of the series where no video exists online, so here's the highlights from another Spurs-Mavs Game 6 at Dallas from three years prior.
When Duncan knocked down the second of two free-throws in this random game against the Hawks, the Spurs led 15-11. By the time anyone other than Ginobili scored for the Spurs after that, San Antonio already had 39 points, with Manu having cashed in the previous 24 in a 4:47 span overlapping the first and second quarters. Tip of the hat to Barry, who missed a jumper to preserve Manu's streak.
Thanks to some goonery from Robert Horry in Game 4, both Amar'e Stoudemire and Boris Diaw got themselves suspended for Game 5 for coming off the bench during an altercation. Suns fans were screaming for blood, and even though they were shorthanded, Phoenix led the Spurs by 16 late in the second quarter. Ginobili led the comeback, with 22 of his 26 in the second half, including 15 in the fourth quarter. He had to do the postgame interview in the tunnel to avoid being pelted by fan debris, and is still booed loudly whenever he touches the ball while visiting Phoenix.
(From 6:00 mark to 9:00 in this video)
Two nights later, the Spurs finished off the Suns at home, with the "Big Three" combining for 87 points. It was probably the best all-around playoff game Ginobiili's ever played, with 33 points, 11 rebounds, 6 assists and 4 steals.
The game also gave us this.
Some folks foolishly attached an asterisk to the Spurs fourth championship because they never had to face the boogeymen Mavs. Early next season, playing without the injured Duncan, Ginobili showed the folly of this theory, with 37 points, 6 assists and a vicious dunk on both DeSagana Diop and Josh Howard that pretty much ended their careers. The '07-08 season was the beginning of a four-year stretch where a healthy Ginobili was the Spurs first option.
A controversial choice to be sure, but this to me is the quintessential Ginobili game. He couldn't throw it into the ocean (3-of-16) but he had a career-high 8 steals and his infectious energy inspired the team and shook the building. I happened to catch this game on a flight. Also, random awesomeness from Ime Udoka!
(Play #4 on his '07-08 Top Ten highlight reel is from this game, but obviously you should watch the whole thing if you get the chance.)
Manu had a pretty solid first half with 18 points and got his first shot attempt of the second half blocked by LeBron James. And then he decided to simply not miss anymore, canning his next nine shots and finishing with 46 and 8 assists to out-duel James, who had 39 and 9. Even though Ginobili was going nuclear, James spent most of the game guarding Bruce Bowen while leaving Ira Newble or Larry Hughes the assignment of dealing with the Argentine. In fact, I'd argue that over their careers Ginobili has guarded James far more than the other way around.
There's also the Cavs broadcast of this game online, which was the one I watched live on League Pass, where color commentator Austin Carr was imploring the fellas to "put him on his keister," which I enjoyed.
A memorable nationally-broadcast night game in Boston where Ginobili hit a crazy buzzer-beater and put Garnett "on his keister" with an emphatic block. It was representative of the best stretch of Manu's career, where he was putting up MVP numbers for a solid month and leading the Spurs to wins over the Lakers, Cavs, Celtics and Magic, all the contending teams of the time.
Hey, remember Anthony's cheap shot from way at the beginning of this post? Ginobili didn't even play all that well in this game, but it was a SEGABABA after his walk-off against the Bucks the previous night, and I got a big kick out of how it ended.
Also, Pop had an all-time "Let's get the hell out of here before anyone figures out we stole something," look on his face.
The '10-11 Spurs had the league's best record for most of the year, but were leaking oil badly by the end. Adding injury to insult, Ginobili broke his right arm in the regular season finale at Phoenix. The Grizzlies famously tanked to the eighth-seed for the better match-up and Lionel Hollins looked prescient in doing so. Memphis won three of the first four games --Ginobili missed the opener-- and would've closed it out if not for miraculous shots from Ginobili (33 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, 4 steals and Gary Neal to send the game to overtime. Did I mention that Ginobili did this with a freakin' BROKEN ARM?
(This highlight package stinks, you've been warned)
If you're going to show a Ginobili game from a series they lost, this is the one to show, knuckleheads. It was probably the last truly epic performance of his career, but sadly nobody else besides Duncan and Cap'n Jack showed up. Man, that Thunder team was loaded. Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant weren't what they would become, but they had James Harden and all their role players weren't washed up yet. My controversial opinion is that they should've held on to Harden because he's very good. Somebody should really write about this.
(P.S. It's never a good thing when a highlight clip's title begins with "valiant effort.")
Hey, it's the only elimination game of the Spurs 2014 postseason! I've never been more confident of any Game 7 in my life, I just knew the Spurs were going to trash those guys. It was "Star Wars" day after all, and while Obi-Wan Ginobili was far from the only dominant Spur on this afternoon, he did score 20 on seven shots and added five assists and six steals. A thoroughly fun blowout from beginning to end.
The Spurs were teetering on the brink after having been blown out twice by the Thunder on the road. They hadn't beaten an OKC team with Serge Ibaka active in forever and it was looking like 2012 all over again. Ginobili calmed our fears with a brilliant all-around showing, making 7-of-9 shots to finish with 19 points and 6 assists in a runaway win to restore confidence. Really, not enough has been made of how great Manu played in that series at 36-years old.
In conclusion, happy belated birthday to the wondrous Manu Ginobili and sorry not sorry about taking hours of your life from watching all of these.