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Ginobili returns, stars, in Spurs win over Kings

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Congratulations, NBA. You just made him angrier.

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Game 62 Vs. Sacramento: Spurs 104, Kings 94  Rec: 53-9  1st in Southwest, 2nd in West  Streak: W-8

Anyone know if the league lets guys be eligible for Comeback Player of the Year in the same season in which they got hurt?

Even after all these years the indomitable, unbelievable, indescribable and totally, completely irreplaceable Manu Ginobili continues to surprise and amaze us.

With all due respect to Chicago's Jimmy Butler, who also had quite a nice night in his return from a month layoff with a sprained left knee, it's not the same. Butler's in the prime of his career. He's not 38. And he isn't returning from suffering that.

Spurs games at the AT&T Center are by rule Manu revivals, with the crowd always roaring whenever he does anything positive, but I don't think anyone in the building, no matter how devoted to the Hall-of-Famer to be, saw that performance coming after a month spent recuperating from the most delicate of operations.

Ginobili himself certainly didn't.

"What happened on the court, it was very unexpected," he said afterward. "When Pop told me I was going to play a few minutes, I said 'right'. I don't care if I don't shoot, I just want to play. Then the game developed like that, and it happened, and felt good."

For a while there, you wondered if Ginobili would ever feel good again. Stepping on the floor for the first time since Feb. 4, where an inadvertent knee to the groin from the Pelicans' Ryan Anderson left Ginobili crumpled in agony and needing immediate surgery, the Argentine sixth-man returned to action seemingly none the worse for wear and scored a season-high 22 points on 8-of-11 shooting -- in just 15:26 of action -- to help keep the Spurs undefeated at home, a perfect 30-0.

All we wanted --heck all anyone affiliated with the Spurs wanted-- was for Ginobili to jog up and down the floor a few times without incident and to begin what would surely be a long, tedious road to finding his rhythm again. He's always been notoriously slow to get back to his best after suffering injuries.

Naturally, Ginobili offered an explanation for his big night.

"It's the opposite actually," he said, of being expected to struggle. "If I play once a month, it helps."

And the Spurs needed practically every bit of it, because just as Ginobili returned to action, Gregg Popovich decided to give both Tim Duncan and Danny Green much needed days off and also, in an unfortunate bit of unforeseen coincidence, LaMarcus Aldridge also was out with a migraine.

Three starters missing, including their two best bigs, suddenly made the Kings seem a lot more foreboding than the match-up appeared at first blush. How were they going to deal with DeMarcus Cousins?

As it turned out, not too well. He beasted inside for 31 points, but the undersized tandem of David West and Boris Diaw did what they could, fronting him often and coming up with a handful of steals when would-be entrance passes were short. Really the pair punished Cousins most on the other end, with a combined 23 points and 9 assists, repeatedly taking advantage of Boogie's reluctance to leave the paint. Boban Marjanovic had his first playing time in earnest in nearly a month and also provided solid minutes, with 9 points and 9 rebounds. Cousins scooted right around him for a couple of buckets, but the giant Serbian forced a few misses as well and finished a game-high plus-15 in 18:36.

Several other Spurs contributed to the effort. Kawhi Leonard led the way, as you expected he might, subduing Rudy Gay on one end and putting up a career-high 24 shots on offense. He started slowly, and wasn't very efficient, but the home side absolutely needed him to force the issue at times as shorthanded as they were and they definitely wouldn't have won without his defense, rebounding (13) and play-making (6 assists) in addition to his team-leading 25 points. Leonard did almost all of his damage in the second and third quarters, canning a pair of threes en route to a 10-point second period and then scoring the first nine points of the third quarter to bust open what had been a three-point game at half.

The Spurs had their customary third quarter bust out, to the tune of 29-13, but Sacramento whittled a 19-point deficit with 7:59 to go to nine in just over three minutes with Leonard missing four consecutive shots over that stretch. He kept at it though and finally got a running banker to drop and then a driving dunk against the Kings matador defense to ice the game.

San Antonio also got a pair of threes from Matt Bonner in his first action since Feb. 5 at Dallas, three triples and the usual manic hustle from Patty Mills and a couple hoops and several impressive rebounds in traffic from Kyle Anderson, whom Popovich singled out afterward. They were way too sloppy, with 22 turnovers leading to several breakaway dunks for the Kings, but they also moved the ball well enough to notch 31 assists and some of the turnovers were excusable, due to unfamiliar lineups and guys playing in unusual roles.

They won though, and undoubtedly the story of the game is Ginobili, with this performance going right into the Manu pantheon alongside dunking on Chris Bosh in Game 5 of the 2014 Finals on a broken leg, putting up a 33-6-6 in a playoff game against the Memphis Grizzlies in 2011 with a broken arm, and swatting a freaking bat in mid-air. There's like 20 others you can recall off the top of your head.

Here's his first competitive shot in 31 days.

Here he is not missing a beat with Mills, and backdoor-ing poor Marco.

Here he is curling and easily finishing past Willie Cauley-Stein (more like Willie Franken-Stein, amirite?)

Here he is boogy-ing past Cousins and somehow not getting an and-1.

Here a couple of the four buckets he made in the fourth quarter, including a baseline fadeaway and a eurostep drive with an and-1. He scored 13 points in the period including the final nine for the Spurs.

He's Manu Ginobili. He dominates basketball games a month after having the kind of surgery that would leave Chuck Norris squeamish. There will never be another one like him.

And the cool thing is, we still get to enjoy him for a while.

Your Three Stars:

1. Manu Ginobili

2. Kawhi Leonard

3. David West

Up Next: At Indiana Pacers (33-30)

Hope you enjoyed that one-game homestand, Spurs. Back on the road you go for another back-to-back Monday at Indiana and Tuesday at Minnesota. Marco Belinelli didn't fare very well in his latest game against his old mates, shooting 3-of-11. We'll see if George Hill does better. We know that Pop is a big fan of his hair. The Pacers are hanging on barely to a playoff spot for now and got a much-needed win at Washington Saturday night, with Paul George hitting the game-tying and game-winning freebies with three seconds to go. The Spurs handled them pretty easily at home in December, with Leonard frustrating George into a career-worst 1-of-14 shooting night.