On a night dominated by Kyrie Irving’s breakneck gyrations and LaMarcus Aldridge’s feats of brute strength, it was, of course, your friendly neighborhood quadragenarian who provided its most breathtaking moments.
The Celtics had a chance to answer, but an Irving three from the corner couldn’t find the bottom of the net, thanks in part to a terrific contest by Rudy Gay. Irving had the hot hand for most of the game (36 points on 13-of-21 shooting), but the heroics would belong to the man 15 years his senior.
In contrast with his fellow Big Three members, Ginobili’s feel for the game has always felt less spatial, more temporal. Tim Duncan had an impeccable sense of angles and leverage; Tony Parker could (and still can) see windows in space that he could zip through to get off an open look; Ginobili’s gift is less A-to-B and more of a parabolic plunge into chaos in the pursuit of serendipity. Not just angles or openings, he detects opportunities in the game that few can see coming.
Ginobili’s final shot came on a possession he himself extended by grabbing the offensive board. Resetting the play, the guard took his time, then an Aldridge screen, and hoisted a high-arcing rainbow over Al Horford’s outstretched arms.
“I just gave it a little more air,” he said afterwards. “Shot it higher and it went in. I got a little lucky because it’s not my usual shot. I had to shoot it higher.”
Ginobili’s three let loose a rain of cheers from the AT&T Center crowd, an experience Popovich has become quite familiar with in their time together.
“[Manu] told me a lot of years ago,” said Pop, “He goes, ‘This is what I do.’ He’s amazing. He loves those moments, and he’s come through an awful lot. And he did it again tonight — at age 40.”
While the Argentine offered the night’s crescendos, LaMarcus Aldridge was the man keeping the beat through all four periods. The big man had a ho-hum 11 and 5 in the Spurs’ loss to the Celtics in Boston earlier this year, struggling with double teams and some terrific defense from Al Horford. That wasn’t the case on Friday, as he made 11 of his 20 shots for 27 points, adding 10 rebounds (six of them on the offensive end), and battling for every inch of space in the paint, whether it was on post-ups or positioning for a board.
It was more than just those two who answered the bell. Danny Green was shelved after halftime due to tightness in his left groin, which meant Bryn Forbes would hear his number called yet again. Starting the second half for the second game in a row, the second-year guard provided his trademark shooting, as well as a strong effort on defense. Here’s Pop on him after the game:
“He’s a wonderful shooter, obviously -- that’s his main skill — but he’s learning how to drive against close-outs now, and he’s starting to find other people on the court. He’s worked very hard defensively — he made a great steal down the stretch that really helped us.
It wasn’t just one play, either, as Forbes was tasked with trying to slow down Irving for much of the half, and seemed to be the most effective of San Antonio’s point guards. He also finished the night with a game-high +21 while on the floor.
Fellow reserve Davis Bertans was also on a longer leash than usual, benefiting from the absence of Kyle Anderson (knee). The Latvian didn’t have it going with his shooting (2-of-9 from the field, 1-of-7 from three), but still found ways to make an impact, creating turnovers and scoring off the dribble. That also included mixing it up with Celtics forward Marcus Morris on multiple occasions, one of which resulted in a double foul on both players. All hail San Antonio’s spindly Latvian enforcer.
Neither Anderson or Green will be out for long, which casts doubt over what Forbes and Bertans’ roles will be in the long run. That kind of depth is a good problem to have, Ginobili noted after the game, but it’s a question nonetheless. For now, Pop understands how important games like these are for the overall growth of the team:
“Boston is a wonderful team. You know, the best defensive team in the league. Brad’s execution that he gets out of his kids is fantastic, so we’re thrilled with the win. We’ve got a long way to go, we’ve got a lot of guys playing a lot of minutes, so I think this is gonna bode well for the future.”
And there will be more of those minutes to go around for San Antonio reserves as early as Saturday night. With Danny Green dinged up, Kyle Anderson and Kawhi Leonard already ruled out, and Pau Gasol and Manu Ginobili both on the wrong side of 36, the Spurs will be exercising caution with their SEGABABA against the Suns, the fifth game they’ll have played in seven nights:
Manu said up to 5-6 players won’t make the trip to Phoenix.— Paul Garcia (@PaulGarciaNBA) December 9, 2017
That should mean more chances for the guys like Forbes and Bertans to soak up experience and stand out, which should only pay off in the long run.
Some final notes...
That *other* Ginobili shot
Manu on his shot to beat the half-time buzzer:— Bruno Passos (@bouncepassos) December 9, 2017
"That for sure was lucky, I just let it fly." pic.twitter.com/NLth6ZITM5
Crashing the offensive glass
The Spurs benefited from second chances for much of the night — especially when Aron Baynes was off the floor — pulling down 14 offensive boards. 12 of those were courtesy of Aldrige (6), Gay (4), and Gasol (2).
Still minding Tony’s minutes
Parker had another solid outing (10 points, five rebounds, four assists), but wasn’t to be seen down the stretch. In total he saw 19 minutes of floor time, and it’s possible the Spurs continue to try and cap him under 20 for a while longer.
Before the game, Pop discussed the ebbs and flows of ball movement from night to night.— Bruno Passos (@bouncepassos) December 9, 2017
"There's 82 regular-season games. Sometimes you get 30 assists, sometimes you get 16."
In the Spurs' previous two wins they had 30 assists a piece. Tonight? Precisely 16.