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Spurs “what if” #2- Manu, Dirk and Game 7 of the 2006 Conference Semifinals

When a foul is more than just a a foul...

The San Antonio Spurs’ Manu Ginobili (left) and Dallas Maver Photo by Jeffery Washington/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

With the Spurs celebrating their 50th NBA season, we have been revisiting players and moments of the franchise. This week we are kicking around some “what if” moments, when a difference of an inch, or a second, just a glance may have had a butterfly effect on the Spurs organization.

Today we ask — what of Manu Ginobili hadn’t fouled Dirk Nowitzki in the final minute of Game 7 of the 2006 Western Conference Semifinals?

This situation was covered beautifully by my colleague Charlie Thaddeus in 2019. His recollection of the events are astounding. I will be using some of his memory, but you owe it to yourself to read the entire article here.

With 1:32 left in the game, something really important happens. The Mavs are up 1, clinging to their lead but definitely on the ropes. Jason Terry dribbles around out on the wing desperately trying to get into a pick and roll with Dirk, but he’s stymied by an active Tony Parker and a peak Bruce Bowen in his element. Manu, you’ll notice, is hanging out on the other side of the court near the baseline. He’s watchful and on his toes, ready to fly over and help at a moment’s notice. Finding no joy against Bowen, Terry decides to drive baseline and, of course, Manu immediately gets over. He and Tony get their hands up, Terry’s shot rims out, and the Spurs have the ball, down 1, with 1:26 left.

Back down the court we go. Duncan gets fouled and splits the two free throws (remember when he was kind of liability at the stripe?) and now we have a tie game. Another great defensive possession, including Manu helping Tim stop Devin Harris at the rim, and the Spurs can take the lead for the first time with under a minute to play in the game. Tim gets the ball, sitting on 38 points mind you, and then kicks it out to Manu who steps up and just drains a three in rhythm like a damn hero. Spurs by three.


It’s a classic clutch shot from Manu, something we’d seen from him before and would continue to see from him right up through the end of his career.

The foul in question is the result of a series of unfortunate events. The Mavericks are looking for a quick bucket and in order to get it they isolate Dirk Nowitzki out on the wing against Bruce Bowen. Bruce is about as on his game as possible, but even a great defender like him is going to have a hard time making up the height and weight difference he’s giving up in this matchup. Dirk is in cornered animal mode too, furiously trying to will the Mavs back from the brink. He dribbles right, spins back at the lane, and uses every ounce of his physicality to pound his way in towards the basket as quick as he can. Every other Spurs defender is lined up on the other side of the court, keeping an eye on their man and watching the inevitable unfold. It’s all happening so quick that there’s not time to even really plan a defensive maneuver to counteract this. Dirk’s two points are a forgone conclusion.

That’s not how Manu works though. He never just let things happen. The last two possessions are fresh in his mind. Remember? The ones where the sudden, lightning strike appearance of an extra defender forced the Mavs out of their “forgone conclusion?” Watching the replay, you can see him just itching to help. Itching to get over. As soon as Dirk spins towards the basket, Manu bursts forth at him. It’s definitely too late to take a charge but, what if he could get in there and poke the ball away? There’s an opening, he can sense it, if only he can just . . . get . . . there . . .

The irony is that this play is by no means the end of the game. Dirk hits the free throw to tie it up, sure, but then the Spurs end up getting two pretty decent looks at a winner down at the other end.

Although the foul is not the game’s finale and the Spurs could have hit a final shot to end the game on top, the dominoes were set in motion. An abysmal 1 for 8 from Tim Duncan in overtime allowed the Mavericks to walk away with an 8 point win and advance to the Western Conference Finals where they darkened the Suns in 6 games.

The Mavericks did go on to lose in the Finals to the Miami Heat, which begs the question — if the Spurs had beat the Macs, would they have gone on to win the 2006 NBA Finals and solidify their back-to-back championships? Something they have still been unable to do.

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