Daily Dime - ESPN
SAN ANTONIO -- If you somehow haven't seen the clip yet of Gregg Popovich pleading with his players to give him some nasty, having blasted them as "unconfident" in the same Instant Classic of a huddle, don't worry.
You'll see it plenty between now and Tuesday night's Game 2 of the Western Conference finals.
You'll be seeing and hearing the magic captured by the courtside mics for years if the San Antonio Spurs -- winners of 19 straight and unbeaten for a whopping 47 days -- proceed from this Game 1 escape to win seven more games and clinch the fifth championship of the Popovich era.
Yet the loudest statement from Pop on this Sunday night, when the Spurs wiped out a daunting fourth quarter deficit to haul the Oklahoma City Thunder back to school, was actually a simple number found within the box score of a 101-98 slugfest.
That's how many minutes Popovich doled out to his favorite 34-year-old sparkplug.
And that's a lot of run for Manu Ginobili at his age.
During an injury-plagued regular season in which he had to sit out nearly half of the 66-game schedule, San Antonio's sixth man extraordinaire averaged just 23.3 minutes. In the first two rounds of the playoffs, as San Antonio swept the overmatched Utah Jazz and the hobbled Los Angeles Clippers, Ginobili didn't make it beyond the 30-minute threshold once in eight games.
Those, though, were playoff foes that allowed for patience from the game's most demanding coach. Clearly antsy after yet another week of rest for the Spurs between Round 2 and Round 3 -- as well as privately paranoid about the prospect of overconfidence creeping into his locker room with a team that last tasted defeat four days before taxes were due -- Popovich saw enough of the Thunder's fearsome length and athleticism to throw Ginobili into the fray after just 5:29 elapsed in Sunday's first quarter.
The more telling example: After the Spurs amassed a ridiculously uncharacteristic 14 turnovers in the first half, Popovich waited a mere 156 seconds before sending Ginobili in for Danny Green with a whopping 9:24 left in the third quarter.
Thanks to some of the best defensive rotations we've ever witnessed from the Thunder, ushering the Spurs to 6-for-24 shooting in that third quarter, there would be no instant payoff. The Spurs entered the fourth trailing by nine and, worse, looked lost, hesitant and, as Popovich railed, curiously "unconfident" for a team that has lost only five times all season when Ginobili's name appears in the same box as Tim Duncan's and Tony Parker's.
Yet there was still time for Ginobili to score 11 of his 26 points in the final period, take a couple charges and remind everyone in the building that -- healthy in the postseason for really the first time since the Spurs' last championship in 2007 -- he's still a playoff game-changer.
"That's Manu's game," Popovich said. "That's what he's done for us his whole career. Without that, we have a tough time winning."
Duncan (16 points and 11 boards) soon chimed in with this handy reminder: "He hadn't played a game against these guys all year, so it's great to see him out there and be effective."
Good point. Through injury, Ginobili had to miss all three of the teams' regular-season meetings. Which means that this Game 1 marked his first opportunity since last season to duel the bearded lefty who just emerged as the NBA's freshly crowned sixth man award winner.
Those who know him best in Spurs circles say it's a mistake to underestimate how much Manu yearns to show James Harden and everyone else that he's still the best southpaw out of the bullpen in this or any series … even if he'll never say so publicly. You certainly got that sense as early as the final minute of the opening quarter, when Ginobili sliced inside for a layup before draining a 3-pointer from the corner at the buzzer.
"You could see he had a little bounce," said Parker, who also managed to chip in 18 points, 6 assists and 8 rebounds.
Ginobili was frankly overdue for this sort of performance after averaging just 11.3 points and shooting a lowly 25 percent on 3s in the first two rounds. But Popovich wasn't waiting any longer no matter what the stats said. Not against the Thunder.
Before he knew that OKC's offense would go stagnant down the stretch or that the Thunder's crisply rotating D would vanish and surrender a fatal 39 points in the fourth, Pop had committed to play Manu with Timmy and Tony for a season-high 24 minutes together. In the Spurs' first eight playoff games, San Antonio's vaunted trio shared the court only 30.2 percent of the time, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That computes to just 116 of a possible 384 minutes.
The threat posed by the Thunder, even with Russell Westbrook reverting to wild shoot-first form, called for all of Pop's old reliables. The recently reacquired Stephen Jackson had been told all week that he should plan on extensive Kevin Durant duty in support of rookie Kawhi Leonard -- "I'm so excited, I couldn't sleep last night," Jackson said before tipoff -- and wound up playing the entire fourth quarter.
That gave the Spurs four crunch-time alumni from their 2003 title team and, thanks to a combination of the Thunder's short-circuiting offense and Jackson's sticky coverage, left a smothered Durant (27 points and 10 boards) without a fourth-quarter basket in the playoffs for just the third time in his career.
"Nasty is my name," Jackson joked, predictably claiming that Pop's plea for more passion and embracing the "fun" of a taut game resonated with him more than anyone else on the Spurs' bench.
"Stephen Nasty Jackson."
Then turning serious, Jackson tacked on an unexpected admission, given the way OKC squandered such a glorious opportunity to haul the Spurs back to Earth: "We were probably more nervous than they were tonight because we know these young guys can play."
Said Parker, sounding more like his coach every day: "We're going to have to play a lot better if we want to win Game 2. And I know if we play the same way, we're not going to win Game 2."
I think he's going to be a star. And as time goes on, he'll be the face of the Spurs, I think.--- Coach Pop on Leonard
NO D, NO RING!!!!
With 26 points on 4 of 4 shots from distance in only 20 minutes of PT. Efficient eviceration.
Wolves' fan: ginobili vs. the wolves is like he's just kind of laughing to himself all game...kind of like he thinks it's cute that they're trying to play basketball.
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