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Manu on fire

Ginobili's manic intensity fueled Spurs' title run

Posted: Friday June 24, 2005 1:49AM; Updated: Friday June 24, 2005 2:26AM
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Manu Ginobili
Manu Ginobili averaged 22.7 ppg in the Spurs' wins and 13.3 ppg in their losses.
Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

It was a long, weird series, one marked by blowouts, big shots, lots of Eva Longoria and two coaches who couldn't stop complimenting each other. Some accused the games of being unwatchable and a few of them were. But the final best-of-three in Games 5, 6, and 7 was dramatic viewing and provided a seeming oxymoron: entertaining team defense. In trying to parse why the Spurs won, we throw out the obvious (home court advantage, the most dominant player in Tim Duncan) and focus on four series-specific reasons.

The Manu Factor

Duncan is the foundation of the team, but Manu Ginobili was the most important player, primarily because he was the only Spur who could create his own offense. When he faltered, so did San Antonio; in the games the Spurs lost, Ginobili averaged 13.3 points and shot 13-of-32 (and 4-of-16 on 3-pointers). By contrast, in the four wins, he averaged 22.7 points, shot 29-of-53 and 8-of-15 on 3s. Essentially, he and Chauncey Billups were the only indefensible players in the series -- whoever had the better Game 7 was going to lead his team to the title. Ginobili played excellent defense, hit clutch free throws, played point guard when needed, fired up the San Antonio crowd and raced around the court with manic intensity, hair flapping, diving for every loose ball. He could have easily been chosen as the Finals MVP.

The Role Players

Robert Horry single-handedly won Game 5 for San Antonio, something I'm sure Felix Gillette has heard about once or twice in the last week. He was also, as Hubie Brown put it so nicely, and nasally, "Mr. Intangible," grabbing loose balls, taking charges, and making solid entry passes. Bruce Bowen was similarly instrumental because of his defense, both on Richard Hamilton and Billups. He even managed to block Billups' shot at a crucial moment down the stretch in Game 7, which is remarkable because part of Bowen's strategy is to rarely, if ever, leave his feet so that players don't beat him off the dribble with shot fakes (he blocked this one flat-footed). Brent Barry did what he needed to do -- played heady ball, threw good passes and hit the occasional 3.


Gregg Popovich made a number of important ones. When the ballhandling of Tony Parker and Beno Udrih hurt the team in Detroit, he had Ginobili and Barry advance the ball. He kept Horry in Game 5 even though he'd played a horrid game through three quarters, and he switched Bowen onto Billups at crucial moments, including the end of Game 5 (the pivotal game in the series). He also made a risky move and shortened his bench substantially -- Rasho Nesterovic, Udrih, Brown and Glenn Robinson were virtually invisible after Game 3. This could have backfired had the Spurs' players tired or gotten into foul trouble, but neither happened. Udrih is a promising player, and will have ample opportunity to prove himself in years to come, but Popovich didn't want to take any chances. Smart move.


It is remarkable to watch a Popovich-coached team and see the players stick to the plan, no matter what; if the floor caved in during the middle of a play, one imagines the Spurs would just run their cuts around the rubble. Even when their offense was ineffective, San Antonio kept executing. No one decided to freelance, or jack up desperation 3-pointers (something the Pistons did). No one got flustered by the refs (again, Game 1 and 2 for Detroit). And, with the exception of some ugly Ginobili drives in the middle of the series, the ball moved relentlessly. On many possessions, the Spurs would swing it four or five times before shooting (and always, it seemed, it was a wide open Bowen in the corner). In the fourth quarter of Game 7, both Ginobili and Duncan drew double teams and waited, patiently -- and until the end of the shot clock -- sucking in the defenders as far as possible before kicking the ball out to a shooter for a wide open jumper (both of the shots went down). That's the kind of stuff that makes coaches, even stone-faced ones like Popovich, feel warm and fuzzy inside.