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But most of all they have Durant, who, win or lose, will pick this experience clean. "He wants to be special," says Brooks. "His learning curve is flattening before our eyes."
The Last Laugh
by IAN THOMSEN
Manu Ginóbili showed up for Game 4 in San Antonio with a bandage spanning the center of his face, like a white Groucho mustache worn two inches too high. In the 48 hours since an elbow from Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki fractured Ginóbili's nose during the Spurs' Game 3 victory, his teammates had been making a comedy of his misery.
"You ain't going to be able to breathe tonight," forward Antonio McDyess warned Ginóbili in the locker room on Friday.
"Really?" asked Ginóbili.
"You're going to be sitting up all night," said McDyess. "You're going to be coughing up blood!"
He could see he had Ginóbili's attention. "Nahhh, I'm just messing with you," said McDyess, as Ginóbili waved him away and their teammates laughed.
The pursuit of a good time has been secretly driving San Antonio since power forward Tim Duncan's arrival 13 years and four championships ago. The Spurs have kept that ingredient secret, behaving like a landing party of Vulcans, hiding their senses of humor behind stoic game faces and bland quotes. But coach Gregg Popovich—a smart aleck himself—understood their need for fresh material, and so he injected McDyess, forward Richard Jefferson and rookie DeJuan Blair into the rotation while creating a larger role for second-year guard George Hill. For much of this season the moves appeared to backfire, as the Spurs sputtered in the standings and Duncan, Ginóbili and point guard Tony Parker took turns behaving like tired old men. Duncan, in particular, was slowed by knee troubles and badly needed rest—which Popovich gave him late in the season.