Manu Ginobili wasn't supposed to be a big factor against the Lakers Sunday.
After tweaking his hamstring March 29 against the Clippers, Ginobili was basically done for the regular season. He'd miss nine games and only play sparing minutes in the 10th, a season-ending loss to Minnesota. The Spurs perma-sixth man wasn't expected to be his usual self.
But in a convincing 91-79 win in Game 1, Manu was Manu. With the lead down to four points with about four minutes to go in the third quarter, Manu hit a pair of free throws, and then it was his time to shine. First, he awkwardly passed in mid-air to DeJuan Blair, and a give-and-go resulted in a starting-then-stopping vintage Manu drive to the hoop. The next time down the floor, he drilled a three from the top of the arc. Two possessions later, five feet to the right, he drilled another three with 2.9 seconds left in the quarter, with his team's lead up to 13 points.
All in all, Ginobili had 18 points on 6-for-13 shooting, tied for the team lead in scoring. And this from the guy who wasn't expected to play well.
It's surprising. I mean, let's look at what Ginobili himself told the San Antonio Express-News Friday:
"No idea," Ginobili said when asked what sort of role he’s envisioned after playing only one game, the regular-season finale, since suffering a strained right hamstring March 29.
"I’ll try to contribute in any way or form I can. I’m not going to probably be a factor scoring-wise, but I’m going to try to be solid, create for my teammates, play good defense and help. Just do the little things."
Oh, Manu, you sly, balding genius. "The little things." "Not going to be a factor scoring-wise." Then he goes out and leads the team in scoring. Well played, sir.
His teammates and coach never downplayed the importance of Ginobili's return. Here's what Popovich said in his postgame presser:
It was great to have Manu back. He does what he does. He makes big shots. He creates problems for the opponent, and he's got a great will, a great desire.
And Tony Parker:
He's a huge key in what we do. He's been here a long time, he knows our system, and tonight he made some timely threes and gave us some energy off the bench. He was aggressive. He looked great. we're going to need him if we want to go far.
It shouldn't be surprising that Manu is doing this. He's been a big factor on three championship teams. He's one of the most effective sixth men in the history of the NBA. Although he's now 35, he's still the same player year to year, constantly able to flummox, seemingly indecisive until he's past you with a wobbly cut and the ball's on its way into the hoop. Remind us of this game the next time we doubt Manu Ginobili.