As he has done so many times through the years, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich put the ball in guard Manu Ginobili’s hands with the game on the line Saturday night at the AT&T Center.
And as he done so many times during his stellar career, Ginobili responded in a big way.
This time, it was the Dallas Mavericks who felt the pain after Ginobili used a screen by LaMarcus Aldridge to slip past Wesley Matthews and turn the corner for a layup with 3.1 seconds left.
Out of timeouts, the Mavs inbounded the ball quickly after Ginobili’s basket, but Matthews’ 50-point heave fell short.
Final score: Spurs 98, Mavs 96.
San Antonio (20-10) never led until Ginobili scored the decisive basket.
“I just tried to attack, draw fouls and make something happen,” Ginobili said, describing his mindset as he drove through the lane before making the game-winning basket. “I thought we were going to post up LA (Aldridge), but I think it was a good idea (not to) because when you post somebody up, it’s hard to control the clock.
“So for our last play, it was better to be facing the clock and know when you can attack. I tried to use the most seconds possible to try and take the last shot, then I just went hard.”
Ginobili was also involved in the play that set up the Spurs’ last possession. After Aldridge scored on an 11-foot turnaround jumper to tie the score at 96-96 with 23.4 seconds remaining, Dallas coach Rick Carlisle called timeout and the ball was advanced to halfcourt for the inbounds pass.
With Ginobili in his face, Matthews struggled to find an open teammate on the inbounds pass. With the Mavs out of timeouts, Matthews threw the ball at Ginobili’s legs to avoid a five-second violation. But it ricocheted off Matthews just as he tried to step inbounds, giving possession back to the Silver and Black.
Dallas (8-22) led by as many 16 points, but the Spurs finished on a 13-0 run to squeeze out the victory after losing consecutive road games to the Mavs on Tuesday and the Houston Rockets on Friday.
In a quirk of the NBA schedule, San Antonio and Dallas played all four of their regular-season meetings in a 33-day span. The Spurs won the series 3-1.
“It’s basketball,” Popovich said. “Sometimes your shots go in, sometimes they don’t. But I thought we were relatively lethargic to start as far as execution at both ends. But it picked up. I’m happy for them because they kept pounding the rock. They never gave in. We found a group that played well defensively down the stretch, and it won us the game.”
Saturday marked the second time this season Ginobili scored the game-winning basket for the Spurs. He nailed a three-pointer with five seconds left in a 105-102 victory over the Boston Celtics on Dec. 8.
The Silver and Black prevailed despite playing without starters Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker. Green was a late scratch because of tightness in his left groin, and Leonard and Parker sat because they’re not quite ready play in back-to-back games after rehabbing quad injuries for months.
San Antonio played against Houston with everybody available except Kyle Anderson, who is still out with a left MCL sprain, but they were no match for the Rockets in a 124-109 loss.
“This was a huge win,” Ginobili said. “We played with everybody in Houston and hoped to play a good game in which we could grow and learn from our mistakes while playing against the best team in the NBA right now. I don’t think we got anything out of it.
“So, if after that poor effort we came here and played badly again and lost, it would have been a tough one. We are proud of this win, not proud of the way we played, but today it was enough. Hopefully we go from here and learn from our mistakes.”
Ginobili, who turned 40 in July, finished the game with 12 points, five rebounds and three assists.
“He’s our grandpa,” Murray, 21, said with a chuckle. “He’s a beast, man. You’ve all seen what he’s done for this organization, and he’s still around giving his wisdom to all the new guys. To see him coming in every day, I mean there’s not one day I’ve seen Manu not show up at the facility. Being a young guy, I’ve got to be there every day.”
Ginobili is the second-oldest player in the NBA, six months younger than Vince Carter.
Aldridge led the Spurs with another double-double, finishing with 22 points and 14 rebounds. Dejounte Murray, who started for Parker at point guard, had 14 points, six rebounds and four assists.
Bryn Forbes, who scored 11 points, started for Green at guard and Rudy Gay subbed for Leonard at small forward. Davis Bertans (13) rounded out San Antonio’s double-digit scoring.
Rookie forward Maxi Kleber led Dallas with a career-high 21 points. Dirk Nowitzki and Yogi Ferrell scored 19 and 17 points, respectively.
The Mavs led 31-18 after one quarter and 53-43 at halftime. The Silver and Black outscored the visitors 28-27 in the third period, but still trailed 80-71 heading into the final quarter.
“We did a lot of good things, but the ending was unforgiveable,” Carlisle said.
The Spurs play the Los Angeles Clippers at 7:30 p.m. Monday at the AT&T Center.