Posted on April 21, 2011 at 12:35 AM
Monday, Aug 1 at 6:55 PM
Memphis forward Shane Battier had the quote of the night Wednesday after Manu Ginobili, playing for the first time in a week after spraining his right elbow, led the Spurs to a 93-87 victory against the Grizzlies that evened their first-round playoff series at a game apiece.
“He could be in a body cast and he’s still going to make plays,” Battier said.
Such is the legend of Manu, who inspired his teammates and electrified the crowd at the AT&T Center with his aggressive play on both ends of the court.
Ginobili, who started Game 2 after watching the series opener Sunday from the bench in street clothes, received a thunderous ovation in pregame introductions. Then went out and played like he always does, going full-bore and chasing every loose ball relentlessly.
Wearing a bulky brace on his injured elbow, Ginobili showed some signs of rust but still led the Spurs in scoring with 17 points. He added seven rebounds, four assists and four steals.
“He’s our leading scorer, he’s our all-star,” said Richard Jefferson, who finished with 16 points and nailed 3 of 6 3-pointers. “He’s a guy we depend on for energy, for big shots, defensive plays, which he made a ton of.”
Ginobili hit 5 of 13 shots and was uncharacteristically off the mark at the free-throw line, making only 7 of 13.
Ginobili, a guard who shoots left-handed, said he felt “pretty good” during the game despite having to wear the cumbersome brace.
“The elbow didn’t bother me much,” Ginobili said. “The brace bothered me more than anything. It’s kind of uncomfortable to have such a bulky thing, and I’m not a player that likes playing with a lot of wristbands or pads and stuff like that.
“So it was a little uncomfortable, but I felt I did OK. I took some risks. I went for steals and rebounds. I didn’t play like I was worried of getting hit or anything happening. Overall, I think I felt better than expected.”
Spurs point guard Tony Parker said Ginobili’s return gave the team a much-needed boost.
“Everybody was excited and happy to see him back on the court,” Parker said. “He played great, made great plays, great steals. He just played great tonight, so it was great for our confidence and hopefully we can keep it going in Memphis.”
Game 3 is at 6:30 p.m. Saturday in Memphis.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich sounded like a guy who has seen all this before when asked to assess Ginobili’s performance.
“Everyone knows what kind of competitor Manu is,” Popovich said. “Just to have him on the floor is a plus for the psyche of the whole team, without a doubt. And on top of that, he played pretty well. He hasn’t really played in a while, so I was real impressed he was able to do what he did.”
Ginobili didn’t hesitate to mix it up with the Grizzlies, and hit the floor several times while battling them for loose balls.
The Spurs could have – and should have – won Sunday’s series opener without Ginobili, but it’s doubtful they would have taken Game 2 with him on the bench.
“He brought more energy,” Memphis coach Lionel Hollins said. “He’s their Tony Allen (Grizzlies guard). He’s flying all over the court. He brought a lot of energy to the game and that’s what they needed. He kept giving them that little spark.”
Ginobili showed that spark on two exciting steals that led to Spurs baskets.
The first came when he picked off an errant pass from Greivis Vasquez and dribbled up court before passing to George Hill, who scored on a layup to put the Spurs up 24-22 with 9:37 left in the second quarter.
Ginobili gave the Spurs their biggest lead of the game, 56-48, after he stole the ball from Mike Conley and finished the play with a dunk midway through the third quarter.
“He made some big plays for us and those are the plays we’ve been missing,” Tim Duncan said. “Just doing things like that loosens everybody up and it got everybody going.”