Manu Ginobili is James Harden is Manu Ginobili.
Except they are not. At least, they were not very similar in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals where Ginobili schooled Harden and the Thunder in a 101-98 victory.
Thanks to a three-pointer from Harden at the buzzer, the score made the game look closer than it was. It didn't look like the Spurs were going to be in for an easy victory, though. At the end of three quarters, the Thunder were ahead by nine and it was time for Gregg Popovich to fire up his team.
Mic’d up during the timeout between the third and fourth quarter, Popovich got into his team. Yelling passionately he asked them, “Are you having fun yet?” He followed it up by reminding them that the Western Conference Finals isn’t supposed to be easy and finished up by telling them, “I want some nasty.”
His plea paid off, igniting a fourth-quarter push that left the Thunder in the dust. After scoring just 16 points in the third while Oklahoma City jumped ahead, San Antonio outscored the Thunder 39-27 in the final quarter, as OKC didn’t have any idea what to do with Ginobili.
After countless Ginobili/Harden comparisons, Ginobili made sure he set himself apart. While Harden had 19 points off of the bench, he shot just 7-for-17 from the floor and didn’t get to the foul line. In comparison, Ginobili finished with a team-high 26 points on 9-for-14 field goals, but his impact was felt far beyond the points on the scoreboard.
He was everything the Spurs needed him to be. Whenever they needed a boost, he provided it. He closed quarters with buckets, drew fouls with his aggressiveness and found lanes to the basket that no one else could see.
Just like we are guilty of overlooking the Spurs, we sometimes forget how good Ginobili is. We give Harden the Ginobili comparison to show how fantastic Harden has been this season, but despite doing so, we don’t give Ginobili his due. We didn’t need to give it to him tonight because he went out and grabbed it, reminding all of us and the Thunder that everything Harden has been doing this year, he’s been doing for 10 years.
We knew the Spurs were tough. We knew they were disciplined. We knew they had been here before. Did we know they’d be able to dismantle the Thunder offense and break down their defense in the fourth quarter like they did in Game 1? This team is more than nasty. They’re perfectly polite while being absolutely ruthless.
That midseason decision to trade for Stephen Jackson is looking better and better by the game. Jackson was extremely physical with Kevin Durant, stepping in for rookie Kawhi Leonard and closing out the game strong.
Looking ahead to Game 2, the Thunder might want to consider sticking with Serge Ibaka down the stretch. For reasons unknown, Ibaka sat on the bench for the entire fourth quarter as the Thunder went small. In his 22 minutes of action, Ibaka had just five points, but grabbed seven boards and had two blocked shots. In a game where the Thunder had trouble defending the basket and preventing the Spurs from scoring in the paint, this move didn’t make sense.
One thing we do know: When playing the Spurs, your game plan has to make sense. If you don’t play a near-perfect game in San Antonio, you’re going home with the loss.
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