Spurs guard Manu Ginobili trots back to defense after making a shot against the Lakers in Sunday's 91-79 Game 1 playoff victory.(Photo: Soobum Im, USA TODAY Sports
(USA TODAY) -- There was plenty of youthful Ginobili blood inside the San Antonio Spurs locker room on Sunday afternoon, but none of it belonged to the man who may have changed the landscape of the NBA playoffs in just one game.
Manu Ginobili, the 35-year-old super sub for the San Antonio Spurs whose 18-point outing had everything to do with his team's 1-0 series lead on the Los Angeles Lakers, played gleefully with his 2-year-old twin boys after discussing his exploits with a news media corps that had been writing these Spurs off yet again. Ginobili has had plenty of time with his kids of late, what with the hamstring injury that forced him to miss nine of the last 10 games and had so much to do with San Antonio's lackluster finish to the season (dropping 10 of their last 20 games).
But he did what he has done for more than a decade now in the Spurs' 91-79 win, needing 19 minutes in all to not only give the Spurs the early edge, but also make the masses wonder what it means from here. If he can keep this up, then that Spurs' formula that's soaked in formaldehyde - a little Tim Duncan, some Tony Parker and well-timed doses of Ginobili - may be good enough to turn the Western Conference into a wide-open race again.
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"That's what he does," Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said. "He's good at it. Obviously (he was) three of five from three (point range). Even in the first half, I thought he kept them ahead of us.
"So, yeah, he's a big (part). The three guys, it's only been like 15 years they've been doing this. They're good. And like I said, give them credit. But at the same time, we'll see Wednesday (in Game 2)."
The evidence of Ginobili's season builds a case for this being an aberration. After all, he scored 18 or more points only 12 times in the 60 games he played while finishing with a scoring total (11.8 points per game) that was his lowest since his rookie campaign in 2002-03 and a field goal percentage (42.5%) that was his worst since 2003-04. But if anyone can sustain this level of play when it matters most, to help the Spurs recapture what they had when they were the best team in the Western Conference for so much of the season, it's the player who has always shunned the spotlight of the stars in exchange for this winning tradition.
"It was great to have Manu back," Popovich said. "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. I'll worry all night about how he'll feel in the morning."
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Ginobili buried the Lakers in a matter of less than 90 seconds as the third quarter closed, sinking a runner over Pau Gasol and two transition three-pointers that surely would have caused Spurs coach Gregg Popovich to have a coronary attack had they not gone in. With the Lakers hanging in, he hung them out to dry.
"I seek my moment," he had explained of his late third-quarter surge. "It was one of those times.
"I knew it was my time ... Now I know I'm not in my best shape, both physically and basketball-wise. I thought I had a little window there to try to risk, and it went good."
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Age is always a story line of sorts when it comes to professional sports, but rare is the postseason series in which it plays such a huge part as it will in this Lakers-Spurs matchup. The oldest 34-year-old of them all, Kobe Bryant, was not on hand because of the Achilles tendon tear that has ended his season and still managed to steal the show by tweeting his candid commentary from afar.
Lakers point guard Steve Nash, 39, returned from his eight-game injury absence to take part in what was a mediocre outing for him (16 points on 6 of 15 shooting, three assists) and them (41.1% shooting, 18 turnovers).
But the return of the real Ginobili was something that could change everything, giving the Spurs their Big Three back just in time to battle not only the Lakers but all comers thereafter that have trios of their own. Game Two will tell the tale in terms of whether he's really back, but it certainly doesn't hurt - for him and all the other elders - that it doesn't take place until Wednesday.
"It's actually two and a half (days of rest)," Ginobili said. "In that regard for me, it's very helpful. I haven't played 20 minutes in a while, and I'm going to need to recover, (do) treatments and get ready for Wednesday.
"It's going to be tough. The Lakers are never going to give up. It's just (one) game. They still can achieve what they came to San Antonio looking for, so it's just one game."
And one pleasant surprise for the Spurs.