Time marched on Sunday afternoon.
And, as usual, Manu Ginobili ignored it.
Actually, this ageless wonder does more than sneer at time. He spits in its face and gives it the back of his hand.
Ginobili just does not age. Well, he does chronologically speaking, but his play doesn’t reflect it.
As an antique, he’s the grandfather clock of the NBA, but no one turns back the clock quite like the San Antonio Spurs relic, who will turn 41 in July but continues to play like the 21-year-old that his interim Spurs head coach once signed to play in the Italian League.
Even his then-and-now coach Ettore Messina, who is sitting in Gregg Popovich’s seat after the death of Pop’s wife last Wednesday, marvels at Manu’s defiance of time, gravity and the endless supply of 20-somethings who come at Ginobili on a nightly basis.
“I’m so happy for him,” Messina said. “I think everybody here is happy for him, including our opponent.”
Slow down, Ettore.
The Golden State Warriors may be equally awestruck as to how Ginobili could take over a pivotal game of this first-round playoff series that was the difference between a return to Oakland for Game 5 and the start of a fascinating offseason. But happy for him? Let’s draw the line there after Ginobili directed the Spurs to a 103-90 win after trailing 3-0 in the series.
They do appreciate him, however.
When Steve Kerr was asked if Ginobili should return for another season, the Warriors coach wisecracked, “I think he should come back two more years.”
Careful what you wish for.
It was Ginobili’s 16 points off the bench and his fourth-quarter spurt when he scored 10 of the Spurs’ final 15 points in the last six minutes that produced San Antonio’s first win in what has been a completely lopsided series. Even at his age, Ginobili’s still capable of putting a club on his back.
Only two other players in history 40 or older can brag about 15 points or more and at least five assists in a playoff game, and Ginobili added his name to those of John Stockton and Karl Malone.
Ginobili has been a fixture in San Antonio, seemingly as long as the Alamo and just as revered. He ranks eighth in the NBA on the all-time playoff games list (217) and is among the top 25 post-season scorers ever. Only Ray Allen and LeBron James have hit more playoff threes than Ginobili’s 321.
“He’s the ultimate competitor,” said teammate LaMarcus Aldridge, who scored a team-high 22 points. “He has no quit in him, and he definitely made some big shots tonight and some big plays.”
Ginobili remains the NBA’s version of Tom Brady and it may be more difficult for the Spur because of his position as a 6-6 guard although a quarterback’s career can end on any play in the NFL. Time chips away at an athlete’s quickness, the elevation on his shot, his recovery time, you name it. But it can’t rob a player of his smarts, his craftiness, his ability to rise to heights at critical junctures, and so Ginobili perseveres in his 16th season.
“We’re not the best shooting team in the league, but we’re not that bad either to shoot 20 percent every game,” Ginobili said after San Antonio sank 15 from long range after totaling 20 in the first three games. “Today, we had a good night shooting.”
This could well have been the last game of his highly decorated career at AT&T Center although many think he’s more likely to return next season. As is his way, he’ll take time off, see in July what nickels and dimes the Spurs can spare for a 41-year-old workhorse and then make a decision.
As teammate Rudy Gay said, “I mean, when you see Manu out there, y’all think he is going to retire? He doesn’t play like that, so that’s not in our mind.”
He’s a medical marvel. Even after banging knees with Warriors guard Quinn Cook, he winced in pain on the floor for a bit, shrugged it off and remained in the game. Moments later, he drove to the basket, may have gotten away with a double dribble and flipped in a shot in the paint.
He let out a primal scream to the delight of the adoring crowd and threw a fist. If this were his final chapter as a Spur, what a grand exit he made.
Manu’s way past the twilight of his career, this complete player who probably is the most popular Spur in history. But he still produces so much in terms of energy, focus and leadership that it’s beyond measure.
“We’ve quit being surprised by anything Manu does a long time ago,” general manager R.C. Buford said. “This is how he’s produced his entire career at every level. It’s so much more than his production. It’s the impact he has on the personality and the culture of this organization.”
It’s clear Ginobili’s teammates feed off his passion.
“We all do,” Buford said.
He’s been the poster boy for the NBA, too, a model of professionalism. He’s every sportswriter’s favorite. He’s one of the most coachable athletes ever. He leaves everything he has on the court. He’s won everywhere from Italy to the Olympics to the NBA.
“All heart and grit,” Warriors guard Shaun Livingston said. “This is what he does. He puts the Spurs on his back in big moments. Fearless.”
Kerr joins the admiration club.
“I smiled when he made that corner three right in front of us at the end of the game,” Kerr said. “It was just so typical Manu. Forty years old and 16 points and hits the clinching three. I know he’s old because he was my teammate, and I’m as old as dirt.”
But the grandfather clock keeps ticking.
SPURS VS. WARRIORS
(Warriors lead series 3-1; best-of-seven series)
Game 1: Warriors 113, Spurs 92
Game 2: Warriors 116, Spurs 101
Game 3: Warriors 110, Spurs 97
Game 4: Spurs 103, Warriors 90
Game 5: at Golden State, 9:30 p.m., Tuesday, TNT
Game 6: at San Antonio, TBD, Thursday*
Game 7: at Golden State, TBD, Saturday, TNT*
* if necessary