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It Might Be Time for More Manu

May 15, 2003|Buck Harvey | San Antonio Express-News

Friday the 13th doesn't cause concern in Argentina. There, Tuesday the 13th is the unlucky day.

They have a saying. "Martes 13 ni te cases ni te embarques." Translated, that means "Tuesday the 13th, do not get married and do not embark."

As a result, there are hardly any weddings on Tuesday the 13th in Argentina, and until the 1960s no passenger vessel sailed from Buenos Aires on such a day.

The Argentines say nothing about the dangers of Robert Horry taking dead aim on Tuesday the 13th. But the superstition can easily be stretched from one end of the Americas to the other.

Was Manu Ginobili, single but still embarking on something, worried about bad luck in Game 5?

"No," he said firmly, "that's not for me."

A lot of things are not for him.

Gregg Popovich saw this early, even before the World Championships last summer. But Popovich has been oddly reluctant to keep Ginobili on the floor this series.

Bruce Bowen needs extended time to stay with Kobe Bryant. But Stephen Jackson has had more minutes than Ginobili in every game against the Lakers except for the first. Then Popovich couldn't ignore what happened; Jackson went scoreless, Ginobili went for 15 points and four steals.

The rest of the time Ginobili has played no more than 24 minutes. He lapsed some in Game 3, as most of the Spurs did, but he's been dependable.

He helped build the Spurs' lead Tuesday, starting the very second he stepped on the floor in the first quarter. Then Ginobili took a Devean George pass and went in for a layup.

He followed with a drive and dish to Tim Duncan, then a three-pointer. He left with about three minutes to go in the second quarter, the Spurs leading by 22 points.

That has been Popovich's rotation, but what followed are the details that allow comebacks. Jackson, shooting 16 for 51 in this series, took and missed a three-pointer and an 18-footer in the final minute of the half.

When Derek Fisher banked in a runner with a second left before the halftime, the Lakers were down by 18 and feeling slightly better.

Ginobili hasn't complained. He says too that starting doesn't matter to him either.

But there are signs that things will be different next season, and perhaps as early as tonight. This player doesn't have all of Bryant's gifts, because no one does outside of Tracy McGrady. Instead, Ginobili has a trait found in Bryant's determined face.

In Argentina they've started to call him "Manu-santa," a play off his name that translates into something spiritual. They see him as the hoop equivalent of Maradona, the soccer god.

Maradona remains the Michael Jordan of that country, even after a few dirty misadventures. Ginobili, in contrast, is the boy next door. But both also come from the left, with verve, and Maradona, too, didn't mind the occasional pass between an opponent's legs.

It's more than flash, though. The Manu-santa spirituality is about toughness, and it shows. In this league for the first time, in this country for the first time, Ginobili reacts as if he belongs.

*

Buck Harvey can be reached at bharvey@express-news.net.

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