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Manu Ginobili's play makes Spurs that much tougher

NBA PLAYOFFS

San Antonio entered the Western Conference finals with an 18-game winning streak even though Ginobili hasn't shot well. Then in Game 1 against Oklahoma City, he made nine of 14 shots and scored 26 points.

May 28, 2012|By Ben Bolch

SAN ANTONIO — The perfect team just got better.

Manu Ginobili located the shooting touch that had betrayed him in the first two rounds of the playoffs, leaving the Oklahoma City Thunder feeling lost after his breakthrough performance in the opener of the Western Conference finals.

The veteran guard made nine of 14 shots and three of five three-pointers on the way to scoring a postseason-high 26 points for San Antonio on Sunday at the AT&T Center during the Spurs' 101-98 victory.

It was just what his team needed to sustain its unbeaten record in the postseason. San Antonio has won all nine playoff games and owns a 19-game winning streak going back to a victory over the Memphis Grizzlies on April 12.

"We really don't care," Ginobili said Monday. "We are close, seven [victories] away from accomplishing something way bigger than a streak."

That, of course, would be an NBA championship.

Ginobili had helped the Spurs engineer four-game sweeps of the Utah Jazz and the Clippers with his usual heady play, but there was something missing. Namely, his ability to put the ball in the basket.

He made 30 of 75 (40%) shots and was particularly brutal from beyond the three-point arc, making only nine of 35 (25.7%) attempts.

What was the difference in his shooting against the Thunder?

"I took the same ones," Ginobili said. "Sometimes they fall, sometimes they don't."

They started falling late in the first quarter Sunday. Ginobili made a fadeaway jumper, then split defenders James Harden and Nick Collison before finishing with a layup over Derek Fisher.

The real crowd pleaser came next. Ginobili made a three-pointer from the corner on the final play of the quarter, falling down near the feet of Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

Perry pulled Ginobili to his feet as fans roared, though the player had no idea who had helped him.

"I didn't know it was the governor," Ginobili said.

Ginobili played the final 6 1/2 minutes of the fourth quarter as if spurred by a gubernatorial decree.

He grabbed a rebound and went in for a driving layup that gave San Antonio a 77-74 lead. Then came a flurry of four free throws that extended the Spurs' advantage to six points, followed by a layup in which Ginobili was fouled by Thabo Sefolosha.

Ginobili's ensuing free throw gave San Antonio a 10-point cushion with only 1:57 remaining, ensuring that it would remain perfect in the postseason.

His final fourth-quarter tally: 11 points on three-for-three shooting from the field and five-for-five shooting from the free-throw line to go with two rebounds and two assists.

"He's been doing that his whole career for us," Spurs guard Tony Parker said.

Ginobili hadn't been doing it as much during the regular season, a broken bone in his hand and a strained muscle in his side limiting him to 34 games. He missed all three of the Spurs' meetings with the Thunder before Sunday.

But he qualified as a pain to Oklahoma City in Game 1.

"It's what we expect," Spurs forward Stephen Jackson said. "He's had a couple of bad games, he hasn't been himself being injured a lot this season, but we expect him to play like that because we know he can burst out any game."

ben.bolch@latimes.com

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