Shortly before the Spurs would put the finishing touches on their back-to-back playoff sweeps by closing out the Clippers, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was asked if he could relax and appreciate the fact that his club had a win streak that is more than a month old and still growing.
“I’m a coach,” Popovich said. “So that means you can always find something wrong even in the best games. Plays don’t get made, assignments get missed. That’s why we have video. There’s always something to worry about.”
If there’s an area of concern on a team working on an 8-0 playoff record and 18 in a row heading into the Western Conference finals on Sunday, it might be the shooting of Manu Ginobili. Or more accurately, his non-shooting.
Through the first two rounds, Ginobili has struggled mightily with his shot, connecting at just 40 percent from the field and only 25.7 (9 of 35) from behind the 3-point line. After making just 3 of 14 from long range against Utah, he hit only 6 of 21 in the win over L.A.
“I wasn’t worried against Utah, because I didn’t take many (shots),” Ginobili said. “Against the Clippers, I took a few open, and they didn’t go in.”
Despite his off-target shooting, Ginobili is averaging 12.8 points, 4.5 assists and 3.3 rebounds in the playoffs, meaning he’s still been able to affect play on both ends of the floor and make a positive contribution.
But it is quite likely that the Spurs will need more offense and better shooting against Oklahoma City and his likely matchup, James Harden, this season’s Sixth Man Award winner. Harden is averaging 19.1 points, 5.0 rebounds and 3.1 assists off the bench while playing virtually the same role as Ginobili for the Spurs.
They are comparable players: both are left-handed with a frantic, unpredictable style that produces big plays and is difficult to defend. Both can make the difference late in games.
“There are some similarities,” Ginobili said. “We are both lefties. We play a very similar role. We both come from the bench. Shooting guards that handle the ball a lot, play a lot of high pick and rolls on the right side and we prefer going left. There are some similarities, of course, it’s hard not to see it. It’s gonna be fun to play against him.”
Another similarity between the Spurs and Thunder is that Ginobili, as a rookie, and Tony Parker, in his second NBA season, played significant roles in the Spurs’ title runs in 2003 and again in 2005. Now the 22-year-old old Harden and a pair of 23-year-olds in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are the key players in OKC.
“I know that what happened to me or Tony isn’t something that happens often,” Ginobili said. “That you get here, boom, and you win two out of three or four (years). When I won the first one, I really didn’t realize what was going on. I didn’t know how difficult or hard it was to make it. And then in ‘05 and ‘07, it was different. I even enjoyed it more. But it is what it is. There’s only one team that will make it.
“They are young. Durant and Westbrook are 23. I was 25 in my rookie season. So it happened early, but I was older. So it’s just different stories, different things. Some players are never going to win one. They are in a great situation and have played in two conference finals in a row. It’s not something easy to do. So we’ve got to give those guys credit. You aren’t a winner just because you win a championship. I don’t believe that.”
What the Spurs have to believe — or at least keep telling themselves — is that Ginobili’s shot will come around and be there when they need it.
“This is a whole new story, a new series, and we don’t care about what happened against Utah or the Clippers,” Ginobili said. “Hopefully, I start off on the right foot.”