SAN ANTONIO – Check out the cuff links, teammate Stephen Jackson chided from the adjoining stall, making sure the a couple dozen reporters who turned that side of the Spurs locker room into gridlock noticed the accessories.
Manu Ginobili was dressed to impress. White dress shirt unbuttoned at the collar. Grey sport coat in a rare fashion move for a jeans kind of team. And, yes, cuff links.
Never mind the wardrobe. Check out the shot. Check out the box score.
Now we’re talking impressive.
After averaging just 11.3 points and shooting 40 percent the previous eight playoff games, Ginobili made nine of 14 attempts, including three of five from behind the arc, and scored a game-high 26 points in a blast of the past that led the Spurs to a 101-98 victory over the Thunder in the opener of the Western Conference final.
“It just happened,” he said in the traffic jam. “I don’t know how exactly because I haven’t scored like this all season long. But it happened and I am very happy about it.”
Aside from a return to what for years had been the familiar sight of the sixth man sparking an important win, this was a warning shot for the three other teams still alive in the playoffs. If San Antonio had been steamrolling along before this, sweeping the Jazz and then the Clippers, good luck to Oklahoma City, Miami or Boston for the series upset if Ginobili is setting the tone for the offense like that.
“Manu was great tonight,” said Tony Parker, who had 18 points, eight rebounds and six assists himself. “He was very aggressive. He was in a good rhythm early in the game. You can see he had a little bounce. He was playing great and making big shots. In the fourth quarter, he wanted the ball and he was very aggressive. And he made great passes, too. Got everybody involved. He was very active tonight.”
It wasn’t just the fourth quarter, when he had 11 points as the Spurs outscored the Thunder 39-27 and turned a nine-point deficit into a three-point win. It was the entire night of energy. The early statement of 10 first-half points that signaled he was ready for a breakthrough was just as critical, especially with San Antonio trying to endure the rarity of 14 turnovers the same first two quarters.
“That’s Manu’s game.” coach Gregg Popovich said. “He’s a scorer. He’s somebody we depend on to create and make things happen. Whether it’s shooting or driving or assisting somebody else. That’s what he’s done for us his whole career. And it’s very important to us. Without that, we have a tough time winning.”
With it, everybody else will have a tough time winning.