Manu Ginobili's 'first' puts Spurs one game away from Western finals (Anthony-NBA-ESPN)

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SAN ANTONIO — When you’re 39 and a future Hall of Famer, not many firsts come your way anymore on the court; especially when you’re a four-time NBA champion in Year 15 of a career fast coming to a close.

But in this case, Manu Ginobili‘s “first” snuffed out James Harden‘s last attempt at tying up Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals, preserving San Antonio’s 110-107 overtime victory.

See, the play actually marked the first time Ginobili has ever blocked Harden’s shot. It’s a feat accomplished by few, considering the Rockets guard has attempted 862 3s this season, including the playoffs, with only 13 of those shots being blocked, according to research from ESPN Stats & Information.

“Manu reached back and gave us one of his Manu performances from past years,” San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “He was a stud. We actually went to him with Kawhi [Leonard] off the court [due to an ankle injury]. We went to him to generate some offense, and make some things happen. He did a good job whether it was distributing or scoring. He was big for us.”

Ginobili swatted away Harden’s pull-up attempt from 25 feet out with just 0.3 seconds remaining in overtime. Up to that point, Ginobili hadn’t blocked a 3-point attempt in more than a year (Kyrie Irving on Jan. 14, 2016), and hadn’t stuffed a postseason shot from range in more than five years (Alec Burks on May 5, 2012).

Interestingly, in the opening round of the playoffs against Memphis, Ginobili made so many plays in Game 5, it prompted Patty Mills to describe the extra kick provided by the inspired play of the 39-year-old as “grandpa juice.”

Affectionately known as “gramps” in the Spurs locker room, Ginobili flexed the geriatrics in Game 5 of this series, too.

With 2:02 remaining in the first half, the left-handed Ginobili cut to the basket, exploded off his right foot and slammed home a right-handed dunk off a Jonathon Simmons assist. The dunk represented just his third since the start of the season, and his first since the calendar flipped to 2017.

LaMarcus Aldridge credited Ginobili for multiple dunks on the play, saying “that the right-handed dunk on someone counts for three dunks for him. He always competes with Patty [Mills] and [former Spur] Boris [Diaw] for how many dunks he gets in the season. I give him three dunks for that one.”

Danny Green expressed similar admiration.

“I don’t know if you saw that wrong foot right-handed dunk, but that’s one for the record books right there,” Green said. “From that moment on, I knew he was locked in. I knew he was going to give us some good energy. Manu is the type of guy where he doesn’t care about his points, assists, or numbers. He just wanted to win the game. He did a great job, even at the end, blocking Harden on that 3-pointer. Who knows what would have happen if he had gotten that shot off?”

Luckily for the Spurs, Ginobili made sure they’d never find out.

“Well, I figured Manu would have at least one or two good games, and you know, that’s what happened,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said.

Ginobili, meanwhile, in his usually self-effacing manner, cracked a joke and deflected all the praise showered by D’Antoni, Popovich and his teammates.

“I don’t feel like I had a huge game. I felt better than the previous ones, that’s for sure, but I guess the standards are a little lower than before,” Ginobili said, laughing. “Of course, I felt good. I felt I contributed to the team, to the win. Of course, that makes you feel great, regardless of the stat line or how you felt.”

In a game that featured 14 lead changes, and saw San Antonio deal with the adversity of losing Leonard for key stretches due to an ankle injury, Ginobili tied the score with 34.5 seconds left in regulation on a driving finger roll. What made that field goal even more impressive was that Ginobili eluded Rockets center Clint Capela, who finished the game with three blocked shots while contesting several others.

That bucket represented his first game-tying or go-ahead make in the final minute of a game this season.

The block on Harden, meanwhile, marked his first on the Rockets’ point guard, but his fourth stuff of a game-tying or go-ahead attempt in the final minute, according to ESPN Stats and Information. Ginobili’s three previous blocks on such attempts came against Kevin Love, Kobe Bryant and Ray Allen.

“I know where his shot releases from, and he went by me,” Ginobili said of the final play of OT. “So I tried to bother him as much as I could, and I saw I found myself very close to the ball. So I went for it. But very risky; it was a risky play. But it was also risky to let him shoot. So I took my chances.”


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