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Oklahoma City Thunder: Stopping Manu Ginobili

by Berry Tramel Published: May 29, 2012

In Game 1 of the Thunder-Spurs series, Manu Ginobili scored 26 points on 9-of-14 shooting. He spent 23 minutes and 21 seconds on the court with Thunder defensive whiz Thabo Sefolosha. Which means Ginobili spent 10:42 on the court without Sefolosha.

Against Thabo, Ginobili scored 13 points in those 231/2 minutes. With Thabo sitting, Ginobili scored 13 points in 101/2 minutes. Against Thabo, Ginobili made five of eight shots and two of two foul shots, with three turnovers. With Thabo sitting, Ginobili made four of six shots and four of four foul shots, with no turnovers.

Seems obvious. More Sefolosha against Ginobili. That doesn’t mean James Harden needs to start in place of Sefolosha. But it does mean that Thabo must play even more than the 30:54 he played in Game 1, which is a bunch by Thabo standards.

“Ginobili had a special game,” Scotty Brooks said Tuesday at the Thunder shootaround. “A lot of times when you look at things, you also have to give them credit. You have to pat him on the back. ‘Wow, you played well. You played like you were only 25 years old coming into this league.’ He’s a terrific player. He can do that.”

But Brooks admitted he had to match up Sefolosha with Ginobili “as many minutes as possible … but that doesn’t say James can’t do the job. Other guys, Derek (Fisher), Russell (Westbrook), can’t do the job. They have to do the job. When you have a guy like Ginobili, you have to have multiple defenders on him.”

I wrote about Ginobili for my Tuesday column in The Oklahoman. About what a winner he is. You can read it here.
It seems to me the Thunder was a little ambushed by Ginobili in Game 1. We were led to believe Ginobili was on the downside of his glorious career.

Wrong-o. Ginobili averaged 12.9 points per game in this regular season, in which he played just 34 games because of injury. That’s Ginobili’s lowest output since he averaged 12.8 in 2003-04, his second year in the NBA. But that low point production was a clear result of lessened playing time. Ginobili averaged just 23.3 minutes per game, his least playing time since his rookie season. Gregg Popovich is taking care of his 34-year-old veteran.

Ginobili this season made 52.6 percent of his shots this season and 41.3 percent of his 3-pointers. Both are career highs.
The idea that Ginobili hadn’t done much probably stems from his so-so performance in playoff sweeps of Utah and the Clippers. In those eight games, Ginobili averaged 11.3 points a game, played 26.3 minutes a game and shot 40 percent from the field. So that’s absolutely a slump for Ginobili. But that’s all it was. A slump. A short slump in a stretch in which the Spurs won every game, most of them easily.

“Ginobili is a special player and it was vintage Ginobili last night,” Brooks said Monday at Thunder practice. “He was on. He was making his shots. He was making passes. He was getting to the basket.”

Ginobili said he took the same shots he has been taking. “Sometimes they fall, sometimes they don’t,” Ginobili said. “I always believe the percentages tend to stabilize. Progression to the mean, they call it. So you had 0-for-10 the first two games, three games of the season, sooner or later, if you take good shots, they’re going to start falling.”

Ginobili entered Game 1 midway through the first quarter, then scored seven points in a 52-second span to end the period. Which invigorated the South American.

“It did help, of course,” Ginobili said. “Started to get me going. It helped me to have scoring night. Don’t get me wrong. I would keep attacking, find my open teammate, do the little things. I’m not worried about scoring 26 a game, because there’s something more important than me. The team. I love to do it, don’t get me wrong. But we have a lot of weapons and we’ve been very successful doing this.

“It was just another game. Of course I’m satisfied with the way I played, because we overcame a 10-point deficit, or nine-. But it was just a good game.”

Sefolosha said the Thunder – both he and Harden — will have to adjust. “He had a good game, and he made some tough shots,” Thabo said. “But he’s that kind of player. Step up to the occasion. Western Conference Finals. Everybody gotta be on their A game. He did it last night. We’ve got to adjust and make it hard on him.

“He’s crafty, and he flops a lot. Every time you touch him, you’re a little bit nervous about getting into him, because he’ll swing his arms, and sometimes the ref calls that. We’re just going to have to play through it and be more physical and establish that earlier in the game.”


by Berry Tramel
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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