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Art Garcia

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Just like in 2008, if the Spurs are to rally from a 2-0 hole, Manu Ginobili will have to provide the spark.
Christian Petersen/NBAE via Getty Images

Ginobili holds the key if Spurs are to rebound vs. Suns


Posted May 6 2010 8:29PM

Manu Ginobili scored 27 in the series opener. He followed that up with 11 assists in Game 2.

"So far we lost both games," he said, "the game I scored and the game I dished. Offense wasn't the problem."

The Spurs trail the Western Conference semifinals 2-0, a rare deficit during the 13-year run of playoff basketball under Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan. The Suns, a foe seven times during that span, hold such a lead for the first time.

Ginobili is candid about the deficit and the Herculean undertaking awaiting the Spurs in San Antonio. Whereas the Spurs put all their energy into getting the sixth game at home to close out Dallas in the first round, Friday and Sunday at the AT&T Center might as well be rolled into one.

"Both are must-wins," Ginobili said. "How many teams come back from 3-0?"

About as many teams that have figured out how to slow Ginobili. The Suns aren't taking credit for that, either. Phoenix claimed it didn't do much different against El Contusion in Game 2. Popovich, Alvin Gentry, Grant Hill and anyone else surveyed agreed. Ginobili simply took what Phoenix gave, and Wednesday night those were openings to teammates.

Ginobili turned Nash-like with that team-high assist total, while taking just eight shots. One was a half-court prayer at the end of the first quarter. "So seven," Ginobili pointed out. That ratio favors the Suns, who would rather see No. 20 giving the ball up than contorting his way to the rim. Ginobili's two baskets tied an all-time playoff low in a game where he logged at least 30 minutes.

Given the unenviable task of guarding Ginobili, Hill wasn't pleased with his effort Monday. Though many praised the job Hill did in Game 1, the 37-year-old vet was quick to note Ginobili scored a San Antonio-high 27.

Hill tried to force the left-hander right, only to watch Ginobili blow by several times to the basket. Hill's dad, former NFL running back Calvin Hill, offered up some advice: "Stop looking at the ball and looking at his shoulders, look at his waist."

Grant Hill didn't tackle Ginobili in Game 2, but the Suns also didn't let him run for extra yardage. Those signature, bull-rush drives to the basket? Ginobili took only one shot the entire game within 10 feet. He took five 3-pointers, including that don't-count heave. He got up just two shots in the second half.

"He's so crafty and so good with the ball, so I just tried focus on his waist and midsection, and just stay in front of him," Hill said. "Our bigs did a great job on the screen-and-roll, getting out, showing early, really forming a wall."

Ginobili normally plays with a target on his back. He's added one complete with tape on his face during these playoffs. He refuses to blame his broken nose, knowing that it'll only come off as an excuse. All evidence that something isn't right with his game -- Ginobili is shooting 34 percent in the five games since Dirk Nowitzki's elbow connected with his noggin -- is shrugged aside.

Ginobili did admit the Suns attacked his bread-and-butter pick-and-roll with greater urgency in Game 2.

"I was been blitzed or hard-hedged the whole game and that's the way I'm told to play -- find the open teammate," he said. "We've got good shooters and I think I did that pretty well. Of course I didn't shoot the ball well, but six, seven, eight shots. They played good 'D.' They were aggressive."

The championship-era Spurs have been down 2-0 four times, coming back just once. Ginobili was part of the rally in 2008 against New Orleans. He scored 31 in Game 3, the first of the must-wins. He racked up at least 20 in three of the next four games, including 26 in the Game 7 clincher on the road.

The Spurs can use that magic again. Duncan and Tony Parker are both averaging at least 23 points in this series. George Hill and Richard Jefferson both snapped back Wednesday after MIA efforts in Game 1. Ginobili's weightiest concerns have little to do with his teammates putting the ball in the basket.

"If we would have played Spurs defense and more solid ... with 102 we usually win," he said.

The Suns have torched San Antonio for at least 110 in all five games during the regular season and playoffs. But Phoenix has always scored. What's impressed Ginobili most, and what the Spurs from Popovich on down preached going into the series, is the completeness of the Suns under Gentry.

"They are just playing better defense," Ginobili said. "They are more solid. They hustle more. They scramble."

Sounds a lot like Ginobili.

While the playmaking Ginobili worries the Suns, the relentless and disruptive menace is their greatest fear.

"He's good at both, but I think what he's really good at and really dangerous is getting to the basket, finishing, drawing fouls, getting to the free-throw line," Grant Hill said. "I imagine he'll make some adjustments and figure out how to do that in Game 3."

If the Spurs are to fight their way back, the Argentine will be wearing the gloves and will most likely end up bloodied. The city of San Antonio relates with Emanuel David Ginobili more than anyone else in silver and black. Even Duncan. Manu is blue collar. An underdog. A champion.

Asked about the Arizona immigration debate that served as a political backdrop to Game 2, Ginobili reminded reporters he's Latino, after all. "I support my community," he said. Little has come easy for the native of Bahia Blanca who's won championships in Italy, the Worlds, the Olympics and the NBA.

This won't be easy for Ginobili and the Spurs.

Art Garcia has covered the NBA since 1999. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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