Posted Jan 5 2012 2:31PM
Timing, of course, is everything.
So when the Warriors were running, shooting, making and pushing the Spurs toward the cliff, it was only natural that the TV cameras found Manu Ginobili.
He is, after all, the rope, the life preserver, the St. Bernard with a keg of whiskey tied to his collar that is usually there to stop the Spurs from going over the edge.
Except that this time Ginobili was sitting in the row behind the bench, wearing a brown jacket and plaid shirt, hours away from surgery to fix a broken bone in his left hand rather than minutes away from leading one more comeback.
This is how it will be in San Antonio for the next two months as the Spurs play without the straw that stirs their drink. If, as expected, Ginobili is forced to sit out eight weeks of a condensed schedule that's packed tighter than J-Lo's jeans, he would miss 33 games, exactly one-half of the regular season.
Backup point guard T.J. Ford might have to perform like the No. 8 overall draft pick he once was. A vagabond named Danny Green, who had played all of 28 games in his first two NBA seasons, might have to undergo a nightly transformation like the one that had him hustling on defense, hurtling around the court and making key shots down the stretch.
On one injured hand, it's the last thing a team like the Spurs could seem to afford with a three-man core that has logged almost as many miles as the space shuttle and is also inching toward a place in the retirement hangar.
But on a healed and repaired other hand, there could be a backdoor benefit down the line -- a rested Ginobili.
Timing is everything and what was supposed to be an early showdown tonight between rivals Dallas and San Antonio when the post-lockout schedule came out, now has both teams looking to reset their watches. While the defending champion Mavericks and all of their new faces pin their hopes on the day ahead when they can have a practice that won't require nametags and introductions, the Spurs are already looking to Daylight Savings Time when Ginobili could be firmly back into their rotation.
Just last week in Houston, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was reflecting on how the Spurs took every necessary step and precaution to monitor the minutes and the health of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Ginobili through all of last season, only to have Duncan tweak an ankle in the 76th game and Ginobili injure an elbow in the final game.
"Not good injury management, was it?" Popovich said with a wry smile, shaking his head.
It only hurt worse when the No. 1 seed Spurs promptly went out and got themselves knocked off by the No. 8 seed Grizzlies, once more a supposed sign that their days as real championship contenders were in the rear view mirror.
The truth is, since winning the last of their four NBA titles in 2007, Ginobili has not entered the playoffs with a healthy body. That's to be expected when you spend the large part of most games hurling your body onto almost every inch of the court, twisting for shots, diving for loose balls and reaching and slapping to make steals, which is exactly how he suffered this break of the fifth metacarpal bone on Monday night in Minnesota.
The instant collective reaction in San Antonio was the kind of gasp that comes from another punch in the gut. After all, Ginobili suffered with a bad ankle all through the 2007-08 season and then had it finally break when he was trying to make a play at the Beijing Olympics. He came back and suffered a stress fracture in the other foot during the 2008-09 season. Then he picked up a broken nose in the first round of the 2010 playoffs and broke a bone in his elbow that severely limited his ability to play in the loss to Memphis last spring. Now this.
"We're going to play a long time without Manu," Parker said.
But maybe it doesn't mean the Spurs' expectations have to take a long fall. Now rookie Kawhi Leonard and second-year man James Anderson will get their chances to step into the gaping hole in the lineup.
"I would be careful to go too far in that direction," Popovich said. "I think this will require veterans like Duncan and Parker and (Richard) Jefferson to step up their games. I wouldn't say you put it all on Kawhi Leonard and...what's the other guy's name?"
With the Western Conference in such a state of flux and no team yet separating itself from the field ala Miami and Chicago in the East, it is not too far-fetched to think the Spurs can remain in the mix without their fire-starter. And if they can't, was it ever realistic to think that Ginobili was going to carry them all the way to The Finals anyway?
The Spurs beat Golden State for the 27th consecutive time at home on Wednesday night not just because they managed just enough pop in the absence of their firecracker.
His teammates could slump back and wonder why fate slapped them again now. Or stand up and get ready for when Ginobili's fresh legs return in time for the playoffs to a league that is tired and worn out from the crushing schedule.
Better injury management?
Nobody, of course, knows like the Spurs that timing is everything.
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