It happened in a flash, in the flick of a wrist. Throughout the season, the back of the jersey had read "Manning," but the body inside no longer seemed to serve justice to the word. Compensating for 34 years and three knee operations, it lumbered more than it sprang, a sad reminder of what used to be. But as the ball laced through the twine, there was Danny Manning
standing beyond the arc, a vision of day's yore.
Danny Manning highlights, including his crucial three-pointer in Game 1:
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Manning's three-pointer with 58 seconds remaining was the biggest shot of Game 1, as it pulled Utah within one point of Dallas and led to an eventual 88-86 victory. So what if he'd only made seven three-pointers this season, and hadn't nailed a playoff three since 1992? This was Danny Manning, the guy who carried Kansas to the 1988 NCAA title, the top pick in that summer's draft, the two-time All-Star, who might have played in a few more midseason classics with healthy knees.
He was open.
"We threw the ball inside -- we try to play inside-out -- and they double-teamed," said Manning.
His team was in trouble.
"They had all the momentum and were hitting all the shots," John Stockton
said. "Until Danny made his."
So he made the shot.
"It was the biggest play of the game," Karl Malone
said. "It put a little pressure back on them."
Manning's performance during the first three games of this series has been a renaissance of sorts. After averaging only 4.6 points with Milwaukee last season and 7.4 in 15.9 minutes this season, the 6-10 veteran has found new, or more appropriately old, life in the playoffs. His big shot in Game 1 was worth three of his critical 12 points off the Jazz bench. After a four-point Game 2, he contributed 19 big ones in Game 3, including another huge, late three-pointer, nearly enough for the Jazz to pull off a series sweep. Manning has proved that while the bounce may be gone, his skills and savvy still remain, and they are more than enough to make him a valuable contributor this time of year.
A career 14.7 ppg scorer, Manning was once a revelation, a multi-dimensional forward who could score inside and out. His first knee injury, suffered as a rookie with the Clippers, robbed him of some athleticism, and the other two, in 1995 and 1998, may have finished the job. But Manning had always been a thinker, playing with an uncanny feel for the game from the time he entered the league. So as his body erodes, his mind remains in tact. And at playoff time, the latter may be more important.
Manning shrugs off his sudden reemergence as a clutch performer, preferring to credit his teammates. "It's just a matter of playing basketball," he said after Game 3. "We are very fortunate to have John Stockton and Karl Malone on our team because they create so many problems and give others the opportunities to get open looks. When you have that opportunity, we are supposed to make the shot."
But at playoff time, it's just as important to be willing to take the big shot. With the obstacles Manning has faced down, such pressure is hardly an encumbrance.
Compiled with material from
The Salt Lake Tribune.