NBA / Apr 7, 2009 / 5:36 pm

Don’t count the Spurs out yet

Manu Ginobili (photo. NBA)

Manu Ginobili (photo. NBA)

Auto-robotic response upon hearing the news Manu Ginobili is out for the rest of the season: “The Spurs are done, they’re toast, peace out, etc., etc. …” Whether you said it with a huge grin on your face as a Lakers fan, or with an “Oops I crapped my pants” look as a Spurs fan, it was an easy conclusion to jump to.

Are they really done, though? We’re talking about the same team that went to the Western Conference Finals in ’08 and — just ask the Lakers — were pretty damn close to winning that series. The Spurs had a big lead in Game 1 and blew it; they were blown out in Game 2; won Game 3; lost Game 4 by two points after the whole Brent Barry/Derek Fisher call-or-no-call; and lost Game 5 by eight points. Realistically, that series could have gone 4-1 San Antonio’s way.

While the obvious scapegoat in that series was Ginobili’s poor play — he couldn’t push off on his injured ankle and attack the rim, and his jumper was off — the Spurs’ problems ran deeper than that. That team had an old bench, and guys who they’d been able to rely on in the past (Robert Horry, Bruce Bowen, Barry) didn’t come through when called upon.

Since then, San Antonio has addressed that issue. Matt Bonner (8.4 ppg, 45% 3PA) started off the season looking like a slightly better version of Brian Scalabrine, but he’s found his niche in Gregg Popovich‘s system and has been effective. Mike Finley (9.8 ppg, 42% 3PA) looked like he needed to retire after last year’s playoffs, but he’s been better this year; less than a month ago he dropped 25 points in a game against the Lakers. Drew Gooden has provided some much-needed frontcourt help; in his last two games he’s averaged 16 points per. And of course there’s Roger Mason (11.6 ppg, 41% 3PA). The biggest benefactor of Manu’s absence can be an effective third option on offense — he has 10 games of 20-plus points this season — and is a proven go-to guy in crunch-time.

Remember me?

Remember me?

Without Manu, the Spurs go into these playoffs a lot like Michigan State went into Monday’s national championship game. They have a chance to win it all, but their margin for error is small. They can’t give away leads, can’t miss a lot of free throws and blow wide-open shots, can’t turn the ball over, and can’t have too many defensive breakdowns.

Here’s the thing, though: In the Tim Duncan era, no NBA team has been better at navigating tiny margins for error. If you’re counting on a team to make mistakes, blow golden opportunities and underachieve, San Antonio is absolutely NOT that team. How often have the Spurs lost to a lower-seeded team in the playoffs? (Duncan has never lost in the first round.) How often have they quietly exited the postseason?

All you can say about Duncan is that HE’S STILL TIM DUNCAN. Tony Parker (21.8 ppg, 6.9 apg) is playing the best basketball of his career. And Pop isn’t going to get out-coached by anyone. What did people say when the Lakers were winning championships: As long as they had Kobe, Shaq and Phil, you could pretty much put anyone around them and they’d be in the championship mix, if not win the whole thing. The Spurs have their dominant big man, they have their explosive lead guard, and they have their outstanding coach. They also have a system that’s proven to work even with interchangeable parts, and they play defense.

Also working to the Spurs’ advantage is at least now they know Manu won’t be able to help them. In last year’s L.A. series, the knowledge that Manu was on the court created a level of expectation, and when that didn’t work out, it threw the Spurs off. They couldn’t counter. This time Pop has weeks to game plan around Manu’s absence.

Obviously, Manu would make things a lot easier, but this team can win a championship without him. To write them off at this point is just short-sighted and silly.

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  • AY

    If a team has no chance at the championship, and they don’t have any without manu, i’m writing that team off. And my apologies to the spurs fans, this is an odd year.

  • B-Balla#1

    True to a point but the margin of error or realistic probability of the Spurs taking it all the way is far less than lets say Boston, Clevland or LA.

  • Diego

    Manu only played in 44 games this season and was not his usual effective self. San. Ant. still has 3rd best record in the West–even with a lot of other DNPs by its stars. As article notes, Spurs supporting cast (except for loss of Manu) is much better this year than last.

    The West playoffs could be wacky, and the Spurs definitely have a chance, and the talent, to come out on top of it. (The Lakers just are not all that.) BUT, I foresee the East’s top team mopping the floor with the West’s, which also will have a much tougher road to the finals.

  • K Dizzle

    Austin……you reachin.
    Lousiville, Michigan State, San An.
    How you turn a 4-1 lakers series win into a “it could easily have been 4-1 San Antonio”?
    Spur fans don’t gotta worry about LA. They gotta worry about Houston, Denver, Utah, Portland, New Orleans. Shoot, even Dallas has a chance with no Ginobili.
    Stay positive, but ain’t no way you puttin money on the spurs…

  • http://dimemag.com Austin Burton

    @K Dizzle — It was a reach to pick Louisville to win the NCAA chip? Or to pick MSU after they beat UL? I’m not picking the Spurs to win the title yet, but I’m not gonna automatically write them off, either.

  • mosduff

    isn’t the author a Spurs fan?

    While we’re at it, I think flying purple and pink polka dotted elephants will totally come deliver a pizza to my door, in like 5 minutes.

  • the cynic

    I like the spurs, but they are finished. I think they could still sneak into the second round, but the regular season and post-season are completely different animals. If Duncan was 5 years younger, maybe they would be able to take the lakers with Bynum, but he’s not. Im not sure the spurs can even take one game against the lakers without Manu

  • mosduff

    seriously though, those were some pretty good points.

    but…

    I remember last year people were talking about how Manu was the best player on the Spurs and that they depended more on him than TP or Duncan.

    I guess that isn’t true anymore?

  • B-Balla#1

    Representing the HOOD Ni–az!

  • K Dizzle

    Austin

    Lousiville and MSU were solid picks, my point is that you put a jinx on your picks. It’s like when a GM/Owner gives a coach their approval, then that coach gets canned before the end of the month. So now that you picked San An, they pretty much doomed. I wouldn’t even be so certain, but that game vs Clev on sunday made em look old. Realistically, you know what you get from TP and Duncan, Manu was the x-factor. Ask yourself why the 3-4 die-hard spur fans haven’t said a word since this news dropped. When Bynum went down, Laker fans were down, but not out cuz we seen this movie before. We just had to toughen up. Boston didn’t win the chip last year cuz they had better ball skills, it was all toughness. Without Manu, I really can’t see the spurs gettin by LA, Utah, Houston, Portland or even New Orleans. Guess we’ll find out…

  • http://dimemag.com Big Freeze

    Good article, except the part where Austin claimed it could have easily been a 4-1 San Antonio win in the Western Finals. It was clear that LA was the superior team, and winning 4 out of 5 games was proof. But yeah, don’t count out the Spurs quite yet. They can still make the Conf Finals.

  • Sanpitch

    manu or no manu NO ONE wants to see the spurs in the postseason. NO ONE!

  • LakeShow84

    @ Mr Burton..

    Im not writing them off.. they have a chance to beat any of the other SIX teams out there.. The Spurs WITH a healthy Manu were the only things we had to worry about.. one big difference from last year has been the play of Timmay.. now if he has been waiting to turn it on in the playoffs we will wait and see but he has had achy knees this year.. Who knows what condition he will be in by the time they make it to us..

    And with big AB coming back to frustrate the poor guy even more??

    We are talkin a less than normal Timmay and a good defensive 7 ft being added to our front court.. i like the article.. Spurs fans needed it but come on.. its a wrap..

    Sorry to be that smug laker fan :)

  • Big Shot BOB

    No Manu No Chip…you heard it here first.

  • POPPI GEE

    Bottom line is as long as Pop is the coach and he has Duncan and Parker and some warm bodies they are in the running.

    Please don’t mistake this for them being automatically out. That would be foolish.

  • joshlee9

    I respect the spurs and Tim duncan and tp always make them dangerous, but I don’t see them winning a chip without ginobili. You did a wonderful job accentuating the good points about Matt “New Hampshire” Bonner, Roger Mason, Mike Finley, and Drew Gooden but they also have dire weaknesses that are not characteristic of players that are now supposed to be perfect playoff complementary players to duncan and parker (ex. Bonner’s game besides his shooting, Mason’s lack of postseason/late season experience, and Drew Gooden’s haircut). The Spurs have collectively lost a step and it will definitely take a perfect run to get back to that championship, which I don’t think they have in them.

  • that’s whats up

    damn Austin, I love the optimism. S.A. up!! (to steal from Gee)

    As I’ve said, my hopes are low…..but I just want the Spurs to take the Hornets out – that would be nice

  • foolio_iglesias

    Oh please,the Lakers would lick their chops at the chance to face the Spurs first round.I have always said that the Spurs are the Patriots of the NBA.I feel that even with Manu,LA would triumph.I feel they will only be tested by either the Craboliers or the Celtic Prides.

  • Rizwan

    As a Suns fan, I am lauding this day. Even with Ginobili, they werent going anywhere. Good riddance.

  • foolio_iglesias

    can someone explain to me when Tim Duncan WASN”T Tim Duncan?Oh I remember,when he was Mark Pope early in his career…

  • QQ

    Wow. Fucking sleep on these Spurs again, people. Didn’t they already show you what they can do despite the injuries and stuff because 1) They have a great coach. One of the greatest of the last 10 years or so. 2) They have freaking championship experience, which is an intangible aspect that only those who win championships (oh wait, they won FOUR FUCKING CHAMPIONSHIPS) understand. Funny how Phoenix fans here are quick to bash the Spurs when the closest thing they had of grasping the concept of being a champion is winning a 60 games in the regular season then flaming out of the playoffs year in and year out. SO fucking sleep on them Spurs again.

  • http://nbaroundtable.wordpress.com/ Dave

    Unfortunately, I think the Spurs have no title hopes with Ginobili. Manu truly is a phenomenal player.

    It’s the equivalent of Boston losing Paul Pierce for the playoffs. Only San Antonio have no Rajon Rondo and no Kendrick Perkins.

    The Spurs are done.

  • yeah right

    austin is not allowed to make basketball predictions anymore

  • Baby Huey

    @Sanpitch…..you’re wrong, with the injuries almost everyone wants to see the Spurs

    As a Blazers fan I would like to play either the Hornets or the Spurs

  • Raj S

    Lets assume Pop and Phil are comparable coaches. Duncan and Parker, however, cannot be compared to Shaq and Kobe. Shaq averaged about 30 and 13 over their three championship run, and Kobe averaged almost 30 as well. Duncan and Parker are not even close th that right now.

    I already wrote off the Spurs this season, and I’m willing to do it again just to reiterate my point that they have no chance. The Lakers were the best team in the West last season, and they improved this year. San Antonio lost 4-1 to the Lakers last season. The Lakers would beat them this season. The question is whether they come out extra focused and demolish the Spurs, or do they just cruise by.

    The NCAA Tournament is incomparable to the NBA Playoffs. Do you really think Villanova would have defeated Pitt in a best of 7 series? Do you really believe Michigan State would have gotten past both Louisville and UConn in best of 7 series?

  • Kevin

    I would never count out a Pop coached team with a healthy Duncan and Parker.

  • tp

    uhhhh slightly off topic, but it gets to the point.. i think everyone can agree the celtics totally outplayed the lakers last championship….

    but lets not forget the lakers almost stole one and they also blew a 20 point lead in another one… could have been easily 4-1 lakers over the celtics as well.. am i right?

    no ifs ands or buts bro.. its over for the spurs.

  • Flip

    As a Spurs fan, I’d be kinda worried about Dallas. They have traditionally had the Spurs number and Dirk always comes up big in that series. Plus, who’s gonna stop a healthy and improved Josh Howard?

  • qwerty

    Manu or no Manu, they still arent beating LA.

  • Big V

    I don’t think last year is a viable point of comparison since Manu was in the lineup.

    Unless Roger Mason starts dropping some serious buckets, they’re outta there.

  • doc

    They out in the first round.The Lakers whipped they ass 4-1 last year.Whoever thought that was close is crazy.Whoever think the Spurs got a chance because fucking Matt Bonner and Roger Mason is fucking crazier than them.

  • Sanpitch

    @24

    tonight will tell if you really want to play them first round.

    portland has a 2-1 (with no manu) advantage over the spurs with a one point game at the beginning that could have gone either way.

    seems like the 15 point waxing that the spurs gave the blazers in san antonio was without duncan.

    so i don’t think you guys “want” the spurs.

    we’ll see tonight how bad you “want” the spurs for the first round matchup.

  • Michael

    The Lakers own the Spurs in the playoffs. They’ve beaten them 4 out of 5 times this decade. Three of them were flat out ass whoopings.

  • c

    Last time I checked, the Spurs couldn’t stop Kobe anyway! The Spurs are done.

  • dagwaller

    Good read.

  • Ian

    k dizzle i didnt say anything because i was at the beach and you guys dont understand what austin meant with the 4-1 series was close

    it was closer than a 4-2 series with a 3-4 blowouts
    hes sayin that the spurs had game one and lost game 4 on a bad call or play isnt that a 3-1 spurs series lead??
    damn is that so hard to get.

    Rizwan lol really a suns fan posting here dude go away.

    raj really you are breaking out avgs for that comparison damn man duncan is shaq if not better parker and kobe i cant compare because they have super diff roles on the team but the point was they have dominant duos and btw jackson is overrated.

    now on manu that spurs usually go like manu does the game they beat the lakers this season they had manu healthy

  • misterjustin

    Spurs won’t win it all without Manu. But can’t sleep on them either on the first 2 rounds, not with Timmy and Pop around.