SAN ANTONIO—The Spurs turned to their “grandpa” for the lift their young stars have struggled to provide in the past two games.
Manu Ginobili hit the court, literally, providing an early spark that helped carry San Antonio to a 116-103 victory over Memphis.
Kawhi Leonard had 28 points and the Spurs rebounded from two discouraging road losses to beat the Grizzlies on Tuesday night and take a 3-2 lead in their first-round series.
Ginobili had 10 points, three assists and three steals in 18 minutes. It was not an overly impressive stat line, but it was how the 39-year-old played that energized San Antonio.
In what could be the final season of his storied 15-year National Basketball Association career, Ginobili threw his body to the court and drove to the basket with the fearlessness he showed as a rookie.
“You know that he’s got a huge heart, and he has a huge effect on our team when he’s healthy,” Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich said. “And having a good night, starting out the way he did, was really a big boost.”
After failing to score in the first four games, Ginobili had six points in 33 seconds in the first quarter. He hit the court face-first after stealing the ball and getting tangled up with Vince Carter to preserve a lead at halftime.
“He brought that grandpa juice is what I call it and we all followed,” the Spurs’ Australian point guard Patty Mills said. “We shouldn’t wait for him to do that before we get into gear, but it really is inspiring when you see him dive on the ball putting his body on the line. Hard drives, hard cuts, it gets us all going.”
With each team winning on its homecourt, Game Six is on Thursday night in Memphis.
“We expected it to be a long series,” said Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley, who had a team-high 26 points. “Every game, including tonight, is a Game Seven in our opinion, we’re treating every game like it’s the last game. We expect to come back here [Saturday for Game Seven]. That’s our mind-set.”
Marc Gasol added 17 points for Memphis, which has lost nine straight postseason games in San Antonio.
Tony Parker added 16 points and six assists and LaMarcus Aldridge had 12 points and nine rebounds for the Spurs.
Ginobili’s play was especially inspiring to his best friend on the team, Mills, who scored a postseason-high 20 points on five-for-seven shooting.
“He was incredible, he finished the game,” Ginobili said. “He made four threes in the fourth, tough ones, quick release. Sometimes you need something like that from somebody. Sometimes it’s going to be him, sometimes it’s Kawhi, more often. It’s good to have a team that deep.”
The Spurs shot 14-for-28 on three-point attempts, two off its postseason record.
“They’re the same shots that we shot in the first three, four games, they just dropped tonight,” Mills said. “But definitely a good feeling when you can see some go in.”
San Antonio shot 53 percent from the field and Memphis shot 52 percent in a surprisingly explosive game between teams renowned for their defense.
“We were definitely sharper with our defensive execution at home,” Grizzlies Coach David Fizdale said. “No doubt about it. It was night and day. The mistakes, just mindless mistakes today. A lot of their baskets came off breakdowns.”
Ginobili said he has definitely felt his age this season.
“Yeah, when your try to go by somebody and you can’t go by anybody, it’s when you start to feel it more,” he said. “Many guys my age are in pain, back problems, knee problems, I don’t have any of that. I’m very lucky in that regard, I’m not playing with pain. I’m slow, you lose a lot of explosiveness, that’s normal. I’m not in pain and that’s one of the things that stretched my career.”
Image credits: AP