Buck Harvey: Ginobili nails it — playoff timing

They were in New Orleans in 2008, in the second round of the playoffs, and Manu Ginobili was stretching his sore ankle in the locker room with an elastic resistance band.

Everyone was calm, relaxed — until the band snapped, catching Ginobili’s shooting hand.

A nail had been ripped off at the base, and both pain and ingenuity followed. A Spurs staffer sped to a New Orleans beauty salon, bought an acrylic nail and glued Ginobili back together again.

But he’s never been whole in the playoffs since. And that’s why, when the Spurs look for a black-and-silver lining today, they point to this:

Ginobili has finally learned when to get hurt, hasn’t he?

This is based on the belief that those left behind can win a few games before he returns. Tony Parker is capable of playing as he did in 2009, when Ginobili missed the end of the season, and there’s potential with Gary Neal, James Anderson and Kawhi Leonard.

And if the Spurs aren’t good enough to remain competitive without Ginobili: That suggests they weren’t going to advance in the playoffs with him, anyway.

At home now, able to hold only one of his twins at a time, Ginobili likely wonders what he’s done to deserve this. The last time he was healthy throughout the playoffs was 2007, which is also the last time the Spurs won a title. From then until now, he’s been afflicted from toes to nose.

The ankle that was bothering him in 2008 eventually cracked in Beijing. That was followed by a stress fracture in the other foot the next season. A broken nose against Dallas in the 2010 playoffs required yet another creative bandage. And a bent elbow last spring came in the final, meaningless game of a remarkable 61-win regular season.

Some of it can be attributed to his style of play. But some of it is as inexplicable as the accident in New Orleans. The latest is a combination.

Ginobili reached in Monday night for a steal, as he’s done a thousand times before. Only this time, the contact was so violent, he not only broke a bone in his left hand, he also tore the skin in the crease between his ring finger and his pinkie. The wound was severe enough to require a half-dozen stitches.

The fracture of the fifth metacarpal that resulted is a common one. Some call it “boxer’s fracture,” but that’s an inaccurate term. Boxers don’t break this bone. Bar fighters do, as does the guy who slams his fist into an arena wall in a rage.

Gregg Popovich might have been so tempted Monday night.

The fifth metacarpal isn’t much different than the fourth that Parker broke in 2010, except the fifth is more flexible and requires better stability. Parker didn’t have surgery and missed 16 games; Ginobili, if he needs a procedure, might miss twice as many games in a crunched season.

But Parker was hurt in early March. That, and what followed, gives the Spurs some hope now.

Ginobili surged without Parker then, when some in the franchise were wondering if he had it in him anymore. When the Spurs’ remodeled lineup won, there were coaches who thought they had found a better way to play.

For the first time, Parker’s future with the franchise was in doubt. But the playoffs adjusted that thinking, while also saying something about how broken metacarpals can heal. Parker came up with 16 points and eight assists off the bench in Game 2 in Dallas, keying the first-round upset.

Ginobili will have ample time to make a similar recovery. Given that, what Parker asked Monday night in Minnesota should be turned around.

“Why now?” Parker said in frustration, when the answer should be clear.

Why now?

Ginobili, going by standards set long ago in New Orleans, might be luckier this time.


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