Ginobili breaks hand in defeat

By Mike Monroe

MINNEAPOLIS — Fighting from behind through a first half in which the Minnesota Timberwolves made 67.5 percent of their shots and 7 of 8 from 3-point range, the Spurs somehow found themselves within eight points after a Richard Jefferson 3-point basket with 3:04 left in the half.

What they needed before halftime of what would eventually be a 106-96 loss was a defensive stop to help them further turn the game’s momentum. So, on Minnesota’s next possession, Spurs guard Manu Ginobili slapped down hard with his left hand in an attempt to strip the ball from Anthony Tolliver’s grasp as the Timberwolves forward turned to launch a shot from just inside the 3-point line.

Ginobili’s teammates have seen him succeed with the same defensive ploy so many times, they always expect something good to come of it.

A serious injury was the last thing on anyone’s mind, but what the Spurs got was the worst outcome possible: a fractured fifth metacarpal on Ginobili’s shooting hand that likely will keep their top scorer this season on the sidelines for a number of weeks.

“In this kind of situation, you can’t predict it,” said Tony Parker, Ginobili’s backcourt running mate. “It happened to me in Memphis in 2010. You go for a steal, and it happens, but Manu goes for a steal so many times, I almost want to say it can’t ever happen to him.

“Why now? That’s an answer for the basketball gods.”

Spurs athletic trainer Will Sevening examined Ginobili’s hand and led him to the Wolves’ medical room, where Ginobili’s hand was X-rayed, revealing the fracture.

The two-time All-Star is to be re-examined by the Spurs’ medical staff today, after which a timeline for his return will be determined.

By the time the Timberwolves claimed their second victory of the season, the Spurs already were counting the ways they will have to cope without one of their most important players and their emotional touchstone.

“It’s going to be tough for us, because he was playing at an All-Star level,” said Parker, painfully aware Ginobili entered Monday’s game leading the team in scoring (19.8 points per game), shooting (60.5 percent) and 3-point shooting (54.2 percent). “Now everybody is going to have to pick it up and play better.”

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said James Anderson would move into the starting spot at shooting guard until Ginobili returns.

Anderson said he will be in the gym at the Spurs’ practice facility today, even if Popovich doesn’t call an official practice session.

“With him gone, I’m just going to have to get in the gym for some extra work and try to fulfill that role the best I can. He’s one of the biggest pieces of the puzzle on this team. Without him, we lose a lot of stuff, and that’s on both ends.”

It is arguable whether or not Ginobili’s presence in the second half would have made a difference in Monday’s game. Minnesota made 11 of its first 13 3-point attempts — Kevin Love, at 4 of 6, was the only Timberwolves player with more than one long-range miss — and scored 94 points through three quarters.

“They were shooting threes falling backwards and making them,” Parker said. “It’s kind of tough when they do that.”

What could have been a blowout of epic proportions remained competitive because the Spurs also shot well, if not uncannily.

“We just couldn’t get it over the hump,” Popovich said.

Now they will have to get over the loss of Ginobili, likely for an extended period.

That’s not a hump.

That’s a mountain.

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