By Mike Monroe
MAR DEL PLATA, Argentina — With a berth in the 2012 Olympics on the line and down by eight points to Puerto Rico early in the third quarter, Manu Ginobili felt something in his gut he had not experienced in six years.
“It can be compared only to (NBA Finals) Game 7 in 2005,” said Ginobili, who helped the Spurs come from behind against the Detroit Pistons to win the NBA championship that year.
The star guard was at it again on Saturday, sparking a rally for Argentina that produced an 81-79 victory at Malvinas Argentinas Arena in the semifinals of the FIBA Americas Olympic qualifying tournament.
As he had for the Spurs in the second half of that Game 7 in San Antonio, Ginobili fueled Argentina in the third quarter. This time, he made four 3-pointers in a stretch of less than five minutes, erasing Puerto Rico’s lead and setting up Argentina’s victory.
In the end, it took an errant 3-pointer by Puerto Rico’s J.J. Barea of the Dallas Mavericks at the final buzzer before Ginobili could savor victory.
“It was one of the toughest games I’ve ever played,” he said, “a game where you have no tomorrow, no revenge.
“Imagine what it would have been like to be eliminated at home in front of these amazing fans, my family and friends. It would have been really, really tough, probably one of the toughest losses of my career. So when I saw Barea’s shot hit the rim, I was so emotional. I lifted a big, huge backpack off my side.”
Ginobili scored only four points in the first half but had 19 in the second, with 12 of them coming on his 3-pointers in the third period. Overall, he made 6 of 7 shots from deep range.
Ginobili called the Olympic berth “an obligation” he and his teammates had made for themselves when they gathered for training camp for the tournament.
“We had everything on this, and we won our trip to London. Everything is beautiful. We have another game (today) and we want another championship. I haven’t won one since 2007.”
Argentina will play Brazil — an 83-76 winner over Dominican Republic in the other semifinal — in today’s championship match.
Spurs center Tiago Splitter, in foul trouble all game, played barely 11 minutes in the Olympic-clinching game. He scored only three points to go with three rebounds. In the end, it didn’t matter that he had a sub-par game.
“Personally, I didn’t make my best performance, but I am very happy,” he said. “This is something that I needed in my life, to play in the Olympic Games, not just for me, but also for Brazil basketball.”