Prediction – as Ginobili becomes what he once was

Column by Buck Harvey

The Spurs will lose one of the first two games.

The streak will be over. And the playoffs will begin.

The Spurs will then face their fears, that their run has made them less prepared for a counter, and that the young Thunder talent will get additional lift. Then, they will need to win the kind of road game in Oklahoma City that they’ve won in all of their championships years.

What happens then, with Manu Ginobili, will decide that.

Both sides privately see reasons to be afraid of this scenario, and it’s telling of a Western Conference finals that should be compelling. The Spurs have not been this solid and facing an opponent as equally solid since the second round of the 2007 playoffs.

Just as that Suns series was memorable, this one should be as well.

That’s also the last time Ginobili was healthy through the playoffs. In every year since, from a busted elbow to a busted nose, his injuries have been the Spurs’ way of saying it just isn’t our year.

“We’re not going anywhere without Manu at 100 percent,” Tony Parker said as recently as this February, and something like it has been said every season since the last championship.

Now Ginobili is 100 percent, but his 3-point percentage in the postseason is closer to 25. He’s been helpful in the playoffs at times, but not the force he once was.

Combine the Big Three of both the Spurs and Thunder and rank them this postseason. Isn’t Ginobili clearly sixth?

Yet that also shows the power and depth of the Spurs. Just as Ginobili didn’t play a minute against the Thunder this season, yet the Spurs still won the season series and the No. 1 seed, the Spurs found another way to win.

The Spurs didn’t go just anywhere. In sweeping the first two rounds, they went to a place they’ve never been. Both Vegas and the national media embrace the Spurs as favorites.

All of which makes the Spurs’ staff uncomfortable. They think people have gotten caught up with the 18-game winning streak, and they can’t believe the perception that they could sweep the Thunder.

They also wonder if they are built as traditional champions are. Maybe, at best, the Spurs are the Pistons of 2004, a snug fit of pieces, when usually the best teams are the ones with the best players.

Their argument: The record books usually show someone such as Kevin Durant leading a team to a title, not someone such as Chauncey Billups.

“In my heart of hearts,” one Spurs assistant said, “we’re the underdogs.”

Maybe it’s nothing more than the Spurs’ appropriate fear amped up. Still, a Western Conference general manager with another team understands the Spurs’ concern. He predicts the Spurs will win, but he also thinks they’ve been too good for their own good.

“They’ve had no real hiccups,” he said. “But it’s unlikely they will go undefeated. So, at some point, it’s about how they respond to adversity.”

The Spurs won all of their titles because they responded. For Ginobili, this goes back a long way. In his rookie year, against the Nets, he helped overcome an earlier loss at home to break through on the road in Game 3 in the Finals.

The Thunder brass is familiar with all of this. Just as the Spurs find reasons to be afraid, so did an Oklahoma City staffer last week when he joked about Ginobili and his 3-point slump.

“You know he’s going to have a game,” he said, “when he hits about five in a row on us, right?”

Ginobili might not do that, exactly. But his gift has been to find another level, to get better when others get nervous. And he will have to do that again.

For the Spurs to win in 7.
Twitter: @Buck_SA

Western Conference finals (best-of-7)

Game 1: Sunday – Spurs vs. Thunder, 7:30 p.m. TNT

Game 2: Tuesday – Spurs vs. Thunder, 8:00 p.m. TNT

Game 3: Thursday – Spurs @ Thunder, 8:00 p.m. TNT

Game 4: Saturday – Spurs @ Thunder, 7:30 p.m. TNT

*Game 5: Monday June 4 – Spurs vs. Thunder, 8:00 p.m. TNT

*Game 6: Wednesday June 6 – Spurs @ Thunder, 8:00 p.m. TNT

*Game 7: Friday June 8 – Spurs vs. Thunder, 8:00 p.m. TNT

– All times Central
*If necessary

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