By Jeff McDonald
Showered and dressed and dispensed with his media duties in the wake of the Spurs’ 124-92 victory over Sacramento on Wednesday, Manu Ginobili was in a hurry to get home.
The L.A. Lakers and Golden State were already in the first quarter of a nationally televised game that had immediate implications on the Spurs’ playoff seeding.
Ginobili, however, had other viewing plans. Like the insides of his eyelids.
“I’ll probably just go to sleep,” he said.
What Ginobili might have missed, while catching his Zs, was the Spurs’ dream scenario come to fruition. Thanks to the Lakers’ 95-87 loss in Oakland hours later, the Spurs clinched the Western Conference’s No. 1 seed for the first time since 2005-06.
All along, coach Gregg Popovich has been blasé about the importance the conference’s top spot, a half-hearted “nobody would turn it down” being his most enthusiastic endorsement.
Popovich’s laissez faire philosophy was evident in Ginobili’s postgame itinerary. It was not reflected in the hair-on-fire effort with which the Spurs approached their end of the bargain Wednesday night at the ATT Center against the Kings.
Behind 25 points from Ginobili, 19 off the bench from George Hill and a pinball-tilting third quarter that tested the limits of the club’s offensive record books, the Spurs pulled onto the doorstep of the No. 1 seed that never was their obsession to begin with.
“We’ve had it and won and had it and lost,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “The best team usually ends up winning.”
Under Popovich, the Spurs have owned the No. 1 seed four other times, parlaying it into championships in 1999 and 2003. In 2005, they won with a two seed. In 2007, they did it from the third slot.
“We knew it wasn’t the end of the world to finish second,” Ginobili said, even before the seeding was official. “At the same time, after the kind of season we had, we wanted it.”
It has been quite a turnabout from five days earlier, when the Spurs were on a six-game losing streak and in danger of fumbling the No. 1 seed within sight of the finish line.
With Wednesday’s win, the Spurs improved to 60-19, ensuring the fourth 60-win season in franchise history and the first since the 2005-06 team won a franchise-record 63 games.
“We knew we were not going to lose every single game for the remainder of the season,” Ginobili said, although at times it seemed that way.
Now, the Spurs have the option of downshifting over the final three games of the season, though they remain in a pitched battle with Chicago for the NBA’s top overall record.
Wednesday, with seeding still up for grabs, there was no let-up.
The Spurs scored a season-high 41 points in the third quarter, on 14 of 17 shooting, to transform a 51-49 lead at half into their most lopsided win of the season.
“Our thing was if we could get rebounds and push it, it would open the game up,” said Hill, who had 12 points in the third. “And that’s what happened.”
The victory the 796th of Popovich’s career, moving him past Hall of Famer Red Auerbach for the second-most with one team in NBA history.
Popovich’s favorite moment came late in the fourth quarter, with the game long since decided. DeJuan Blair jumped a pass from Tyreke Evans, knocking the ball toward the sideline.
With the ball rolling out of bounds, Blair hit the ground, beating Jason Thompson to it and slapping it ahead to Danny Green to ignite a fast-break layup.
As Blair came back down the court, Popovich leapt up and down and pumped his fist in approval.
“Coaches love that sort of thing,” Popovich said. “That kind of effort is above and beyond.”
Above and beyond, the Spurs have locked down the top seed they swear – perhaps a little too vehemently – never mattered all that much in the first place.
But, no, they’re not going to turn it down.