Buck Harvey: Bronzed: Ginobili, U.S. owe each other

LONDON — Manu Ginobili said he and his teammates know they aren’t as good as the United States. “We know our limitations,” he said, and Luis Scola took that further.

“You don’t need to be smart to know that,” he said, smiling.

That’s why they care about Sunday’s bronze-medal game as much as the Americans will care about their gold one.

“If bronze is the highest we can aim,” said Ginobili, “that’s our game.”

But that’s also why Ginobili and Scola owe so much to the U.S. team that went to Athens in 2004. Maybe Argentina couldn’t have won its groundbreaking gold medal then, no matter how much magic Ginobili had.

Unless the Americans had become as careless as they did.

It’s an NBA world at Olympic basketball, and that was clear after Friday’s game. Kobe Bryant talked for maybe 15 minutes, and the Olympics barely came up. Everyone wanted to know what he thought about the Dwight Howard trade.

Ginobili was asked, too, and he said this: “I’m so happy it happened finally. It’s been such a long soap, how do you say, soap opera.”

He was kidding, of course. Ginobili said he didn’t know the details yet, but he understood the basics.

“I know Dwight got to L.A. and (Pau) Gasol stayed,” he said. “That makes them even tougher. So we will go play them as hard as we always have and try to beat them regardless.”

It’s a parallel to how he’s often seen his national team. The Argentines never had the best talent. But if they played together, and kept at it, wasn’t anything possible?

That’s what happened in 2002 at the World Championships in Indianapolis. Then, Ginobili and Argentina became the first team to beat the U.S. with NBA players.

Most forget what happened the next summer. In qualifying in Puerto Rico, the U.S. routed Argentina by a margin greater than Friday’s 109-83 score.

More emphatic was this: The Americans went on a 21-0 run in the first half, with Tim Duncan starring, and led at the break, 60-27.

Larry Brown called it the best game any of his teams had ever had, and players said they had reversed what had happened in Indy.

“I think everybody’s back on notice,” Jason Kidd said afterward, “that we can play the game the right way.”

A year later in Athens, however, Kidd wasn’t there. Neither were Jermaine O’Neal, Tracy McGrady, Mike Bibby and Ray Allen, all of whom had been in Puerto Rico.

For various reasons — some were even valid — players had opted out. The American program was as unmotivated as the players, and what was left was a mess built around Duncan.

Given that, the Argentines beat the U.S. in Athens in the same semifinal the two were in here. And Ginobili remembered the Americans of 2004 this way on Friday:

“They had lost before (actually twice) and they were a little shaky. I think we faced the game knowing they were a better team than us, but that we had a better chance than we had today.”

The Argentines deserved that gold medal, and they were different, too. They were deeper and bigger than they are now, and they had a young Ginobili just entering his prime.

“We were younger, crazier and disrespectful, probably,” he said.

Still, there is no way a roster of American professionals should lose, not if the best show up, not if they try. As much because of 2004 as anything, USA Basketball woke up and remade itself.

Told what they had done to improve the Americans, Scola thought about it. “I think I should get paid,” he joked.

Ginobili and Scola got paid in another way. They have a gold medal on their résumés, as well as global respect.

Who can forget? Even as they try for bronze Sunday, there was a time when they forced the U.S. to do the same.


Twitter: @Buck_SA

Spurs memory 6: Glory goes to Horry after ‘Big Shot Rob’ delivers again

Date: Thursday, June 19, 2005
Place: The Palace at Auburn Hills, Auburn Hills, Mich.
Score: San Antonio Spurs 96, Detroit Pistons 95 (OT)

Throughout his NBA career, Robert Horry always was known for his clutch shooting in playoff series.

After earlier stops with championship teams in Houston and the Los Angeles Lakers, Horry cemented his legacy with another clutch shot with the Spurs that was one of the biggest plays in the team’s history.

Horry nailed a game-winning 25-foot 3-pointer with 5.8 seconds left to catapult the Spurs to a wild 96-95 overtime victory over Detroit in Game 5 of the 2005 Finals. The triumph over the defending champions gave the Spurs a 3-2 edge in the best-of-seven series.

After failing to score until the final play of the third quarter, Horry erupted to score all 21 points in the final 17 minutes, 1 second of the game to lead the comeback victory. Horry hit 5 of 6 from beyond the 3-point arc.

“I would say that there have been a lot of guys who have played incredible in the NBA Finals,” Horry told reporters after the game. “I don’t know, my second half probably ranks probably 25th, somewhere down there.”

In the process he helped rescue Tim Duncan, who struggled in a miserable performance late in the game after a blistering start.

Duncan finished with 26 points, 19 rebounds and two blocked shots, but floundered down the stretch. He missed three shots down the stretch, including an open tip-in that could have won the game in regulation. He also clanked six foul shots and committed a costly turnover.

But Horry, who scored the game’s final five points and 15 of San Antonio’s last 20, bailed Duncan out of the goat’s role.

“That was probably the greatest performance I’ve ever been a part of,” a relieved Duncan said about Horry’s efforts after the game. “He pulled me out of an incredible hole that I put myself in.”

Detroit had pulled ahead 95-91 on Rasheed Wallace’s turnaround over Duncan with 1:41 left in overtime. But Horry answered with a soaring left-handed dunk that showed athleticism a little unusual for a 34-year-old.

“I said, ‘Please let me get there. Please let me get there,’ “Horry said with a chuckle.  

The Spurs were able to persevere to claim the first tight game of the series. The first four game all were settled by at least 15 points and the Spurs had lost by 34 points in Game 4. But Game 5 was one to be savored as neither team led by more than four points after the third quarter. 

Their defense was critical to pull out the victory with two successive stops sandwiched around an offensive rebound.

Horry’s game-winning three that was set up when Wallace inexplicably left him open to double-team Spurs guard Manu Ginobili.

It left one of the most proficient shooters in NBA history with no defender within 15 feet.

“I saw Rasheed bite and said: ‘Oh, let me stay out here,’ “Horry said.

San Antonio’s final play was designed to get the final shot for Ginobili. But Horry was so open that the Spurs didn’t hesitate to let the veteran sharpshooter take his shot.

“The play was for me to take that shot, but then I saw Rasheed coming,” said Ginobili, who finished with 15 points and nine assists. “My first option in those moments was Robert. He’s a winner. He’s been in that situation so many times. Everyone knows what he does.”

Richard Hamilton had one final shot, but his contested off-balance shot just inside the lane didn’t hit the rim. Bruce Bowen grabbed the rebound and the Spurs escaped to take advantage of the series.

Chauncey Billups led the Pistons with 34 points of the tight game. The game was tied at 42 at the half and San Antonio held a 64-63 lead going into the fourth quarter.

Duncan’s tip at the end of regulation could have ended it. But after missing that easy shot, the Spurs’ captain placed his fists against his mouth in stunned disbelief.

Horry was ready when the Spurs needed him at the end.

“I’m the type of player, I want to win a game, I don’t want to go to overtime, Horry said. “I’m always going to go for the three. I want to win a game.”

They said it, part I: “I get on myself more than anybody. I wasn’t a very good teammate in the first half. I just told myself that in order for us to win, I had to come out and play,” Horry, to reporters after his frantic finish after the slow start.

They said it, part II: “You can’t go back and say shoulda, woulda, coulda. It was caught in the corner and I just tried to double. Now we have a day and a half. We’re cool,” Wallace, explaining his defensive mistake to reporters at the end of the game.              

They said it, part III: “He was unbelievable. We had to keep him on the court as much as we could and he read the floor great. He drove it; he got to the open areas. He’s just got a great sense about him,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, to reporters about Horry’s monster finish.

They said it, part IV: “There’s nothing you can really say about him. He was unbelievable. He made all the right plays at the right times,” Billups, to the Associated Press about Horry’s big game. 

They said it, part V:  “Confidence, big character, he’s a winner. He knows what it takes. He’s always waiting for his chance. People are going to remember that three, but the dunk, a lot of important plays. He was unbelievable,” Ginobili on Horry’s heroics.

They said it, part VI: “I guess there was a miscommunication, but ultimately, it’s on me. After it was over, we still had a chance. But up two, with nine seconds to go, you talk about the things all year that you want to accomplish, and unfortunately we had a little miscommunication,” Detroit coach Larry Brown on Wallace’s late defensive bust.

They said it, part VII: “I have to get over this one. This was tough,” Brown, to reporters about rebounding from the loss.

They said it, part VIII: “I had the chance. It didn’t go down, and the overtime, we continued to play. We just knew there were a lot of possessions to be had. Guys were just impressive all around, Tony Parker, Manu continuing on the attack. And of course, Bobby,” Duncan, to the Washington Post on his disappointing finish.

They said it, part IX: “He was big, man. There’s nothing else you can really say about him. He made all the right plays,” Billups to the Detroit News about Horry.

They said it, part X: “An absolute nightmare, yes,” Duncan, describing his late finish to the Associated Press.

They said it, part XI: “This is the kind of game you hate to see anybody lose,” Brown, on the close game and the finish.

THE UPSHOT: The Pistons went back to San Antonio and ended a 10-game losing streak there with a stunning 95-86 victory to even the series in Game 6. It was their first victory in San Antonio since 1997. But it wasn’t enough as the Spurs came back to claim a 81-74 triumph in Game 7 to finish their third NBA title … Horry’s  Game 5 effort was the final 20-point game of his career and was his first in a span of 325 games.  After scoring 23 points for the Lakers against the Spurs on March 31, 2002, Horry had only one 20-point game over the final 522 games of his career. It came in Game 5 of the 2005 Finals.

Timberwolves down to final two in coaching search

Minnesota general manager David Kahn is nearing the completion of his head coaching search.  

After considering replacements for Kurt Rambis for several weeks, the Timberwolves are down to the final two interviews with Sam Mitchell and Larry Brown.

Mitchell, who played two stints with the Timberwolves and was a Coach of the Year for Toronto in 2007, , the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports.

Brown is set to meet with the Minnesota braintrust early next week.

Kahn and Taylor already have interviewed Terry Porter, Mike Woodson, Bernie Bickerstaff and Don Nelson. And former Houston coach Rick Adelman discussed the position with them, but didn’t formally interview and said earlier this week he plans to sit out from coaching this season.

With no end of the lockout in sight, there’s no real immediacy for the Timberwolves to make an immediate pick.

But it would still behoove them to pick their new coach as soon as possible, considering the magnitude of the rebuilding job at hand.

Just the thought of trying to teach Ricky Rubio NBA-level defensive principles should be enough to make whoever is hired want to jump into the job as quickly as possible.