Ginobili, who missed San Antonio’s first 12 games, scored 12 points to help the Spurs beat the Memphis Grizzlies 94-81 on Monday night.
“I felt pretty good about it,” said Ginobili, who played 11 minutes in his first outing. “I didn’t rush it a lot. I took my time, found the open seam, made a couple of shots. I wasn’t thinking about a great game on my first one, so I’m happy with what I did.”
O.J. Mayo scored 23 of his 26 points in the second half to lead Memphis, which has dropped seven of its last eight. Rudy Gay scored 13 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, while Darko Milicic had 11 points and 11 rebounds.
Ginobili entered the game with 5:34 left in the first quarter and promptly made his first two shots, the first from outside the arc with the shot clock running down, and the second on a dunk.
“I didn’t want to take a quick one because I’m kind of rusty,” Ginobili said of the 3-pointer he hit 1:27 after entering the game. “In that situation, you don’t have any other options with the shot clock winding down, so, I took it. It was good for my confidence that it went in.”
Ginobili was part of a key 20-6 run to close the third quarter after Memphis pulled within 52-49. Ginobili had six in the rally, as did Mason. Hill led the streak with eight points.
When Mason hit a 3-pointer, his fifth of the night, San Antonio had rebuilt the lead to 69-53. That helped the Spurs take a 72-55 lead, their biggest of the night at that point, entering the fourth period.
“He gave us a boost when everything went dead,” Duncan said of Ginobili. “We gave him the ball a couple of times in a row, and he was able to get to the free throw line.
“He really picked us up in a time that we were struggling.”
The Grizzlies started the 7-foot Milicic at forward in place of rookie Darrell Arthur. That allowed Milicic to battle with Duncan early rather than putting Gasol, also a rookie, on the All-Star.
Duncan still was getting the ball deep in the post, but Milicic was at least making life difficult for the Spurs forward. He led San Antonio with 12 points in the half, but was 5-of-13 from the field. Duncan’s first-half play helped the Spurs take a 41-36 lead into the halftime break.
In the third, the Grizzlies were able to pull within a basket on several occasions, but the Spurs always had an answer, the final one coming on the 20-6 run to close the period. The led to San Antonio outscoring Memphis 31-19 in the period, and the Grizzlies are 0-9 when they are outscored in the third.
“Each night is a little bit different,” Memphis coach Marc Iavaroni said. “Tonight, I don’t think it was in the beginning, but I think it was more towards the end of the third quarter where we had some defensive breakdowns. They made threes, and all of a sudden, there is a big lead.”
There was a big difference in the Spurs in the game with Ginobili on the floor, even if he was rusty and only played 11 minutes. He would like to steadily increase playing time, but said afterwards that the ankle felt good.
“I’m not having the explosion right now because I’m a little bit out of shape game shape,” Ginobili said. “I’ve been running a lot, but the game shape is something that you get when you play and practice a lot.”
Still, the return of the team’s leading scorer from last season, and the hopes that injured guard Tony Parker will return soon, gives the Spurs a more optimistic view.
“It’s a tremendous boost,” Duncan said. “He played well. I think psychologically more than anything, having him on the floor and seeing him move around is going to be great for the team. I know it’s great for me personally because it is good to start seeing our team getting back to full strength.”
While Ginobili returned to action, Tony Parker’s return from his ankle injury could be less than two weeks away. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said before the game that he expected the point guard could return in under two weeks. The Spurs are 6-2 in the eight games since Parker was injured Nov. 7. The Grizzlies are expected to announce Tuesday that they are sending Hamed Haddadi, the 7-foot-2 center from Iran, to the NBDL’s Dakota Wizards to get playing time. Haddadi has not played in any of the Grizzlies 14 games this season and was on the inactive list for Monday night’s game. The Grizzlies were held to 36 points in the first half, their lowest for a first half this season. The previous low was 37 on opening night at Houston.