SALT LAKE CITY – When it was over, the San Antonio Spurs hustled out of the arena under a barrage of boos and descending debris, the Utah Jazz's flustered fandom throwing cups to tiny tubes of lip balm out of the stands. Manu Ginobili didn't stop to admire the mayhem left in his wake, but there was no mistaking that the rage tumbling down out of the rafters had been a testament to his talent of provoking even the most polished of Jazz playoff performers.
Coach Jerry Sloan had been tossed for marching out on the court and venting over the technical foul called on Derek Fisher for running down the floor, searching Ginobili out and plowing a shoulder into him.
"I don't know why he got upset," Ginobili shrugged later.
Soon, Sloan and Fisher would be watching the final 2½ minutes of San Antonio's 91-79 Game 4 victory together in the losing locker room, where assuredly they still were cursing Ginobili.
"I can't recall anything for (Fisher's shot) to happen," Ginobili said, "but if that helps the team win and get a couple of easy free throws, I'm ready to do it."
Throughout Monday night, Ginobili flailed his arms near the basket, tumbled to the floor and marched to the free-throw line an extraordinary 15 times. With the ball, he lowered his shoulder into Fisher, bullied him backward and drove past for a layup. There always is acrimony left on his trail to the rim, a defender with his arms outstretched, pleading to the official, desperate to understand how Ginobili conned himself another call.
"I don't want to say he flops," Utah's Deron Williams sighed later, "but … I mean … he flops."
Yes, he does. He flopped his way to 15 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter, including 11 at the line, and this Western Conference final is over. The Spurs are returning home with a 3-1 series lead and an 18-game AT&T Center winning streak against the Jazz. It won't be long until San Antonio is back in the NBA finals for the third time in five years, chasing a fourth title in a decade.
Along the way, when Ginobili is playing well, the Spurs have been virtually unbeatable. All his life, he has been a big-game, big-moment player. He won the gold medal for Argentina in the 2004 Athens Olympics, dropping 29 points on the Americans in the semifinals.
As it turned out Monday, this was a marvelous night for Argentinean basketball in Game 4. Beyond Ginobili, his teammate Fabricio Oberto was everywhere on the floor, delivering 11 points and 11 rebounds. He's a pest, too, a 6-foot-10 forward who played professional ball overseas since 1993 before San Antonio's crackerjack general manager, R.C. Buford, recruited him to the NBA last year.
"Fabby is a blue-collar guy," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said.
As though there's any other kind in San Antonio. Fabby and Manu, two Argentines deep in the heart of Texas. Sounds like a sitcom. Nevertheless, Ginobili made it easy for Oberto to transition to the NBA. Now they appear destined to win an NBA title together, the way they did a gold medal.
Ginobili pushed Game 4 out of reach by slinking out of a slumber in the fourth quarter. Once Utah moved within 67-66 with just less than 10 minutes left, he hit a three-pointer and the Jazz never were within a basket again.
"I don't think I did too much to get into their skin in the first three quarters," Ginobili said. "I didn't go to the rim as hard."
It wouldn’t be long until those daring drives were ending with a whistle and free throws for Ginobili, until Fisher lost his mind with that lowered shoulder, and then a swinging arm upside Ginobili’s head that laid him out on a jumper for his second technical foul. For such a genteel, agreeable soul, Ginobili has a habit of driving people out of their minds and out of the game.
As the debris descended out of the stands, as Sloan and Fisher seethed in the locker room, Manu Ginobili gave it the "What did I do?" shrug as he ducked his way out of sight into the Salt Lake City night.
- San Antonio