The Golden State Warriors ended the San Antonio Spurs’ season on Tuesday night, fending off a late Spurs rally to finish off a 99-91 win in Game 5 of their first-round series at Oracle Arena. San Antonio battled back from a 16-point late-third-quarter deficit to draw within two on a pair of LaMarcus Aldridge free throws with 57 seconds to go, but Kevin Durant answered the call with a dagger jumper over the outstretched arms of Rudy Gay …
KD with the dagger and the Warriors move on.
They'll play the Pelicans in the second round. pic.twitter.com/gKrLK3wHWf
— Yahoo Sports NBA (@YahooSportsNBA) April 25, 2018
… and, on the ensuing possession, Manu Ginobili turned the ball over trying to thread the needle on a post entry pass to Aldridge on the left block, leaving the Spurs down by four and scuttling the Spurs’ best chance of finishing off their comeback. Twenty-seven seconds later, the Warriors were moving on to a second-round matchup with the rampaging New Orleans Pelicans, the Spurs were heading into a summer full of questions … and Ginobili, who ended the game by dribbling the ball into the frontcourt, taking it in both hands, and heaving it up toward the ceiling of Oracle Arena, was once again heading into the great unknown.
The way Manu brought the ball up and threw it in the air … made me nervous this could be it.
— Graybones (@MrGordian) April 25, 2018
Ginobili reportedly has a $2.5 million player option under contract for next season. He turns 41 years old in July. He has banked nine figures in NBA salary during his tenure in San Antonio, has a trophy case that’d inspire envy among even some of the greatest of all time: four NBA titles, Olympic gold and bronze medals to go with a FIBA World Cup silver, a EuroLeague title and Finals MVP award, two All-Star berths, two All-NBA selections, two Italian League MVPs, and on and on. He has been playing professional basketball for 23 years, and he has a wife and three young sons. If he decided to hang up his high tops after 16 years as a Spur, nobody would begrudge him that choice.
Well, nobody except those of us who love watching him play so much that we can’t bear the thought of never getting to see his daring again. That group includes Steve Kerr, the coach of the Warriors and Ginobili’s former teammate in San Antonio, who stole a moment with his longtime friend and combatant after the final buzzer:
Stever Kerr tells Manu to keep playing, tallks about Roger Federer and says Ginobli reminds him of Fed pic.twitter.com/ot0jH4qj6G
— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) April 25, 2018
“Oh, man,” Kerr said as the two embraced. “I hope you keep playing. I really do. Keep going, OK? Why not?”
Kerr then related a story from the Warriors’ preseason trip to China, where they met legendary tennis player Roger Federer, still vying for Grand Slam titles 15 years after winning his first Wimbledon crown.
“I said, ‘Why do you keep playing?'” Kerr recalled. “He said, ‘I love it.’ If you love it, keep going. What the hell?”
Asked about their on-court chat during his postgame news conference, Kerr expounded on why he hopes Ginobili will decide to give it one more go.
“It’s amazing to see him out there continuing to play with so much joy and passion,” Kerr said, according to Daniel Brown of the Bay Area News Group. “So I’m hoping that’s not his last game. I just told him I hope he keeps playing because he’s been just amazing for the league and fun to watch night-in and night-out.”
Ginobili, for his part, told reporters after the game that he wasn’t ready to make a determination one way or the other in the heat of the moment.
— Jabari Young (@JabariJYoung) April 25, 2018
“I’ve been contemplating retirement forever,” Ginobili told reporters. “Nothing has changed. I just don’t know. I’ll let a month, two months go by and then I’ll see how I feel. I’m not the type of guy that makes decisions on the fly, when you’re upset, hurt or whatever. I usually let it sink in and see how it feels.”
We’ve been here before. Ginobili has already bid farewell to Argentina’s national team he led for a golden generation, and said last year of his professional basketball career, “I do not think it will go on much longer.” That led us to wonder, after the Warriors eliminated the Spurs in the Western Conference finals last summer, whether we’d seen the last of Ginobili, who had stepped into the leadership and playmaking void left by injuries to Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker, and the ineffectiveness of Aldridge, to give San Antonio on-court production (recall his game-saving block of James Harden and his three double-digit scoring outings against the eventual champion Warriors), something to rally around and, as he walked off the floor at AT&T Center at the end of Game 4, something to celebrate.
“It felt like they wanted me to retire, like they were giving me sort of a celebration night,” he said after 2017’s Game 4, according to Scott Cacciola of the New York Times. “Whatever I decide to do, I’ll be a happy camper. I have to choose between two wonderful options. One is to keep playing in this league at this age, enjoying every day and playing the sport I love. The other one is to stay at home, be a dad, travel more and enjoy my whole family.”
That wasn’t all he said, though.
“I felt more energetic, more needed, more useful to the team,” he said. “I do feel like I can still play.”
He still can. He scored 10 points, dished a team-high seven assists and grabbed five rebounds in 25 minutes of floor time off the Spurs’ bench in Game 5. He can still put the ball exactly where it needs to be, when it needs to be there.
Manu nutmegs DeAndre Jordan pic.twitter.com/qWow1IIY4G
— Yahoo Sports NBA (@YahooSportsNBA) April 4, 2018
He can still make you miss.
— J.R. Wilco (@jollyrogerwilco) April 22, 2018
He can still throw down …
Spurs have clinched a playoff spot!
40 year old Manu finishes with 17 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists and this dunk! pic.twitter.com/sk0i6ga9D5
— BATTLES NBA™ (@BattlesNBA) April 10, 2018
… and he can still make you wonder if you really saw what you thought you just saw.
Even the refs couldn't believe this Manu pass went in the hoop pic.twitter.com/YGM1sSCeUL
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) January 3, 2018
Ginobili can’t play big minutes anymore, but he can make big plays in the minutes he can. More importantly, he can make beautiful plays, the kind that remind that we got into sports not for the grinding faux thrill of proving how well we can predict what’s coming up, but because of how much fun it can be not to know what’s going to happen next, and to live in the moment of surprise that heats you up when it arrives. No player over the past decade and a half has better personified and stoked that singular spark of joy than Manu Ginobili.
Ginobili told reporters that his decision, whenever he actually makes it, will come down to “a matter [of] if I see myself as an ex-player or not — when I do balance [everything], if I see that I … that it’s enough, or not.” It might not be enough for Kerr and the rest of us, but as ever with Manu, we’ll have to make peace with uncertainty and retain the hope that we’ll be pleasantly surprised by the outcome. If this is the last we get to see of Manu on the court, how lucky we were to get so much of it; if it’s not, well, how lucky we’ll be to get even more.
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