As Tony Parker watched the Spurs-Suns game from home with a shin contusion, Kawhi Leonard was given the opportunity to step up and prove his worth in the All-Star point guard’s absence.
Leonard started well, scoring 10 points in the first half on 4-9 from the field. 8 of those points came in the second quarter, and 6 came from two makes from behind the arc.
Despite this quick start by the young forward, Leonard struggled heavily in the second half.
Since the break, Leonard made only 4 more points on 6 shots taken. During this cool-down, Kawhi looked completely out of synch, missing 3 key shots in crunch time of the fourth when the Spurs were fighting for control with the fast-paced attack of the Suns.
Then Manu Ginobili decided to take over, showing the young guns in Phoenix how he earned his 3 rings.
After a similar first half as Leonard and a third quarter nearing complete absence of production, Ginobili took the reigns in the fourth, leading the Spurs to a win with 13 points. This fourth quarter takeover was reminiscent of so many similar games of Spurs folklore, games that seemed to be from an all too distant past.
Ginobili had yet to step up and carry the team himself this year, but with the absence his long-time point guard and the youthful talent of Kawhi Leonard struggling, Ginobili let it be known that this game was his for the taking. Ginobili’s late shots were as pure as ever, but something seemed different about his demeanor itself.
He seemed bored. The wryly veteran has been in so many positions of much greater magnitude than this, that a barn-burner with Phoenix seemed nothing more than an annoyance to the 3-time champion.
Not that seeming bored is a bad thing; after all, Ginobili looked the best he’s looked all season in these 9 minutes he played in the fourth. It seemed that he completely accepted the fact that the game was up to him to win, so he channelled the plethora of late-game takeovers from the past and treated it like just another day at the office.
A close, lead-swapping game turned immediately into the typical “Manu being Manu” example of pure basketball.
With a corner three, a fake backdoor cut that led to a wide open baseline jumper, and the classic running floater, Ginobili sealed the game in typical Manu fashion, with a smile never escaping his stoned face.
Ginobili finished with 24 points off the bench as the Spurs took down the Suns 108-101.
Kawhi Leonard’s collapse in production is somewhat troubling, but Ginobili’s play completely outweighs any troubled thoughts racing through the average Spurs fan’s head. Ginobili showed that he can still show up and take over when necessary, leading a struggling offense to victory.
For the Spurs as a whole, they can rest easy for now. But with a tough game against Golden State tonight after that gutted-out win against the Suns last night, the Spurs have a tough matchup against the guard-heavy attack of the Warriors. Look for Kawhi Leonard to rebound off his disappointing second half performance, but also find solace in knowing Ginobili still has what it takes to shoulder a win.