Hawks Power Past Spurs, Vintage Manu
But only the Hawks got the overtime win Sunday night in a game that felt, from my living room, like a playoff battle. Phillips Arena rocked -- Hubie Brown gave the crowd dap, even if he paired that with a plea for famously fickle Atlantan fans to show up on Tuesdays against non-playoff squads.
The clearest indicator of the game's magnitude, however, came in the form of Manu Ginobili, a true vision of excellence, which is to say a vision of the past. Manu looked like his 2005 self, eventually scoring 38 points on a bevy of -- take a guess -- lefty scoops, running floaters and flat-footed set-shot jumpers. The Argentine, struggling since late in the 2007-08 season due to injuries and age, hit 5-11 on threes and earned 10 free throw attempts. He played 45 minutes, and kept the Spurs in the game.
But the Hawks, led by a beast of a center in Al Horford, denied San Antonio the win. Horford was simply monstrous, finishing with 22 points and 18 rebounds. Nine of those boards came on the offensive end, a leading indicator of how thoroughly Atlanta dominated S.A. on the glass. The Hawks held the Spurs to 11 offensive rebounds in 41 opportunities; meanwhile, Atlanta took a stunning 21 of 51 offensive rebound opportunities. Despite the aging roster, San Antonio is still elite on the defensive glass (4th in the league), just as it has been through the entirety of Tim Duncan's tenure. But Horford caused problems all night.
It was especially evident late in regulation, as Spurs coach Gregg Popovich kept shooter Matt Bonner on the floor in place of ace rebounder DeJuan Blair and veteran strongman Antonio McDyess. With less than three minutes left and the Spurs leading by four, Horford tipped in a missed Jamal Crawford three. Two minutes later, with the Spurs maintaining a two-point lead at 105-103, Horford broke up a Ginobili pass on defense and trailed Crawford in transition. Jam blew the contested lay-up, but Horford was there to tip it in and tie the score.
Ginobili then missed a potential game-winning lay-up, giving Atlanta the ball at 105-105 with 27 seconds left. Joe Johnson missed a tough step-back jumper, but Horford grabbed the carom and passed out to Josh Smith. The ball skipped back to Johnson for another game-winning attempt, but it wouldn't go down as time expired.
When overtime arrived, Horford turned to the scoring ledger, tallying six of Atlanta's 14 points as the Hawks closed out the win. Horford has trouble defending Duncan all night, and simply couldn't score on him in the first quarter (which saw the Spurs jump out to an early lead). But Big Al never stopped working, and eventually it turned out roses. So long as he plays this hard (Marvin Williams shooting 10-14 doesn't hurt, either), the Hawks will be a factor in the East's postseason shakedown.
But the Spurs will gladly take comfort in the loss, seeing Ginobili play like a man possessed. With Duncan refusing to slough off toward retirement and George Hill ably filling in for injured Tony Parker, a rejuvenated Manu will give the West's elite nightmares this spring.