Fans in San Antonio let their appreciation for the longtime guard Manu Ginobili be known on Monday night in Game 4 of the Spurs’ playoff series with the Warriors.
SAN ANTONIO — The home crowd was chanting his name in the closing minutes on Monday night, so Manu Ginobili looked up from his seat on the bench and gave a little wave. The fans responded with a roar, a collective expression of appreciation, nostalgia and grief. Patty Mills, Ginobili’s teammate on the San Antonio Spurs, turned to him.
“I don’t know why these guys are giving you a standing ovation,” Mills recalled telling Ginobili. “He said, ‘Yeah, I’m coming back for another three years.’”
In truth, Ginobili will weigh retirement in the coming weeks after a season that felt, in so many ways, incomplete. Ravaged by injuries, the Spurs were robbed of a real chance to push the Golden State Warriors in the N.B.A.’s Western Conference finals. Ginobili, an old hand at postseason tussles, compared it to going “to war with a bat.” The disparity in talent was too great.
“You can swing, swing, swing, and maybe you’ll hit somebody,” said Ginobili, 39, “but it isn’t fair. They were so much better than us, so much stronger.”
The Warriors completed a four-game sweep of the Spurs on Monday with a 129-115 victory, advancing to their third consecutive N.B.A. finals. It was drama-free basketball. The Spurs never had a chance.
San Antonio’s roster was in such dire shape that Bryn Forbes, a first-year guard, was sent onto the court in the first quarter. Forbes, a regular with the Austin Spurs of the N.B.A. Development League, played sparingly for San Antonio this season. But there he was, supplying big minutes in a closeout game of the conference finals.
Kawhi Leonard, who missed the final three games of the series with a sprained left ankle, looked on from behind the bench with the forlorn expression of an undertaker. The Spurs also went the final weeks of the playoffs without Tony Parker, who went down in the conference semifinals with a ruptured quadriceps tendon.Ginobili, taking a shot in Game 4, found some of his old magic in the Western Conference finals, scoring 17 points in Game 1 and 21 points in Game 3
On top of all that, LaMarcus Aldridge had a series to forget. A five-time All-Star, he settled for a steady diet of fall-away jumpers against the Warriors. The misses piled up. On Monday, he had another meek game, finishing with 8 points and 7 rebounds while shooting 4 for 11 from the field. He looked lost without the playmaking of Parker.
“A lot of unfortunate things happened,” Aldridge said. “We still tried to compete.”
In other words, the Spurs could see the sad end coming days ago. Everyone could. It was all so unavoidable. But it was also somehow unbecoming for a team synonymous with excellence. The Spurs, back when they were whole, had the second-best record in the league during the regular season. They deserved better than to have the Warriors turn them into roadkill.
“We had a tough break when you lose your point guard and your main scorer,” Ginobili said. “We did our best.”
Ginobili, of course, has been one of the Spurs’ standard-bearers for 15 seasons. He is a four-time N.B.A. champion. He influenced a generation of shooting guards with his versatility. And he helped change the way teams view the role of reserves thanks to his willingness to come off the bench.
“I’m sure other coaches have used it,” Mike Brown, the acting coach of the Warriors, said. “You can always look back and say, ‘Hey, remember that guy Manu Ginobili? He graciously did it, and they won umpteen titles because of it.’ That just embodies who that guy is.”
In the absence of Parker (and later Leonard), Coach Gregg Popovich leaned on Ginobili in the playoffs. He delivered against the Houston Rockets in the conference semifinals, with a game-saving block of James Harden. Against the Warriors, Ginobili summoned some of his old magic — 17 points in Game 1, 21 points in Game 3 — but the Spurs had lost too many bodies by then.
“I felt more energetic, more needed, more useful to the team,” Ginobili said. “I do feel like I can still play.”