Manu Ginobili is a lot like an average DJ at an average bar in New York. You know the one–he or she will spin a spectacular string of tracks that have you tapping your feet and nodding your head in appreciation, then suddenly launch into a god-awful stretch of tunes that leaves you abandoning a half-full beer and heading for the exit in disgust.
Last night’s performance by San Antonio’s love-him-or-hate-him sixth man was a perfect amalgamation–especially in the critical fourth quarter–of why he spurs such polarizing opinions. With the Utah Jazz charging hard and trimming their deficit to one point with about 10 minutes to go, Ginobili stepped up as he so often does, nailing a deflating three-pointer that was part of a 15-point quarter he absolutely owned.
He got to the hole, drew fouls, hit 11 free throws, frustrated any defender Jerry Sloan threw at him, and thoroughly pissed off every single Utah fan in the stands. He did it calmly, patiently taking everything in stride, and without a trace of hesitation or doubt. Ginobili knows what he can do, and he just does it.
That’s what makes him so good, one of the most difficult players to defend in the league when he’s on top of his game. However, ask Sloan, Derek Fisher, Deron Williams, or any other member of the Utah Jazz what they think about Ginobili, and I guarantee that all of them would have to bite–heck, probably swallow–their tongue to avoid launching into a heated diatribe about Ginobili’s Oscar-worthy theatrics, incessant flopping and flailing, and subversively dirty tactics. Williams, for one, couldn’t help himself: “I don’t want to say he flops,” he sighed later, “but … I mean … he flops.”
And he does flop. I don’t like it, and a lot of NBA followers don’t like it either. More and more, we’re seeing players smartly interpret the nuances about blocking and charging fouls and use it to their advantage. They’re capitalizing on the hyper-sensitive mindset of the league and its officials to increase scoring and make the game more entertaining for Joe Casual Fan (though we’re not sure how marching star players to the foul line over and over again could possibly be considered entertaining).
Can you blame players like Ginobili and Anderson Varejao? The goal is to win, and doing whatever it takes to achieve that goal is the name of the game. Even if it means insulting the game of professional baseketball.
Ginobili perfectly understands that. He knows opposing players go absolutely mental when he throws his body to the ground after a foul like Rocky Balboa just landed a haymaker to his chin. He knows it frustrates them. Last night, Ginobili put himself in a position to succeed… and the refs in a position to blow their whistles on a series of questionable plays. There were some phantom fouls called, make no mistake about it, strictly based on Manu’s body language, his flailing, and his flopping.
The most egregious incident was probably the one that spun the wheels in motion for Derek Fisher’s eventual ejection, when Ginobili ran back down on defense after hitting a layup, came into contact with Fisher (who had his back turned and was running down the court as well), and flailed back like Fisher had bodychecked him a la Robert Horry on Steve Nash. Once Ginobili realized how exasperated the Jazz were getting, he really laid it on heavy for the rest of the game, behavior that got everyone in the building not wearing a black-and-silver jersey worked up beyond belief and resulted in ejections of Sloan and Fisher and debris being thrown on the court by the fans.
Manu Ginobili will take it. The Spurs won by 14 points and will now look to close the series out Wednesday night at home. Afterwards, he played the innocent bystander card to perfection, saying about Fisher “I don’t know why he got upset” and “I can’t recall anything for (Fisher’s shot) to happen, but if that helps the team win and get a couple of easy free throws, I’m ready to do it.”
Spurs fans love him. Opposing fans hate him. He’s a clutch player with talent to spare–and one of the league’s premier irritants who, when necessary, can take flopping to new levels. When it comes to Manu Ginobili, there’s no choice but to take the good with the bad.