Manu vs. Harden: Western Conference Finals Game 1

May 29, 2012

Ginobili on Harden, Who's Who?Photo: Eric Gay / AP

Brothers from another mother. That’s probably the best way I could describe Manu Ginobili and James Harden. While one was born amid the rolling hills of Argentina and the other a roll down the freeway from Los Angeles, these two players couldn’t be more similar. It starts with their left arms, sharing a kinship and a lineage from Gail Goodrich and Chris Mullin, always keeping their opponents off balance, unsteady.

They both utilize the high post brilliantly, cutting off their teammates for hand offs and pitches, the traditional give and go from days past, going right after selling going left. Slightly awkward jump shots, but pure poetry and efficiency. When I think of Manu and Harden, I picture the NBA Logo, but tilted 10 more degrees.

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The Spurs seem more willing to guard Harden with Ginobili than the other way around, and that leaves me empty. This matchup, mirror images of each other, is simply satisfying – even when they engage in a simultaneous flop (Manu won that one). It’s no surprise that whoever plays better hands victory to their team, since both these players are key to making their respective teams go.

Manu, after starting out slow and a bit rusty from the week layoff, went off on the Thunder, to the tune of 9-14, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 26 points. Compare that to Harden, who was anything but Manu’s mirror in production: 7-17, 6 rebounds, 1 assist for 19 points. However, the last three 3 pointers came when the game was already decided and serve as mere padding. He seemed frustrated early at not getting some foul calls, then rushed and sloppy the rest of the game. So uncharacteristic was this, that it’s a lock he won’t repeat it.

Scott Brooks Forgetting To Put Ibaka Back InPhoto: Kin Man Hui, Express-News

And that points to Scott Brooks failure to manage this game properly. While Derek Fisher made some shots in the 3rd quarter, he stayed with him way too long, ignoring his sublime shot blocking Serge Ibaka, who got short shift (22 minutes).

No matter how the match ups appeared to work against the Thunder, Ibaka needed to be patrolling the paint, blocking (or threatening to block) those Ginobili game-icing drives. Instead, Russell Westbrook was the last line of defense, and the Spurs simply thanked him on the way to the locker room, victory cigar trailing smoke.

Russell Westbrook also shrunk from the pressure of the moment, having very little affect on the game either positive or negative down the stretch. This is his crucial time to silence critics like me – having already become a cold blooded, efficient assassin through the first two rounds. But he ended up with 4 turn overs – his high for the playoffs – and lack of good ball distribution.

Westbrook contemplates the bad shots his teammates gotPhoto: Edward A. Ornelas, Express-News

From 8:13 til 1:50 of the fourth quarter, when the Spurs took control of the game, Kevin Durant managed only 2 very long three pointers and Harden one very long three pointer. Argue that the offense dictates isolations on top and Westbrook didn’t control that, it’s the point guard on a championship club that takes control during this time, gets people in the right spots, and sets them up for shots they can make.

There is no doubt the Thunder will strike back, go on some rolls, make the Spurs look mortal. But it will be as ephemeral as their fastbreak, and the Spurs will get back to business, unleashing their inner Manu and enjoying the results.

PREDICTION:
Spurs in 6

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Coach Nick is the founder of BballBreakdown and a former high school varsity basketball coach. Follow Coach Nick on Twitter, @BballSource.

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