AT&T Center – It was a reunion for CSKA Moscow's head coach Ettore Messina and San Antonio Spurs' Manu Ginobili in the Spurs first preseason game. Messina coached Ginobili when he played in Italy with Bologna from 2000-02 and as Manu says, Messina made him the player he is today.
Fast forward to today and it seems the student has now become the teacher.
In the Spurs' preseason win over CSKA, Manu was diving on the court, fighting for loose balls and playing with a tenacity that has become a hallmark of his game. Add the fact the Spurs never gave up despite losing a double-figure lead and displayed all-around toughness down the stretch against a pesky CSKA team and you have a textbook lesson on what it takes to win in the NBA.
And it was that display of toughness from Ginobili and San Antonio is what Messina says is the lesson learned for his team.
"When you see Manu Ginobili in the preseason diving together with his teammates for a loose ball, and the toughness with which they defended our guards making it difficult for them to find a shot, that's a good lesson in terms of understanding what the real NBA is," Messina said postgame.
Indeed Ginobili played like a man possessed. He finished with 14 points, 4-4 from the field, 3-3 from the free throw line, 3-3 from the three-point line, five rebounds, two assists, four steals and a blocked shot in just 19 minutes of action.
Call it Manu trying to exorcise his woeful performance in the last season's playoffs but whatever got under his skin, seeing him playing aggressively will surely help San Antonio get back to the NBA Finals.
Same can be said for the rest of the team.
The core players appeared ready and eager to rid themselves of the bad taste of losing in the Finals while the new additions brought the energy and hustle.
"Our main group of players are in pretty good shape. They're ready, they're hungry from the series last year," said Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich. "I thought they hustled well tonight, but I expect that, they're Spurs. If they didn't hustle they wouldn't be here."
Indeed the Spurs displayed that hustle Popovich was talking about throughout the game.
Aron Baynes never gave up at the rim and made the tip-shot to force overtime with seconds left in the fourth quarter. Even Boris Diaw showed more aggression and hustle than he did last season.
"[H]e's been more aggressive offensively, which is what we want from him. I don't think he really did that last year," said Popovich about Diaw. "He was too ready to defer and not be aggressive at that end of the court, but so far he's been aggressive."
Granted it was just the first preseason game but seeing Manu and the Spurs re-energized and ready to go is a great first step in the marathon that is the NBA. Perhaps losing the way they did in the Finals last season is probably enough to give the team a massive chip on their shoulder as they head into the new season. There's nothing wrong with the Spurs playing with a bit of a mean streak as well which they'll need in a competitive Western Conference.
Toughness, hustle, and aggression – lessons not only for CSKA and Messina to take with them but for the Spurs themselves if they want to be the last team standing in the upcoming season.