San Antonio Spurs guard Manu Ginobili — good enough to be a starter on about any team — won the NBA’s sixth man award given to the league’s best reserve on Monday.
Boston Celtics’ new acquisition Kevin Garnett takes home the Defensive Player of the Year award.
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Ginobili named NBA’s best sixth man for 2007-08 season
Ginobili led the Spurs in scoring, averaging a career-high 19.5 points to go with 4.8 rebounds and 4.5 assists. Ginobili came off the bench in 51 of the 74 games he played this season.
“I really don’t care about coming from the bench if that helps the team to win a championship,” Ginobili said.
The Spurs have a 1-0 lead over the Phoenix Suns in their best-of-seven first-round playoff series. Suns guard Leandro Barbosa won the award last year and Ginobili came in second.
“He’s one of the better players in the NBA, who just happens to come off the bench,” said Spurs starting guard Michael Finley. “Any other team in the league, he’d probably be starting, but for him to come off the bench and put his ego aside it just shows what kind of team we have, and more importantly what kind of player and All-Star he is.”
Ginobili got 123 of 124 first-place votes for 615 points. Barbosa came in second with 283 points and the Dallas Mavericks’ Jason Terry was third with 44.
“It was no race. Just like, when [is it] going to happen,” said Spurs point guard Tony Parker. “He was our best player all year long.”
The 6-foot-6 guard gives the team a boost of energy off the bench. He was drafted by the Spurs in 1999 in the second round with the 57th overall pick. The Argentinian has been with the team for three of its four title runs.
“That is what I’m going to remember when I retire, the rings I have,” Ginobili said. “Not the fact I played 28 minutes or 33 or my name being called in the starting lineup. That’s not going to make the difference in 10 to 15 years.”
Ginobili enters the game, usually about midway through the first quarter, to huge roars from the crowd when the Spurs announcer yells “Here comes Manu!”
“I just consider myself a player, a team player,” Ginobili said. “So this year [Spurs coach Gregg Popovich] thought it was more important for me to come from the bench, so I just try to do it the best way I can.”
Popovich gave all the credit to Ginobili, who is the first Spurs player to win the award.
“Manu is a person who’s much more concerned with the group than he is about himself,” Popovich said. “He got over himself a long time ago. … I don’t think there are too many All-Stars that coaches in this league can go to and say, ‘You’ve been great. Now you’re going to come off the bench.’ So I’m very fortunate.”
Ginobili shot better than 40 percent from 3-point range in his sixth regular NBA season and when he drives the lane — routinely picking up bumps and bruises along the way — he’s known for putting the ball in from seemingly impossible angles.
“Before I got here I used to think those shots that he made were luck, and what we called, when I was growing up, fluke shots,” Finley said. “Now that I’m his teammate and I see him on a daily basis, that’s his game.”
Ginobili hit the game-winning layup in the Spurs’ Game 1 win over the Suns on Saturday with 1.8 seconds on the clock in double overtime.
The last sixth man award winner to lead his team in scoring was Milwaukee’s Ricky Pierce. He averaged 23 points when he won the award in 1990.
Garnett wins NBA’s Defensive Player of Year Award
When Kevin Garnett starts screaming, the Celtics’ defense stops struggling.
For all his assets — athleticism, intensity, intelligence — it’s the ability to communicate with teammates that he considers the key to Boston’s skill at shutting down opponents.
“I talk. I understand how defense works,” he said after being selected the NBA defensive player of the year Tuesday. “Communication’s probably the biggest thing when it comes to defense.”
An outstanding defender throughout his previous 12 seasons, all with Minnesota, Garnett won the league award for the first time by a wide margin one day before Boston takes a 1-0 lead into Game 2 of the first-round series against Atlanta.
He had 90 of the 124 first-place votes and a total of 493 points. Marcus Camby of Denver, last year’s winner, was second with 12 first and 178 points, just edging Shane Battier of Houston, who received 11 first-place votes and 175 points.
“Any award you’re able to acquire in this league is a big deal,” said Garnett, who would much prefer his first NBA championship. “At the end of the day, it’s about winning.”
The 6-foot-11, long-armed forward is the major factor behind the Celtics’ climb from a mediocre defensive team to perhaps the best in the league. They held opponents to an NBA-low 41.9 field goal percentage after allowing them to hit 46.8 percent of their shots last season. And they allowed just 90.3 points per game, second-fewest in the league, after giving up 99.2 last year.
No surprise, then, that Boston improved from 24-58 last season to 66-16, the NBA’s best record, after trading for Garnett last summer.
“He’s changed our culture defensively,” coach Doc Rivers said. “That’s the most important thing, just the team part of it. Individually, he’s been fantastic, but I think his presence for the team is what stood out.”
Paul Pierce was surprised that Garnett hadn’t won the award before.
“He’s been the class of the NBA defensively for a long time now,” Pierce said. “He just anchors our defense. He controls the paint, blocks shots, a lot of things that don’t show up in the stat sheet, with his talking.”
Center Kendrick Perkins is having the best of his five seasons with Boston and credits some of that to Garnett.
“You never know how valuable he is until you’ve played with him,” Perkins said. “He controls the whole court. He’s the only player besides Kobe Bryant that I’ve seen control the whole court.”
Garnett is able to recognize early what opponents are doing and tell his teammates. He guides them to the right spots. Team defense, he said, is the key to stopping teams. No surprise, then, that Garnett credits his teammates with making his award possible.
He spoke up after practice Tuesday to tell them that.
“I got my teammates and my coaches together and said that when a team does well you can really pick anybody on this team” for the award, Garnett said. “Defense is not a one-man thing. It’s totally a team effort.”
He averaged 1.2 blocks, 1.4 steals and 7.3 defensive rebounds to go with 18.8 points and 9.2 total rebounds per game.
His decibel level was high, too.
“You have to be able to talk, understand what’s about to happen and then, obviously, speak on it,” he said, “and talk loudly because sometimes you’re on the road and you’re dealing with [noisy] crowds.”
The crowd will be very noisy Wednesday night, but it will be rooting for the Celtics against the Hawks in the best-of-seven series between the top and bottom seeds in the Eastern Conference.
The defense excelled in Sunday night’s opener, a 104-81 win in which Boston held Atlanta to 38.2 percent shooting.
“You should see him in shootaround” before a game, Perkins said. “We’re going over the other team’s plays. He’s very focused and he wants everybody else to lock in. Team defense is key. … He gives us our whole swagger as far as how we’re the bad guys. We chose to be the bad guys of the league right now.”
And if some Celtics don’t believe it, they’re sure to hear it from Garnett.
“Doc always says I’m the talkative one out of the group. I beg to differ. I debate strongly,” he said, before admitting the obvious. “I’m just so happy to be the one that speaks louder than all those guys.
“You could have pretty much gone through our whole roster and picked out a [solid] defensive guy,” Garnett said. “That’s what we are. That’s our identity.”