Arash Markazi
Monday May 26th, 2008

SAN ANTONIO -- Manu Ginobili brushed off the questions as if they were insults. The usually gregarious Argentine became more annoyed with each query about his sore left ankle or his torn fingernail, as if they were shots at his manhood. He would have rather been called terrible than injured.

"I don't want to talk about the injury," he kept saying. "It's not about the injury. I just played terrible."

Well, whatever was ailing Ginobili in the first two games of the Western Conference finals -- whether it was the ankle, the fingernail or something else he didn't want to talk about -- it was fully healed in Game 3. The third member of the Spurs' Big Three finally made his presence felt in a big way while leading the Spurs to a 103-84 win that trimmed the Lakers' series lead to 2-1.

After totaling 17 points on 5-of-21 shots in Games 1 and 2, Ginobili (the Spurs' leading scorer in the regular season) found his touch at home, scoring a game-high 30 points, including 5-of-7 from three-point range. Ginobili actually surpassed his two-game point total in the first half alone, as he scored 22 points and hit five three-pointers.

Despite his breakout performance, Ginobili still dismissed the notion that his performance had anything to do with overcoming the nagging injuries.

"As I said the other day, it is not that I felt that much better than Game 2," said Ginobili. "I just played bad. I mean, I am not that good. I can play bad for a game or two. It just can happen and [everyone] was making too much of a big deal out of it."

The only thing that irked Ginobili more than the questions about his injuries was the growing belief that Lakers reserve Sasha Vujacic was shutting him down. The pesky defender with a penchant for getting under the skin of opponents and teammates alike was being lauded for somehow stifling one of the best guards in the world. That, more than anything, is what ate at Ginobili in the 48 hours between Games 2 and 3.

"He is such a competitor," said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who also refused to use Ginobili's injuries as an excuse. "He puts so much on his shoulders and fights through a lot of things. He understands what he's done in games all his life, both in Europe and over here. He's got a lot of confidence in what he can do."

Ginobili came out aggressively, a fire that was missing in the first two games. He went at Vujacic and knocked down shot after shot in his face as the Spurs ran the offense through him. Ginobili didn't just reclaim his shooting touch, though; he came through during crucial stretches in the first half when the Lakers appeared to be in control.

After the Lakers went on an 8-0 run in the first quarter, Ginobili hit back-to-back three-pointers to cut the L.A. lead to one. Then in the second quarter, after Kobe Bryant took the air out of the AT&T Center with a driving, untouched layup to give the Lakers a 28-27 lead, Ginobili responded with another pair of three-pointers to give the Spurs the lead for good.

"We saw a turnaround coming," said Tim Duncan. "We knew he was going to be aggressive, knew he was going to try and turn the series around for himself. He's the guy we need to put the ball in the hole. He needs to give us points that aren't easy."

Even Bryant, who has always admired Ginobili's game and Argentina's fluid style of basketball, had to smile at some of the shots Ginobili was making.

"He hit one shot that just made me laugh," said Bryant. "It was right in Sasha's face. It was just great defense. The guy bounced back the way I thought he would. He played well with a nasty-looking fingernail. That thing is disgusting."

Yeah, just don't bring up that injury to Ginobili.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.