Manu Ginobili: 'Whatever I decide to do, I'll be a happy camper'

SAN ANTONIO -- As the minutes ticked away in the Spurs' 129-115 elimination loss to the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference finals on Monday, the remaining fans packed in the AT&T Center stood and waved Spurs towels while chanting, "Manu, Manu, Manu."

Manu Ginobili walked off the court with 2 minutes, 25 seconds left to a standing ovation. Then he sat on the bench next to one of his closest friends, Patty Mills.

"I was like, 'I don't know why these guys are giving you a standing ovation for,'" Mills said. "And he said, 'Yeah, I'm coming back for another three years,' or whatever it was."

Certainly, Ginobili's joke would be the wish for most Spurs fans, who might have just witnessed the veteran guard play his final game in San Antonio. Having come off the bench for the majority of his 15 NBA seasons, Ginobili was informed Sunday by coach Gregg Popovich that he would start Game 4 against the Warriors. Ginobili responded by leading the short-handed Spurs with 15 points on 6 of 12 shooting to go with seven assists, while showing the world there might still be some good basketball in his 39-year-old body.

The start marked Ginobili's first in the postseason since 2013.

"We started him tonight out of respect," Popovich said. "That was the whole reason for starting him. Before the game, you think it may or may not be his last game that he ever plays in, and I did not want to miss the opportunity to honor him in front of our home fans for his selflessness over the years. This is a Hall of Fame player who allowed me to bring him off the bench for -- I can't even remember now -- the last decade or something, because it would make us a better team overall.

"He deserved to have that night of respect so that he really feels that we appreciate everything he's done over the years."

Even when San Antonio's lopsided loss came to its conclusion and Golden State started its Western Conference championship celebration, the AT&T Center continued to echo with "Manu" chants as the veteran made his way off the court and into the tunnel headed to the Spurs' locker room.

As ESPN's Doris Burke interviewed Golden State's Kevin Durant on the court following the contest, the chants honoring Ginobili continued to reverberate throughout the arena, causing them to pause to wait for the Spurs guard's exit from the court.

The scene belied what would have been under normal circumstances a disappointing loss for the Spurs.

"I'm a Manu Ginobili fan, and when you kind of sense the moment, obviously you don't know what's in his future, but the crowd's going crazy for him," Durant said later. "I tried to do my best to give him that moment; just take it all in, because you could tell how much he's meant to this organization, to this city. Obviously, a true champion. The way he plays the game, you have no choice but to just love watching him play. His creativity, his passion for the game every night. That was a cool moment for him."

As San Antonio suffered just its third sweep under Popovich, marking only the fifth time in NBA history that has happened to a 60-win team, it seemed fitting that over the final two games of the series Ginobili produced the team's best performances.

In Game 3, Ginobili racked up 21 points to become the first player age 39 or older to score 20 points or more off the bench in a playoff game since the NBA began tracking starts in 1970-71, according to research by Elias Sports Bureau. In Game 1, Ginobili contributed 17 points. So Ginobili's two highest-scoring playoff games over the past three postseasons came in this series against the Warriors.

"Manu has just been a f---ing fantastic, magnificent player," Spurs center Pau Gasol said.

San Antonio guard Danny Green offered his take.

"He's done some great things here, and only half of us can dream to accomplish some of those things," Green said. "We'll see what decision he makes soon. I'm sure guys will try to talk him into one more year."

For the past two days, Ginobili has found himself fielding countless questions about whether he plans to return for a 16th season. A four-time NBA champion with two All-Star appearances, Ginobili is an unrestricted free agent, and it's unclear whether he'll be a Spur in 2017-18.

Popovich said he won't try to persuade Ginobili to continue playing.

"If he decides to play again, that's up to him," Popovich said. "But I won't try to convince him one way or the other. I don't think he needs that."

As a barrage of questions came Ginobili's way on Sunday at practice about potentially playing his last game in San Antonio, the veteran finally exclaimed, "This is getting weird."

And Monday was no different for him.

Before the game tipped off, several fans from his native Argentina holding a sign in the colors of the country's flag screamed Ginobili's name, and he nearly ran up into the stands to greet them before being stopped.

After the game, right outside the door to the Spurs' locker room, Ginobili hung out for several minutes with Warriors coach Steve Kerr, a former San Antonio teammate and assistant coach.

All this attention for a man who missed his first 15 shots of this postseason, only to connect on each of his last three, potentially the final shots of his career.

"I do feel like I can still play," Ginobili said. "But that's not what is going to make me retire or not. It's about how I feel -- if I want to go through all that again. It felt like they wanted me to retire, like they were giving me sort of a celebration night. And of course, I'm getting closer and closer. There is no secret, for sure. It's getting harder and harder. But I always said that I wanted to let it sink in for three weeks, four weeks, whatever, and then I will sit with my wife and see how it feels.

"Whatever I decide to do, I'll be a happy camper. I have to choose between two wonderful, truly wonderful options. One is to keep playing in this league at this age, enjoying every day, playing the sport I still love. The other one is to stay at home, be a dad, travel more, enjoy my family. Whatever it is, it's two unbelievable options. So there is no way I can be sad, because whatever I decide, it's going to be great."