SAN ANTONIO — Manu Ginobili says the San Antonio Spurs are a substandard imitation of themselves these days.
“We have to play better,” the veteran guard said.
But while the defending NBA champions are trying to regain proper form and get healthy, Ginobili will do his best to keep them afloat.
The Spurs guard made five free throws during the final 1:01, helping the San Antonio Spurs defeat the Atlanta Hawks 94-92 Wednesday night.
Nobody will feel sorry for the Spurs (2-1), especially Western Conference rival Oklahoma City, playing without stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
The Spurs have less stressful issues, but they still matter. Starting center Tiago Splitter returned Wednesday after missing the entire preseason and the first two regular-season games with a strained right calf. He made it as far as the third quarter, when the calf tightened up. He played only 10 minutes.
Reserve point guard Patty Mills, a star of the 2014 Finals against Miami, is out until January after undergoing shoulder surgery. And reserve guard Marco Belinelli left in the first quarter Wednesday with a strained groin.
“We gotta get everyone back healthy,” Ginobili said.
Ginobili (12 points) made two foul shots with 3.8 seconds remaining for the final margin of victory after getting fouled by guard Kyle Korver while driving to the basket.
Atlanta had one more shot, but a long, desperation 3-point attempt from more than 30 feet by forward Pero Antic was blocked by Spurs forward Boris Diaw.
Before the final sequence, Ginobili, fouled by Korver on a 3-point attempt with 1:01 left, made all three free throws, giving the Spurs a 91-90 lead.
San Antonio, trying to increase the lead, lost the ball instead on a turnover by guard Tony Parker. However, Korver, driving the lane, had his shot blocked by forward Tim Duncan with 24 seconds left.
Duncan and Parker led the Spurs with 17 points apiece. Duncan also had 13 rebounds and six blocks.
Forwards DeMarre Carroll and Paul Millsap paced Atlanta (1-2) with 17 points apiece. Guard Jeff Teague, who averaged 22.5 points in the Hawks’ first two games, was held to five points Wednesday.
The Spurs would have made life easier on themselves had they not committed 21 turnovers, including seven by Parker. Some of the mistakes were induced by quick, aggressive Atlanta defenders. Millsap made five steals for the Hawks.
Atlanta is coached by Mike Budenholzer, a Spurs assistant for 17 seasons before taking over the Hawks in 2013. He is trying to build his team in the Spurs image. Indeed, in addition to playing strong defense Wednesday, Atlanta relied on another Spurs’ staple — the 3-point shot. The Hawks made eight treys, including three by Carroll.
“Bud has done a great job with them,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “They’re going to be one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. They’re physical, and they play great defense.”
San Antonio led 49-39 at halftime, a meager advantage considering the Spurs outshot Atlanta 53 percent to 35.6 percent. The Spurs hurt themselves with 12 turnovers during the half, allowing a 17-point lead to shrink.
The Spurs committed five more turnovers in the third quarter, compounding their problems with 39 percent shooting. The result? Their lead, once 17 points, was down to six.
“I thought we came out in the second half with the appropriate edge and efforts defensively,” Budenholzer said.
Atlanta took its only lead of the game, 90-88, on a jump shot by center Al Horford with 1:16 remaining in the game.
But Ginobili grabbed it back quickly with those three free throws, and then two more, stemming the Atlanta comeback.
“We put ourselves in a really big hole and (then) fought hard,” Korver said. “Just didn’t have quite enough.”
NOTES: Spurs F Kawhi Leonard started his second consecutive game after missing the opener with an eye infection. The only Spur still out is G Patty Mills, who will not play until January after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery. … Atlanta F/C Adreian Payne missed the game with plantar fasciitis in his left foot. Payne, a rookie first-round draft pick, has missed all three games this season. … Hawks second-year coach Mike Budenholzer, a former San Antonio assistant, said he did not notice the Spurs’ 2014 NBA championship banner during his team’s shootaround Wednesday. “I’m in Atlanta, officially,” said a smiling Budenholzer, who was with the Spurs during four of their five championship seasons. “I’m very happy for those guys. They are a great group.”
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