Asked what he remembered about 2004, Manu Ginobili answered in 0.4 seconds. "That I didn't think it was possible," he said.

Ginobili had put his arms straight up then so as not to foul Derek Fisher. Ginobili figured that was enough. Then the basketball whizzed over his head in a kind of time travel, and a season changed.

Years passed. Fisher left the Lakers. And then came Monday, when Ginobili did far more than put his arms in the air and hope. He and Fisher exchanged blows — enough to get Fisher ejected — and Ginobili made sure of one thing with his 16 fourth-quarter points.

When Fisher comes back to San Antonio for his first Game 5 since 2004, he can't alter a tied-up series as he once did.

No matter how much time is left.

Ginobili didn't do this by himself. Tim Duncan overcame another awkward game, combining five blocks with a late surge. Tony Parker fought through an awful shooting night, rising with a steal and breakaway lay-up in the fourth. And Fabricio Oberto joined his countryman as he did in Game 5 in Phoenix, as composed as the crowd was not.

But it was Ginobili who grabbed hold of a game that the Spurs appeared to be losing, and he fully understood the urgency. Ginobili only had to think back to 2004 for that.

Then, the Spurs had jumped ahead of Fisher's Lakers with a 2-0 series lead, just as they did against the Jazz. The Spurs collapsed in Game 3, just as they did Saturday in Utah, and then they dropped Game 4.

That set up the 0.4 infamy. Everyone thought the Spurs had won on Duncan's last-second jumper, and the Spurs themselves acted that way. Parker and Malik Rose stood on the sidelines, arms around each other's shoulders, like old friends posing for a picture.

Then Gary Payton slipped the ball to Fisher, who shot over Ginobili, and suddenly Fisher was sprinting off the court in celebration. Ginobili stayed around just long enough to see the start of the replay.

He wanted to see if he'd played enough defense to let him sleep that night.

The Spurs would lose the next game in Los Angeles, and Ginobili saw so clearly the danger that this week presented. Let Utah tie the series, and who knows what happens next?

"That's why this is huge," Ginobili said. Fisher, after all, proved anything is possible.

Anything was possible Monday after the Spurs blew a lead.

"Fans were going nuts," Ginobili said afterward, "and they looked inspired. I don't remember what happened exactly that kept us going, because it was looking ugly for us."

What happened? Exactly?

Here's a guess: With about eight minutes left, with the Spurs hanging onto a 1-point lead, Ginobili threw in a 3-pointer.

Oberto scored with an offensive rebound that Ginobili had kept alive, and a few minutes later came a stretch of Ginobili vs. Fisher plays that decided the game. Ginobili started by launching another 3-pointer, and Fisher chose not to go straight up as Ginobili had three years before.

Fisher fouled, and Ginobili followed with three made free throws.

Ginobili went back to the line and, a possession later, Fisher tried to draw a charge. Ginobili instead kept going until he scored and, on the way back up the court, Fisher and Ginobili intersected.

A no-call made sense, but Ginobili sold the bump. A technical foul on Fisher joined with one on Jerry Sloan, and it was official. Ginobili had crept under the skin of another opponent.

"I don't know why he got upset," Ginobili said. "I can't recall doing anything for that to happen. But, you know, if that helps the team win and get a couple of easy free throws, I'm ready to do it."

Fisher would get ejected with one, last hard foul. And as ESPN tried to corner Ginobili for a post-game interview, Gregg Popovich came over to get him off the floor. He feared the crowd would throw something.

They left in a flash — about 0.4 seconds.


Buck Harvey is a sports columnist for the San Antonio Express-News.