The San Antonio Spurs were trailing the New York Knicks in the final seconds of regulation when Manu Ginobili began his pursuit of the basket. From a defensive point of view, the conventional thinking would be one of two things.

Foul him. Or, let him score. So long as the passing lane was contained, and any Spur beyond the three point line was covered.

Fred Jones and Zach Randolph converged, but were late in arriving. Tim Duncan screened Renaldo Balkman, who dropped off his man -Michael Finley, alone in the right corner- to defend Ginobili. Less than two seconds remained, and the guard was still in control of the ball.

As Ginobili’s momentum pushed him past the end line, he released a pass to Finley, who promptly sent the game into OT.

“It was designed for Manu to do what he did,” said Gregg Popovich, the Spurs coach, startled that someone would dare ask him about such a risky play, albeit one that the champs have executed to perfection in the past. “That’s what Manu does.”

The fact this was a set play -the Spurs call it ‘Hammer’- is believable. The fact that it still worked despite Isiah Thomas’ warning, following a timeout, is unbelievable.

Well, maybe not that unbelievable.

“Yes, we talked about that,” Thomas said, after the Knicks lost their eighth straight game. “It didn’t happen but that’s okay. We will learn [from this], and move on.”