The Good and Bad: The roller-coaster ride of Manu Ginobili
Poor shooting nights are an inevitability in the NBA, regardless of how previously scorching a team may have been only one game prior. Monday’s Game 4 was that time for the San Antonio Spurs, when they chucked their way to one of the worst shooting performances in franchise history with no one to pull them from the ice age.
In the opening-round doldrums, it was Manu Ginobili who made a habit of this. During those seven games, his 2012-13 playoff run had all been forgotten; now, those memories are beginning to creep again.
Players were asked about it during the opening couple of games of the Portland series, when the Spurs were lighting the building on fire with jumper after jumper. “We don’t need him now,” they said (and I paraphrase). “When we have a bad night, he’ll show up.”
There were plenty of bad nights to go around through the first six games of the Dallas series. The Spurs didn’t exactly shoot poorly — 49.7 percent from the floor and 38.3 percent from deep ain’t bad — but the Mavs weren’t letting them get those open looks from the 3-point line. Danny Green and Marco Belinelli were shells of their regular-season selves as they were blanketed by sub-par but highly attentive veteran defenders, and Patty Mills couldn’t find the stroke he revamped during the best campaign of his career. But Ginobili turned back the clock.
The 36-year-old rescued San Antonio at times against the Mavericks, an opponent that had shell-shocked the Spurs in what was supposed to be an easy warm-up for the brutal Western Conference Playoffs. He hit 45 percent of his shots, including 37.8 percent from the arc, and was attacking the rim like the Manu of old. Suddenly, the decision to return for another run at a title at a price tag of a cool $7.5 million didn’t just seem like a bargain, it felt like a steal. He boasted the third best net rating of anyone on the team behind sparsely used Matt Bonner and two-way dynamo Kawhi Leonard, and he registered the highest ¹Player Impact Estimate on the Spurs roster during the series at 15.6 percent.
And he was doing it from everywhere. He attempted 37 3-pointers in those seven games and put up 23 shots in the paint, an area on the court from which he connected at a 65.2-percent clip. Ginobili was attacking the rim, hitting shots, finding shooters and roll men, playing pesky defense and once again looking like San Antonio’s wild card when all else was being mucked up and shut down.
But whatever light bulb had been switched on was suddenly slammed and snapped off with the start of the second round. To say Ginobili has been a ghost wouldn’t be accurate, as that would imply he hasn’t been noticeable; the impact in the box score has been anything but inconspicuous.
Manu still makes plays, though. He’s still passing well, showing a higher assist ratio (assists per 100 possessions) and turning it over less frequently than he did in the opening round, and he has somehow notched the highest net rating in the series of anyone not named Patty Mills, Aron Baynes and Cory Joseph. And that’s the magic of the guy, because he’s doing it on the back of some horrific shooting.
Ginobili’s shooting percentages have fallen off a cliff, down to a true-shooting mark of 39.3 percent in four games against the Trail Blazers. His 3-point attempts have been nearly cut in half from one round to the next, and his forays into the soft underbelly of the Portland defense have yielded awful results at worse than 30-percent shooting. That team-high PIE is now third worst, behind only Bonner and the man he usually replaces, Green.
And that’s long been the story of Manu Ginobili. He’s a balding roller-coaster ride to which you cling, not just because you want to, but because you need to.
Perhaps it’s been the busy recent playoff schedule that’s wearing those legs a little thin, but that’s not something you’ll hear from Ginobili’s mouth. Nor should you. Besides, it’s not like he was fine one day and shot the next. We’re currently in one of those Manu swoons that happen from time to time, the ones that come with the territory. But he’d better get out of it quickly, because these aren’t the rough waters that still loom ahead.
San Antonio should be able to handle the Portland Trail Blazers and close out this series. In fact, I’d bet it happens on Wednesday in convincing fashion. But the Spurs need Ginobili to be the Good Manu, not the Bad. They need that secondary playmaker to break the defense down when other shots aren’t falling, and they need him to make the opposition pay if the defense continues to sag off in pick-and-roll coverage. They need the backbreaking 3-pointers and those “how the hell did that go in?” And-1 conversions. They need the spine-tingling bounce passes that thread the needle to a cutting big man, and more than anything they need the experience of having been there.
Still, it was Bad Manu whose blunders made life so difficult for his team in last year’s Finals. I’ll never say he’s the reason they lost, because it’s far too short-sighted and moronic to actually ignore all the good things he did on the way to the precipice of another title. But had Good Manu been there instead (outside of Game 5), ring No. 5 would be sitting comfortably in the homes of Peter Holt, Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich.
This isn’t meant to bash one of the top five players in this franchise’s history, nor is it meant to place any sort of blame on the man who was arguably the league’s best sixth man this season. This is meant to say, the Spurs need Ginobili; not necessarily now, but certainly later. Because without Manu, without that Hall-of-Fame pressure valve, there will be no title.
If they’re able to wrap things up against Portland on Wednesday, there will be time to rest and ready themselves for what’s next. Because for whatever that happens to be, the Spurs will need Good Manu Ginobili.
¹Per NBA.com: In its simplest terms, PIE shows what percentage of game events did that player or team achieve.
Statistics courtesy of NBA.com/stats