Alongside Parker, Ginobili excels
It’s Gregg Popovich’s trump card. The ace up his sleeve. In a Game 5 win over the Heat, Pop used it.
The Spurs have been consistently successful for many years in part because Manu Ginobili has allowed his production to be limited. Ginobili has come off the bench for San Antonio for season after season and it has provided the Spurs balance in their lineups and playmaking off the bench.
But it’s also hurt Ginobili. Manu is a natural wing, one with an all-around skillset possessed by few players in the league. That includes said playmaking skills. It has allowed Popovich and RC Buford to to eschew a true backup point guard the last couple of seasons (other than TJ Ford) in favor of loading up with point guard-sized shooters, knowing that Ginobili will always be there (when healthy) to run the offense with the second unit.
With the Heat going small in Game 4, starting Mike Miller in place of Udonis Haslem, the door opened for Ginobili to find his way back into the San Antonio’s starting group. That’s exactly what Pop did in Game 5 and Ginobili responded with his best performance of the playoffs. 24 points on 8-of-14 shooting, 7-for-8 from the free throw line and 10 assists.
Ginobili has been at his best when he plays off the ball. He’s able to get a half step on defenders and get them off balance before receiving a pass thanks to his off-the-ball cutting skills, giving him an advantage his herky-jerky style is able to make use of once he is in control of the ball.
“I played with Tony more [in Game 5], so I was off the ball in more situations,” Ginobili said after the game. “I attacked better, get to the free throw line a bit more, and those things combined to get me going.”
The numbers tell a similar story. According to Synergy Sports, Ginobili scored 1.14 points per possession this season in spot up situations (49 in the league), 1.03 PPP off screens (25th), .88 PPP on hand-offs (43rd) and 1.38 PPP on cuts (17th). All of those situations as defined by Synergy are generally those where Ginobili is playing away from the ball and isn’t the guard initiating the offense.
Manu ranks 101 and 180 in points per possession in pick-and-roll ball handling and isolation situations, respectively.
Ginobili has talked during the Finals about how he’s not been aggressive enough. That the problem was not with his body but with his mind. In Game 5 he rekindled some of that aggressiveness, not settling for the long 3-pointer after coming off the pick and instead exploiting space to attack the basket. Not having to initiate the offense and instead being able to play alongside other playmakers in Parker and Tim Duncan surely helped.
After averaging just 2.5 free throws per game through the first four games of the Finals, Ginobili shot eight free throws in Game 5, hitting seven of them.
“I was having a tough time scoring [in this series], and I needed to feel like the game was coming to me, and I was being able to attack the rim, get to the free‑throw line, and make a couple of shots,” Ginobili said.
At this stage in Ginobili’s career, you’re stepping out on an shaky limb if you say that his Game 5 performance signals that Manu is back. We haven’t seen many great back-to-back performances in Ginobili in some time, so counting on that is a dangerous game. But the move to the starting lineup, where he can play alongside Tony Parker, may just be enough to inspire one more positive performance from Manu en route to a title.
Statistics courtesy of NBA.com/Stats and Synergy Sports