The Spurs get ‘old’ Manu and a 3-2 lead in the NBA Finals
SAN ANTONIO — The San Antonio Spurs have made it this far on the back of big performances by its ancillary role players. Gary Neal was unconscious in Game 3, Kawhi Leonard has been a steady force defensively and on the boards, and Danny Green is apparently the greatest shooter to ever play the sport of basketball. But it’s been the absence of one player whose performances have inspired the premature screaming of pundits around the country.
Those yells have quieted now, and after a 114-104 win, the Spurs are heading back to South Beach up 3-2 in the NBA Finals and within a game of the franchise’s fifth ring. San Antonio has now scored 114 and 113 points on the Heat in its last two wins of the series, the two highest point totals given up by Miami this season.
As others outside Spurs camp called Manu Ginobili “done,” Gregg Popovich inserted him into the starting lineup. All he did was have one of the best games of his career. Instead of crumbling under the pressure of headlines scribed by people with basketball knowledge similar to that which Manu possesses in his right pinky finger (his weak hand), he carried the Spurs in Game 5 of the NBA Finals with a vintage 24-point, 10-assist display.
It was only the second time in his career he’s had at least 24 points and 10 assists in the same game, playoffs and regular season.
During a time in which he’s never been more maligned, as the end of an illustrious career gets nearer and nearer, on this stage for the fourth time in his career, Ginobili was brilliant once again. It was a surprise ending to a movie we’ve seen a million times. It’s been a while since we’ve heard Manu’s name raining from the rafters, but there it was. And it felt all too familiar.
“I needed it. I was having a tough time scoring, and I needed to feel like the game was coming to me. And I was able to get to attack the rim, get to the free-throw line and make a couple of shots,” Manu said. “So it felt great when I heard that. To feel that I really helped the team to get that 20-point lead, it was a much-needed moment in the series.
“I’m glad to see it happen.”
It’s important when Ginobili scores — he shot 8-for-14 from the floor — because what typically ensues is the involvement of the rest of the Spurs’ outside brigade of marksmen. And leading the way once again was Green, whose fourth three of the night gave him an NBA Finals record for most 3-pointers in an NBA Finals. Through five games, Green has 25 made shots from deep on 38 attempts, and the basket looks wider than the Gulf of Mexico to the former Tar Heel.
If there’s ever been a more long-shot, unlikely Finals MVP candidate than Green, you’d be hard-pressed to find one. But at the moment, he has to be on top of a short list for the award. His 18 points per game still lead the Spurs in scoring during the Finals, and his 65.8 percent shooting from deep is almost unfathomable. Yet it keeps coming, though his 6-for-10 performance tonight actually dragged his stats down.
Nearly as impressive as the way Green is shooting is the way he’s guarding the opposition. Especially in transition, where he’s been a defensive monster. With three blocks tonight he’s now averaging 1.6 blocks per game in this series, and this block against LeBron James in a 1-on-1 situation with only a 4-point lead was a perfect example of his aggressiveness.
“It’s hard to just stop them 1-on-1. You have to pretty much guess. You’re not going to find out which way and try to go move for movement what they do,” he said after yet another ‘podium game.'”They are very strong, athletic, explosive players. You have to pretty much guess away and be aggressive with your guess, and hopefully you guess right and make them make a difficult shot.”
But until Tuesday, at least, Green’s legacy in this series will continue to be defined by his sharpshooting. That’s essentially what happens when you set records like the one he set tonight.
“(I’m) lucky enough, blessed enough to have the opportunity to be on the stage. My teammates have done a great job of finding me and getting me open,” he said. “As I said, luckily it seems everything is going right for me.
“I’m feeling truly blessed right now. There’s got to be a higher power.”
Ginobili might agree with him. Or at least the people who called him “finished” likely do. As great as Green was once again, it was the return of the old Manu that made the difference. But if it was indeed a surprise, I guess it depends on who you ask.
As Tony Parker limped to the podium (oh yeah, he went for 26 points on 10-for-14 shooting), he did so with a French grin on his face.
“I told you Manu was going to play good,” he said. “You didn’t believe me.”