AT&T CENTER–In the two days off following one of the worst playoff performances of his career, all Manu Ginobili could hear were a series of dire questions. What was wrong with his game? Did he have anything left in the tank? Was it time to retire? Ginobili admitted some lackluster performances this season allowed some doubts to creep in him mind. In his last appearance of the season at the AT&T Center, however, the questions subsided.
Leaving San Antonio with a thrilling 24-point, 10-assist performance, the only sounds Ginobili heard in the San Antonio Spurs 114-104 victory were the thousands of fans screaming his name.
Ma-nu! Ma-nu! Ma-nu!
“I needed it,” Ginobili said. “I was having a tough time scoring 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. So it felt great when I heard that."
In the always pivotal Game 5, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich returned to the same trump card he's played so often over the past 10 years–shuffling Ginobili's spot in the lineup. In his first start of the season, Ginobili accounted for 13 of the Spurs first 15 points, hitting his first shot–a long step-back two–and finding Danny Green and Tim Duncan for quick-hitters at the rim.
"Manu is a competitor, he just keeps pushing and does what he does," Popovich said. "He has confidence in himself that he should just continue to compete. That's what he'd done his whole career, and tonight he played his best game in a while, so obviously it was helpful.”
In an up-and-down season for Ginobili, in the midst of an up-and-down series for both teams, it was his best performance of the year; and the Spurs needed every minute of it. Ginobili had a vintage Manu game, Danny Green continued his torrid pace with 24 points, shooting 6-10 from three (setting a record for most three-pointers in a Finals with 25), and Boris Diaw came off the bench to play valuable minutes guarding LeBron James (holding him to 1-for-8 shooting in individual matchups); the Spurs built leads of 17 and 20, and it still almost wasn't enough.
Tony Parker (26 points, five assists) and Ginobili continuously beat defenders off the dribble in both pick and rolls and isolations, while Duncan established himself in the paint with 17 points, 12 rebounds, and three blocks. His ability to establish position early and seal off defenders at the rim early made it hard for the Heat to rotate aggressively in their trapping schemes.
But the Heat forced the Spurs to turn the ball over 18 times, getting 25 points apiece from James and Dwyane Wade with 21 points coming from Ray Allen off the bench. Every time the Spurs appeared to have put the game away, the Heat stormed back.
“Once we got it back to one and we felt that we had weathered the storm, we’d miss a couple of shots and then it just snowballed down the hill from there,” Heat coach Erick Spoelstra said. “After we missed a couple of layups, a couple of fast breaks, then it turned into a five-point swing right away, and then we just couldn’t recover from there.”
Green’s shooting has gotten a lot of attention, but his defense has been just as vital, breaking up two Heat fast breaks single-handedly and recording three blocks. When the Heat cut the Spurs’ initial 17-point lead to one late in the third quarter, it was a Green and Ginobili that answered.
After a Green three-pointer, Ginobili drove baseline on Ray Allen for a floater and foul. Shaking his fist, the crowd erupted. He followed that play up with a fallaway jumper going right, then finding Tiago Splitter at the rim. Isolating Norris Cole on the final possession of the third quarter, Ginobili capped off the Spurs 12-1 run with a slithering drive going to his right.
Parker scored nine points in the fourth quarter, destroying the Heat defense on several isolations, but when the Heat again cut a significant Spurs’ lead to single digits, it was Ginobili finding Green in the corner for a three-pointer to put the Heat away and give the Spurs a 3-2 lead headed back to Miami. Ginobili walked off the court to fan screaming his name and his teammates ready to call on him just once more.
“I'm really excited for Manu, for his performance tonight, but we need him to do it one more time,” Duncan said. “We need one more win. We need all of us to show up and play well. We'll be satisfied and happy about all that stuff if we can win one more.”
Just one more win.