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Spurs want the “old” Manu back, but is he still there?

AT&T Center – Going into the fourth quarter of Game 4 on Thursday, the San Antonio Spurs found themselves trailing 81-76 to the Miami Heat. With Tony Parker losing his aggressiveness due to fatigue, Tim Duncan, Danny Green, and Kawhi Leonard, who all scored more than five points in the third quarter needed help to make a final push in the fourth.

The logical move would be to look to the last member of the “Big 3”, Manu Ginobili, to provide a scoring and playmaking punch with Parker only playing three minutes in the fourth.

The move didn’t quite work as Ginobili played 10:23 minutes in the fourth quarter and only contributed 3 points, missed two 3-pointers, threw one assist, grabbed one rebound, and turned the ball over once. The Spurs would fall to the Heat by 16 points and Miami would tie the NBA Finals series at 2-2.

Whether it’s Miami’s defense or Ginobili just in a slump, Ginobili’s absent presence in the NBA Finals began to surface Thursday.

When asked after the game why Ginobili has been so ineffective in the Finals, even his own head coach, Gregg Popovich, couldn’t provide an answer.

“I don't know,” said Popovich. “If I knew that I would have already fixed it.”

Ginobili came into the series against the Heat averaging 11.5 points on 38% shooting. He was taking 4.9 three pointers per game and making them 32% of the time. He was passing for 5.4 assists, turning the ball over 2.4 times per game, creating 1.4 steals, and drawing 3.5 fouls per game.

In four games against the Heat, Ginobili’s only averaging 7.5 points on 35% shooting. He’s taking 4 three pointers per game and making just 19% of them, while his assists are down to 3 per game. He’s turning the ball over 1.8 times per game and he’s only drawing 2.8 fouls per game against the Heat.

Parker for one, thinks it’s just a slump for Ginobili and a big game from Manu still awaits in this series.

“Yeah,” said Parker Thursday, “we definitely need Manu.  I think everybody we need to help him to try to get his confidence going.  But I have a lot of confidence in Manu.  I'm sure he's going to break out of that slump.”

“I've been playing with him for a long time,” continued Parker. “I just know he's going to have a big game soon.”

“I have not lost confidence in Manu,” said Ginobili’s teammate Gary Neal after the game.

Even the Spurs’ leading scorer in the Finals Danny Green felt Ginobili is on a rocky road right now.

“Manu’s been great for us all year,” said Green. “We know some games he’s not going to have a good one. He’s been a little up and down but he’s a very good player.”

LeBron James on the other hand said the Heat are just trying to take some of Ginobili’s offensive elements away from him.

“He's a big time player,” said James. “Against big time players you just try to make it tough on them.  That's what we've been trying to do.  We've been trying to get high hands on his pick and rolls.  He's a great passer.  When he raises for his threes, we try to get contests.  When he drives the lane, we try to get a body in front of him and contest him at the rim.”

“Sometimes you're lucky,” continued James of defending Ginobili, “and sometimes you're in the right position.  So it's been a little bit of both.”

Duncan on the other hand thinks Ginobili might be too passive and needs to be more aggressive, possibly like the “old” Manu.

“I think he's just trying to be incredibly unselfish right now,” said Duncan. “I think he's trying to make the right play at the right time.  He's trying to make the right pass, make the defense move instead of looking more for his own.”

“So I think he's just trying to make the right play more than anything,” continued Duncan. “We need him to be a little more aggressive, be a little more selfish, maybe and hopefully we can find him a way to get him to do that.”

After reading what his teammates had to say about him, you’d think they want Manu to go back to being the “old” Manu: the guy who would put his body on the line by driving through the lane to draw foul calls. The player who would gamble and take risks with unique passes, lay-ups, and 3-point shots that would make Coach Popovich exhibit all sorts of reactions.

 The only problem is, Ginobili himself doesn’t see himself as the “old” Manu who was the scoring playmaker. After Thursday’s loss, he revealed this in a multitude of responses.

“Of course I prefer to make more shots and play better,” said Ginobili of his performance Thursday. “But I didn’t and that’s the bottom line. There’s nothing else to explain.”

“They are playing the way they play,” Ginobili said of the Heat defense, “they are aggressive and we’ve got to move the ball. Of course it’s easy to see that I’m not making shots. I moved the ball well but with all that I played pretty similar two days ago and we won by 30.”

When asked why he’s not scoring at the rate he used to score at, Ginobili said with this years team he doesn’t need to. “That’s what they’ve been all season long,” said Ginobili of his numbers. “It’s not like I score 30 a game this year. I average 10. I wish I could score more, but it’s not happening. I’ve got to try to do other stuff if the shot is not falling. I’ve got to be sharp feeling the bigs and finding the shooters – my teammates are doing great, I use them.”

“I don’t have to force the issue,” continued Ginobili. “It’s not what I do, and it’s not what I’m asked to do.”

“As we’ve shown in this series and in the playoffs,” said Ginobili, “they would like to have me scoring more but it’s not like we depend on that with Tony having the season that he is and the shooters shooting great percentages. I’m just trying to be a facilitator and get my teammates open shots.”

There you have it. From Ginobili’s perspective, he doesn’t have to be the guy to go out and score 18-20 points a game and have 8 assists. However, fans, media, and even some of his teammates think he still might give a vintage Manu performance with possibly three games remaining in the NBA Finals.

It’s not doubtful that Ginobili can turn in one of those vintage performances, but it’s very rare these days that they happen. The last one came 20 days ago on May 25th in Memphis where the Spurs went to overtime to defeat the Grizzlies in Game 3.

Then, Ginobili scored 19 points, grabbed 7 rebounds, and threw 5 assists on an efficient shooting night (5-of-9) and he was aggressive by taking and making 7-of-8 free throws.

Since that game, Ginobili’s played five more playoff games and only scored in double figures once.

When asked if he thinks Ginobili can get back on track, Coach Popovich responded, “I hope so.”

As much as Popovich, the Spurs, the fans, and the media want to see Manu turn in some classic performances, it’s hard to infer that Ginobili will do that.

“I don’t feel the pressure that I have to score 20 to win,” concluded Ginobili, “it’s not who we are.”   

Paul Garcia

About Paul Garcia

Paul is a San Antonio Spurs credentialed media member for Project Spurs. He covered the 2013 NBA All-Star Game in Houston, TX and the 2013 NBA Finals.

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