It was tough to watch, but I’ve seen it happen before. In fact, the memory is fresh in my head.
San Antonio Spurs' Manu Ginobili spent much of last night’s Game 2 chasing after a ball that was supposed to go from Point A (his hand), to Point B (the floor), and back to Point A. That the ball rerouted its flight path so often in the face of any sort of resistance was a bit unsettling.
Twitter is awash with people wondering how Manu forgot to dribble. I couldn’t resist my own joke at Manu’s expense. But there really is nothing funny about Ginobili’s nearly 18 minutes netting him three turnovers, two field goals, and a single assist as Miami ran away with Game 2.
“You don't want to come back and feel like this and perform like this,” said Ginobili after the game. “We had a poor game. In the second half they just ran us over. We didn't move the ball at all. Their pressure really got us on our heels.”
A nearly 36 year-old future Hall of Famer suddenly struggling is nothing new for me in these playoffs. For those who don’t know, I’m a Celtics guy by trade. And I spent the first round watching Paul Pierce cough the ball up in the face of Knicks pressure over and over and over again.
Pierce’s struggles were much more pronounced than Manu’s because the Celtics injuries forced Pierce into a much larger role than he should have been playing. Pierce turned the ball over 21% of the time against the Knicks, while Manu is turning the ball over 17.5% of the time.
Those aren’t great numbers, but Manu’s struggles are magnified because of (a) his more limited time (b) it’s the Finals and (c) the Spurs are facing the Heat.
Pierce played 42 minutes a game versus New York. Manu played 29 in game one and almost 18 last night. And the types of live-ball turnovers Manu is creating put the Spurs at risk for igniting quick Heat runs.
“Their pressure. I think they made some adjustments that were key,” said Tim Duncan. “Got their hands in a lot of stuff. Keeping live ball turnovers where it turns into transition is really what kind of hurt us.”
Manu’s struggles are only a small part of why the Spurs fell apart last night. But because Manu has been such a huge part of the Spurs success over the years, watching him struggle is painful. He’s “Manu.” Like Pierce, he’s supposed to be able to figure it out. He’s supposed to be able to reach into that proverbial bag of tricks and find some way to make a play.
Or at least not hand the ball over to the other team.
Paul Pierce struggled through the entire six game series in New York, barely finding the occasional glimpse of his past glory. Manu’s still got at least three more games, very likely more, to find his.
This leaves the Spurs facing an option the Celtics didn’t have. For Boston, a Paul Pierce vintage performance was their only true chance of beating the Knicks. The Spurs, however, have to consider the possibility of fewer minutes for Ginobili. It would mean more minutes for a much younger Danny Green, who happened to be perfect from the field last night with just one turnover.
And if there’s one coach in the league that’s willing to pull that kind of trigger, it’s Gregg Popovich. Pop’s got a lot on his plate after Game 2, and the “what do we do with Manu” question is probably behind “how do we free Tony Parker” and “how do we prevent LeBron from looking like Magic Johnson” on his to-do list. But it’s on there.
A benching would likely be an unceremonious end to Ginobili’s time in San Antonio, but it could possibly be eased by the victory champagne. The question the Spurs really need to answer is, can they taste that champagne with Ginobili getting meaningful minutes on the floor?