SAN ANTONIO - Reports of Manu Ginobili’s demise were greatly exaggerated.
Embroiled in a horrible slump so devastating that it had him pondering retirement, Ginobili was inserted into the starting lineup for the first time in nearly a year and delivered a tour de force performance on Sunday night.
Ginobili’s 24 point, 10 assist masterpiece lifted the Spurs to a 3-2 edge in these NBA Finals, with two shots at closing out a fifth title in franchise history just days away.
San Antonio cruised 114-104.
“I needed that,” Ginobili said afterward.
“I was angry, disappointed. We are playing in the NBA Finals, we were 2-2, and I felt I still wasn’t really helping the team that much. And that was the frustrating part.”
Danny Green continued his incomprehensible series, nailing another six three-pointers to break Ray Allen’s previous Finals record of 22 made threes. Allen was guarding Green when he sank the historic trey.
Tony Parker’s hamstring looked fine as he ran around Heat defenders for scores (he missed only 4-of-14 attempts) and Tim Duncan reestablished his dominance over Chris Bosh in the post after being outplayed in the last game.
LeBron James misfired on 14-of-22 shots and the Heat only managed to shoot at a 43% clip, compared to San Antonio’s scorching 60%.
Despite all of the talk of ending a 12-game streak of wins followed by losses, Miami again could not win two straight and fell behind in the series for a third time.
The Spurs moved to 4-0 in the playoffs after losing a game.
This one turned when Ginobili, giving Parker a chance to rest, put on a late-third quarter clinic.
With San Antonio’s lead down to two, Ginobili took full control, turning back the clock with his offensive prowess.
“It just snowballed down the hill from there and we couldn’t control it,” lamented Head head coach Erik Spoelstra.
“We just didn’t show the mental resolve that we needed to.”
First came a three-point play. Next a driving jump shot, then a pin-point assist.
Finally, a driving layup gave the Spurs a 12-point edge heading into the fourth and got the crowd chanting Ginobili’s name for the second time in the quarter.
Over the first four games of the series, Ginobili had totalled 30 points and 12 assists. He had been averaging 7.5 points on 34.5% shooting. But his teammates were expecting him to rally, as he had done so many times in the past and Ginobili responded as champions do. It was only the second game of his career with 24 points and 10 assists.
He had 20 points and nine assists through three on Sunday, conjuring up images of massive performances of the past, such as against Detroit and Cleveland in the Finals and in international play for Argentina.
It seemed like more Spurs fans were wearing Ginobili jerseys than even Duncan or Parker ones. The man is revered in this town, and he provided a timely reminder why.
Duncan had termed the game a must-win, knowing that winning two straight in Florida wasn’t a realistic option.
Now, it’s the Heat that will have to turn the trick.
With all the pressure on James, Wade and Bosh.
They wilted two years ago against Dallas, before rising to the occasion against Oklahoma City 12 months ago.
With Ginobili zipping the ball around, Duncan going to work in the post and Parker carved up Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole in the opening frame, the Spurs jumped out to a 32-19 lead.
A game after Miami’s Big 3 went off, San Antonio’s version shot 7-for-9 in the first.
Compounding Miami’s defensive problems was awful 30% shooting in the quarter.
The Heat’s Erik Spoelstra adjusted by taking the point guards out and going with four swingmen and Bosh, a wise switch of his own.
Miami’s stars responded in the second, with James stepping up and dominating the play.
Despite the Miami rally, the Spurs led by nine at the break after scoring 61 on Miami’s often fearsome defence.
While Ginobili reemerged from mothballs, Wade again was stellar, following up his Game 4 return to form.
Wade had a hand in over half of Miami’s buckets, picking up James, who was not the catalyst for a change.
San Antonio’s shooting was preposterously good, and only solid Miami outside shooting and more forced turnovers kept Game 5 from becoming another blowout early.
That all changed when Ginobili snatched control of the game and the series.
Most people thought he was done, but Ginobili proved them wrong.
Now, Miami either figures out how to win two in a row again, or has to watch a second team from Texas in three years celebrate a title on the Heat’s own floor.
“The most important game is Game 6. We can’t worry about Game 7,” said James.
“We’re going to see if we’re a better team than we were our first year together.”
SLOW STARTS BURN HEAT
Miami’s stars are at a loss as to why the Heat can’t seem to storm out of the gate at these Finals.
“I can’t really explain it right now,” said Dwyane Wade, following Sunday’s blowout loss.
San Antonio jumped out to a 32-19 lead after a quarter.
“They continue to have great starts. We continue to start slow. We just digged ourselves in a deep hole very early, and unlike Game 3, we fought back. We got it, like you said, within one. We used so much to get back, and they continued to keep coming at us.”
LeBron James wants to see more of a focus on scoring in the paint.
“I think that’s where it starts for us, honestly. Getting into the paint. I think between the two of us (he and Wade), we probably missed 12 layups tonight. Transition layups that we usually convert,” he said.
James uncharacteristically couldn’t finish an early alley-oop attempt as Miami shot 30% in the first quarter.
Meanwhile, the Spurs constantly seemed to be wide open and shot 63.2% early.