Not once this season has Manu Ginobili started for San Antonio, but he did in Game 5 of the NBA Finals last Sunday evening at the AT&T Center.
What the 35-year-old swingman from Argentina did was truly impressive because he came in having averaged a mere 7.5 points in four games, but poured in a season-best 24 points on eight-of-14 shooting from the floor with 10 assists, pacing the Spurs to a 114-104 triumph over Miami.
Sometime before the tipoff, San Antonio Head Coach Gregg Popovich, who is seeking his fifth NBA ring, had a conversation with the three-time NBA champ, and told him that he was going to start and to simply “just play your game.”
Ginobili, who had 11 points at the intermission, but five points in Game 4 and seven points in Game 3, responded.
When ABC sideline reporter Doris Burke asked him if the advice helped, he said yes.
“It did,’’ he explained. “You need confidence, and that gave it to me. We didn’t want to go there [Miami] and have to win two games.”
Ginobili’s hoop at the end of the third quarter gave the Spurs an 87-75 lead, and his 12-foot runner in the lane with 10:31 left in the fourth quarter made it a 14-point advantage.
San Antonio pulled ahead 15-10, until Miami center Chris Bosh (16 points and six rebounds) scored with 6:43 showing in the first quarter to cut the lead to three points.
When Spurs small forward Kewhi Leonard (16 points with eight rebounds) dunked with one minute left in the same quarter, San Antonio was in front, 29-17, and led by 13 points heading into the second quarter.
Defending NBA champ Miami wasn’t about to roll over as it rallied to trim San Antonio’s cushion to 47-36 with 5:45 remaining in the second quarter on small forward LeBron James’ run-out and monster slam.
James was coming off a 33-point, 11-rebound effort in the 16-point victory in Game 4, and finished with 25 points, six rebounds and eight assists, while shooting guard Dwyane Wade, who had 32 points, four assists and six boards in Game 4, also dropped in 25 points with 10 assists.
San Antonio built a 61-52 lead heading into the half as point guard Tony Parker, who scored a game-best 26 points with five assists, practically dribbled the length of the court and put in a layup at the buzzer.
Shooting guard Danny Green (24 points and six rebounds) dropped in a three-pointer with 7:30 left before the half as the Spurs led 42-26, and would eventually break Ray Allen’s record of 22 three-pointers in the Finals.
The record smasher came with 9:39 showing in the third quarter as Green’s trey gave the Spurs a 66-60 bulge.
Green hit six of 10 from three-point range, and the Spurs made nine of 22, while the Heat nailed 11 of 23 with shooting guard Allen (21 points) converting four of four.
If the Spurs can count on one player, it’s 37-year-old power forward Tim Duncan, a 14-time All-Star who has averaged 20.2 points with 11.2 rebounds during the regular season, and 22.3 points with 12.1 boards in the playoffs.
Duncan tallied 17 points and grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds, after scoring 20 points with five boards in Game 4, and 12 points with 14 caroms in the 36-point Game 3 loss.
Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a columnist for socalboxing.wordpress.com. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.