SAN ANTONIO — Manu Ginobili had been largely missing in action for the Spurs through the first four games of the Finals, and in a series as close as this one in terms of overall talent possessed by each team, San Antonio couldn’t afford to be without what has consistently been its most dangerous weapon off the bench for very much longer.
Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich tried to jumpstart Ginobili by inserting him into the starting lineup for Sunday’s critical Game 5, and the result couldn’t have been any better if he had scripted it himself.
Ginobili finished with 24 points and 10 assists, and had his fingerprints all over the Spurs’ 114-104 win over the Heat that gives San Antonio a three games to two advantage with the series headed back to Miami for its deciding game or games.
The performance came essentially out of nowhere, considering how little Ginobili had done through the first four games of the series. He was just 10-of-29 from the field in total, and didn’t provide nearly the spark the Spurs have grown accustomed to getting from him over the years.
In this one, however, Ginobili infused his team from the very start. He hit the first shot of the game from near three-point distance, and had seven points and three assists in the first five and a half minutes.
“I think that first shot was huge,” Tony Parker said, “because that was not even a play for him. It was a play for me, and he kept it. It was like a broken play, and he hits that three. I think the whole team, it helps everybody, because we know Manu is a big part of what we do. And we needed a game like that from him.”
After Ginobili got things started, Parker was able to take over with his precision penetration to the basket. He sliced through the Heat defense all night long, and was able to convert several difficult shots inside. Miami’s defense had no answer for Parker’s drives, and with their small lineup the lack of a rim protector really hurt them on a consistent basis.
Parker finished with 26 points on 10-of-14 shooting, to go along with five assists. The hamstring didn’t appear to limit him at all on the court, though he stepped very gingerly to the postgame interview podium and appeared a bit hobbled afterward.
If it wasn’t Parker or Ginobili doing the scoring by getting into the paint and causing havoc, it was Danny Green continuing his torrid shooting from three-point distance. He finished with 24 points of his own, and hit six of his 10 attempts from beyond the arc. He now owns the all-time NBA Finals record for three-pointers made in a series with 25, surpassing the mark set by Ray Allen in 2008. Green, however, only took five games to get the record, while Allen needed six.
The Spurs had gotten out to a lead of as many as 17 points in the first half, but the Heat used the bulk of the third quarter to close the gap. They were able to get out in transition, they used LeBron James in the post, and played with a speed and intensity that allowed them to get back into the game.
Miami had cut the San Antonio lead down to just one with a 9-0 run to open the third, and again pulled within a single point with 3:05 remaining in the period.
At that point, Ginobili finished what he started.
During the 12-1 run that San Antonio put together to end the third and take control, Ginobili scored seven points and assisted on two more. The Spurs scored the first seven points of the fourth to put the game away for good, and the Heat made a late run to get within eight but never truly threatened the rest of the way.
LeBron and Dwyane Wade were held in check by the Spurs’ interior defense, and when they kicked it out the open shooters had difficulty knocking down both open and contested shots. The Heat’s two biggest threats scored 25 points apiece, but got there by shooting a low percentage — a combined effort of 18-of-44 from the field from James and Wade is never going be enough against this Spurs team.
It’s been a series where the losing team has bounced back in a big way the following game, and the Heat are going to need to continue that trend in Game 6 back in Miami if the series is to continue to a seventh game.
Game 5, however, belonged to the Spurs. Parker was brilliant, and Green was lights out from distance. But Ginobili was the one that drove this victory from start to finish.