SAN ANTONIO — When you walk around San Antonio you see more Manu Ginobili jerseys than anything else Spurs. More than Tony Parker. More than Tim Duncan. More than the Coyote mascot. More than anyone.
But after some rough games through the NBA Finals this year — he was a passive 1-of-5 shooting in Game 4 — the beloved Argentinian was getting ripped by fans and media. And himself.
“I was angry, disappointed,” Ginobili said. “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.”
But his teammates never lost faith in him. Neither did coach Gregg Popovich, who said he still trusted Ginobili
Trusted enough that Popovich decided go start Ginobili in Game 5 to counter the Heat’s small ball game and it turned out to be a brilliant move — Ginobili helped fuel the Spurs hot start and finished with 24 points and 10 assists as the Spurs won 114-104 to take a 3-2 series lead.
“I found out yesterday before practice,” Ginobili said about starting. “(Popovich) came to me and told me I was going to start because of the way they had been starting. Not anything else. He wanted to play from the beginning four smalls. So he told me I was going to start….
“I made the first two shots. I played with Tony more, so I was off the ball in more situations. I attacked better, get to the free-throw line a little bit more, and those things combined got me going.”
The Heat’s defense likes to pressure and trap the guy with the ball. When Ginobili comes off the bench for the Spurs he is that guy — Parker and Duncan usually sit and Ginobili has the ball in his hands, he is the focal point of the offense and the defensive pressure.
But in Game 5, while the Heat were pressing Parker, Ginobili was finding his lost rhythm. The first play for the Spurs wasn’t designed for Ginobili, it was actually for Parker but became a broken play where Ginobili drained a long two. It was a shot he needed and after that he started to attack (half his shots came inside the restricted area at the rim).
“The first two long-distance shots went in, and that helped,” Ginobili said. “I knew that I was going to be more aggressive regardless if those shots didn’t go in. But I really didn’t expect a 24-point game. It didn’t happen all season long.”
The assists came in the flow of the offense — Ginobili moved the ball but guys like Danny Green couldn’t seem to miss. The Spurs as a team shot 60 percent, Ginobili himself hit 8-of-14.
Then he keyed a big run — Miami had cut the San Antonio lead to one late in the third when Ginobili led a 19-1 run that included him with seven points and an assist to help put the game away.
And as his points and impact piled up, the fans everywhere wearing his No. 20 jerseys started chanting his name. It rung throughout the AT&T Center.
“I needed it,” Ginobili said. “I was having a tough time scoring, and I needed to feel like the game was coming to me, and I was being able to attack the rim, get to the free throw line, and make a couple of shots.
“So it felt great when I heard that. To feel that I really helped the team to get that 20-point lead, it was a much needed moment in the series. So I’m glad to see it happen.”
He’s not going to hear that kind of love from the crowd in Game 6 on the road Tuesday. However, if he plays like this again what he will hear from the Miami crowd is silence because the Spurs will be on the verge of another title.