“How different is your mind from where it was a year ago?” Doris Burke asked Manu Ginobili at halftime of Game 1 of the 2014 NBA Finals.
“Exactly the same,” said Ginobili shot back as if he strained all year to transform his pain into determination for this moment.
If Ginobili’s mentality remained identical to himself, he played as if he warped reality and time.
The same player who struggles through last year’s Finals? No longer a player who, as Danny Green put it, “could take over games in an instant”?
Fewer than five minutes after entering Game 1, Ginobili had shot 3-of-3 on 3-pointers, made two steals and blocked a shot. He was playing with absolutely maniacal focus and intensity.
Ginobili finished with 16 points and 11 assists – posting the Finals’ first 15-point, 10-assist line off the bench since the NBA began tracking starters and reserves – and it should come as no surprise.
This is just what Ginobili does. He has more 15-point, 10-assist playoff games off the bench in the last 23 years than everyone else combined.
But carrying this type of production into Game 2 tonight will be paramount.
If the Spurs had a goat in their crushing seven-game defeat to Miami last year, it was Ginobili. With one or two exceptions, he really struggled and never sustained his fleeting success.
He averaged 7.5 points on 34 percent shooting in Games 1-4, had 24 points and 10 assists in Game 5, turned the ball over eight times in Game 6 and the four more times in Game 7.
Ginobili might be the cog that quietly swings this re-match toward San Antonio.
He wasn’t even the best San Antonio bench player in Game 1. He’s no longer explosive as he once was.
But with the same mindset, Ginobili is producing radically different results – and with them, the Spurs’ final result might be different, too.