Manu Ginobili would have been buried on the bench in Game 5 of the NBA Finals had Gregg Popovich listened to conventional wisdom.
Instead the San Antonio Spurs coach decided to put his faith in Ginobili, giving the struggling guard a surprise start — his first of the season.
Manu Ginobili certainly made the opportunity worth it. He broke out of an NBA Finals slump with 24 points and 10 assists to lead the Spurs to 114-104 win and push the Miami Heat to the brink of elimination.
The game was Ginobili’s highest scoring output of the season and the most since June 4 of last year, when he scored 34 points against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
“He’s such a huge part of what we do and how far we’ve come. You can see it tonight in how we played and the results of the game,” Tim Duncan said after the game. “We’re always confident in him. … We know he has it in him. We hope he can bring it forward for one more win.”
The start for Ginobili was a masterful stroke for Popovich, who has devised schemes to keep Miami’s Big Three under wraps for much of the series and gotten great contributions from his role players.
For Manu Ginobili, the game was a break from the frustration he had been feeling in the first four games of the finals. Leading up to Sunday’s Game 5 he was averaging just 7.5 points on 34.5 percent shooting in the finals.
“We are playing in the NBA Finals, we were 2-2, and I felt I still wasn’t really helping the team that much,” Ginobili said. “And that was the frustrating part.”
It was a vastly different Manu Ginobili on the floor from just a few days before, when he was contemplating retirement.
“All season long I kind of knew that I was going to play one or two more years,” he said after Game 4. “But when you are 36 [years old] — I’m going to be 36 pretty soon — everything is a day-by-day basis. Once the season finishes and I see how I feel, I can’t imagine me not playing at least one more year here, but time will tell. We’ll see.”
Manu Ginobili now has a chance to earn his fourth NBA championship ring when the Spurs meet the Heat in Miami on Tuesday.