By John Schmeelk
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On Sunday, the Spurs were on the ropes in the first quarter, trailing 22-6 just seven minutes into the game. They were cold, LeBron James was hot and the Heat looked like they had a chance of getting the series back to Miami for a Game 6. That was when Manu Ginobili helped stem the tide.
Ginobili made a layup and then a free throw after a foul by Rashard Lewis. He then drew an offensive foul on Shane Battier before hitting a three-pointer.
Ray Allen missed a shot, and Ginobili subsequently found Kawhi Leonard for a wiGinobilide-open three on a high screen-and-roll.
The lead went from 16 points to seven, and Ginobili had a hand in nearly every play. The Heat's momentum was gone, and soon their lead would be as well. For Ginobili, after playing awful in the NBA Finals last year, that stretch of plays was the exclamation point on an excellent series in which he earned redemption.
Last year, the Spurs played the defending-champion Heat to seven games despite the fact that Ginobili, one of their best players, played some of the worst basketball of his career. Most people just remember his missed free throw and the turnovers in overtime at the end of Game 6. But his play throughout the series was sporadic at best, and debilitating at worst.
The Spurs were outscored by 10.1 points per 100 possessions when he was on the floor, and they outscored the Heat by 10.4 points per 100 possessions when he was on the bench. That's more than a 20-point swing based on whether he was playing, higher than any other player on the team. His impact, in this case negative, was astronomical.
In terms of real numbers, in 199 minutes over the course of the series, the Spurs were outscored by 32 points when Ginobili was in the game. When he was on the bench the Spurs outscored the Heat by 37 points. Ginobili's worst play came in their losses, with his plus/minus worse than -20 in Games 2, 4 and 6. The theme was constant: If Ginobili played very poorly, the team lost. In losses, he averaged just nine points per game, shot 39 percent from the field and had 16 turnovers versus just 11 assists. Those turnovers killed the Spurs, often turning into easy Heat baskets on the other end.
Late in last year's finals, the Heat decided to put James on Tony Parker, making it very hard for the Spurs' point guard to get his points. Aside from James, the Heat have no dynamic defenders who can guard opposing shooting guards and small forwards. Age has debilitated Allen, Dwyane Wade and Battier to the point where they can't stay in front of anyone. Last year the Spurs could not take advantage. But this year, Ginobili made them pay for it
The Spurs outscored Miami by 83 points when Ginobili was on the floor. No other Spurs player was better. When he played, the Spurs outscored the Heat by more than 34 points per 100 possessions, the highest on the team. When he was on the bench, the team was outscored by eight points per 100 possessions, the lowest on the team. In fact, the only time the Heat outscored the Spurs in this series was when Ginobili or Boris Diaw was on the bench.
There was nothing missing from his game. He scored more than 14 points per game, shot 50 percent from the field and higher than 40 percent from three. His assist/turnover ratio was solid at 4.4-2.4. As bad as Ginobili was last year, he had an even bigger positive impact this year. He was the difference-maker. He was the Spurs' X-factor.
Leonard should have won the MVP award. He guarded James for the majority of the series while averaging 18 points per game on 60 percent shooting.
But without the improved play from Ginobili, none of that might have mattered. Leonard played well in last year's Finals, but the Spurs still lost. Tim Duncan had better numbers in last year's Finals, but the Spurs still lost. Same goes for Danny Green.
Parker had similar numbers in last year's Finals, but the Spurs still lost. Diaw played better as well, but no one had a bigger turnaround than Ginobili. He might not have won or deserved the MVP, but he was the difference-maker.
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