SAN ANTONIO — There was a time a few weeks ago when Gregg Popovich was ready to cook him breakfast.
Now the Spurs coach would like actually to light a fire under Manu Ginobili himself.
The player whose game most closely resembles an omelet — a little bit of this, a dash of that — has been walking on eggshells since the start of The NBA Finals.
That is, when he’s been walking at all.
Too many times through the first four games against the Heat, Ginobili has been stumbling around the court, struggling to keep his dribble, failing to accelerate past his defender and get all the way to the hoop, badly misfiring on his jumper.
Things had gotten so bad in the second half of Game 4 Thursday night that the Baseline Bums — the loyal, rabid group of Spurs fanatics that has loudly supported the team since back in the old ABA days — chanted “Don’t shoot!” when the ball came into Ginobili’s hands. As someone said, it was like the moment that Al Gore lost Tennessee, an utter loss of faith.
The question, of course, is whether all those ticks on the game clock, all those nicks and bruises and torn tendons and stretched hamstrings from all those games around the globe for the Spurs, the Argentine national team and four professional seasons in Italy have finally caught up to him.
The irony is that Ginobili, who’ll turn 36 next month, says he’s feeling his fittest since training camp. Yet he has made just 6-of-18 shots and scored only five, seven and five points since the Spurs won the opener of the series in Miami. In reality, these Finals are just a continuation of his worst playoff season ever, shooting 37.7 percent from the field and 29.8 on 3-pointers.
“I wish I could score more, but it’s not happening,” Ginobili said. “I have to do other stuff. I don’t have to force the issue.”
That is a topic of debate up and down the banks of the famous San Antonio Riverwalk and in the Spurs’ locker room. While it is one thing for an individual player not to blow up the chemistry lab, Ginobili’s knack through his first 10 seasons — and three previous championship runs — has been to do the unexpected.
In fact, other than a brief stretch in the very first game of the playoffs against the Lakers, Ginobili’s only real positive stamp on the playoffs for the Spurs was when he topped off a horrible 5-for-20 shooting night by draining a 3-pointer at the end of double-overtime to beat the Warriors.
Teammate Tim Duncan wants to see more of that unpredictable, aggressive Ginobili.
“I think he’s trying to be incredibly unselfish,” Duncan said. “He’s trying to make the right play at the right time instead of looking more for his own.”
“Yeah, we definitely need Manu,” said point guard Tony Parker. “I think everybody needs to help him get his confidence going. But I have a lot of confidence in Manu. I’m sure he’s going to break out of that slump.”
The talk sounds very similar to the encouragement on the Miami side before Dwyane Wade’s breakout in Game 4. There were the whispers and his age and the wear and tear on his body after all the years of throwing his body all over the court.
Then Wade went out and seemingly willed himself to turn back the clock to become The Finals MVP star who carried Miami to a title in ’06. Sometimes it’s not about trying to fit in or run with the rest of crowd, but racing out in front and challenging your teammates to keep up. Wade’s turbo-charged performance right from the start pulled LeBron James back into his MVP orbit.
“I don’t have to force the issue,” Ginobili insists.
But that’s just it, he does.
Either Manu goes back to being the guy Popovich wants to make breakfast for or all of the Spurs are cooked.