VIDEO: Heat-Spurs Game 1 recap
SAN ANTONIO — They came searching for redemption. What they got was a replay.
The last time Manu Ginobili and the Spurs walked off the AT&T Center court following a Finals game, the crowd was standing up, the triumphant cheers for him were bouncing off the walls and the fifth championship in franchise history was out there just over the horizon.
It still is, of course, because of what happened in Games 6 and 7 in Miami a year ago, much of it because Ginobili’s game simply fell apart so spectacularly.
He could have come back nearly 12 months later with enough emotional loose change to feed every vending machine in the Institute of Pop Psychology.
Instead Ginobili began picking up the pieces by doing what he so often does — whatever he could.
He slung in those moon ball 3-pointers early, he set up his teammates late and in between did a little bit of everything else.
When the chiseled specimen that is LeBron James could no longer stand up to the withering heat caused by a broken air conditioner inside the arena, the frenzied, swirling wind that is Ginobili blew through the Heat just as he did a year ago before the fall.
“I played a couple of good games last year,” he said after 16 points, 11 assists, five rebounds, three steals and a blocked shot. “Maybe not really well in the losses, actually pretty bad and that hurt me, of course.”
It was a dismal slide at the end of a difficult 2012-13 season in which Ginobili missed 22 games due to various nagging injuries that got into his head and eventually caused him to question if he wanted to continue playing.
However, on the first day of free agency last July and just a short time before his 36th birthday, Ginobili met with Spurs general manager R.C. Buford, who told him there was no question that the team wanted him back.
“He said, ‘You are part of this, we want you here,’ ” Ginobili said. “That’s what I wanted to hear.”
So he signed a two-year contract worth $14 million and came back to play a key role in returning to form and returning the Spurs to The Finals. His playing time is down, but his numbers are back up and there have been times when he’s shown the form that nearly earned him the Finals MVP award when the Spurs won it all nearly a decade ago in 2005.
This is the Ginobili that the Spurs needed to survive the long slog through the regular season with a league-best 62 wins and to weave through the minefield of the playoffs to get the sequel they wanted against Miami.
That was the Manu that has often defied description as his arms go one way, his legs another and somehow he winds up putting another twisting layup through the hoop, finding the bottom of the net from long range or sending one of his heat-seeking radar passes to another one of the Spurs for a bucket.
Ginobili was a one-man wrecking crew in the fourth quarter of Game 1, even though he didn’t score a point. He started the quarter with a couple of feeds to Tiago Splitter for layups. With the game tied at 90-all, he got it down into the low post to Tim Duncan to give the Spurs the lead they would not give up. Ginobili set up Danny Green for the second of his back-breaking 3-pointers, shoveled a neat pass to Boris Diaw for another layup and then closed things out by spotting Kawhi Leonard wide up for his knock-out trey.
All of it on a night when somehow the weather indoors became a, well, hot topic of conversation. As if nobody had ever seen an Olympic marathoner run 26.2 miles in heat and humidity or a watched a couple of kids go 1-on-1 on a searing asphalt playground in the middle of summer.
“You know, it happens,” Ginobili said. “It’s the same heat for both and we did OK. We moved the ball and I don’t think we turned the ball over because of the temperature or the heat, so I don’t think it was a big factor. I don’t know if LeBron’s situation, this was the reason for that. I don’t think we suffered as much. And for sure I played more years in situations like this than with AC on the court. Not a big deal in that case.”
Not if you’ve been carrying around the burden of something to prove for the past year.
“I’m very happy to have played a pretty good game,” Ginobili said. “I felt that I helped the team win. But at this point, we are in the exact spot as last year. We are up 1-0…”
This was the replay he needed, not yet the redemption he still wants.