By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com
SAN ANTONIO – If a year’s worth of bottled-up anger, frustration and guilt could be flushed in a single play, Manu Ginobili accomplished it Sunday night with a powerful drive against Ray Allen, finished by a thunderous, mouth-agape, left-handed throw-down over Chris Bosh.
The AT&T Center erupted with such force that shockwaves were surely felt in Ginobili’s native Argentina.
Earlier in the season, the 36-year-old Ginobili tried such a maneuver and strained a hamstring. Just a few weeks ago against Oklahoma City, he did it again and got blocked, badly, as he recalled it. His San Antonio Spurs teammates teased him.
“They actually made me promise that I wasn’t going to try that again, and I said, ‘Yes, I won’t try that again,'” Ginobili said following the Spurs’ Game 5 victory over the Miami Heat that clinched the franchise’s fifth championship and fourth of the Big Three era. “But in the heat of the battle with the adrenaline pumping and the situation — really, I don’t know what happened.
“I went hard and once I was in the air, I felt like I had a shot, and I tried. I think it helped me, and it helped the team too to get pumped up.”
Watch the replay. Tim Duncan might never have smiled so big. He practically burst into laughter as his 38-year-old legs bounded down the floor, his giant hand giving Ginobili’s head a playful I-can’t-believe-what-I-just-saw push.
“It’s so nice. It’s hard to explain. I’m not skilled enough to explain properly how we feel,” Ginobili said in the aftermath of his 19-point, four-rebound, four-assist effort in little more than 28 minutes. “Not only me, I’m pretty sure that Tony [Parker] and Tim [Duncan] and Pop [coach Gregg Popovich] feel the same way. Last year was a tough one for all of us. We felt like we had the trophy, that we were touching it, and it slipped away. It was a tough summer. We all felt guilty. We all felt that we let teammates down.
“But we work hard. We fought every game in the regular season trying to get better to have the same opportunity again. We got to this spot, and we didn’t let it go.”
A mess of turnovers stressed by mental and physical fatigue a year ago, Ginobili was a stabilizing force throughout this postseason. In the first round when the Spurs were caught off-guard by the Dallas Mavericks and taken to seven games, Ginobili was their best player.
Throughout the title run that then went through Portland, Oklahoma City and finally Miami, Popovich often called upon his super sixth man early in first quarters and sometimes started him in third quarters to either change momentum or sustain it. Popovich did both in Game 5.
Just three minutes, 19 seconds into Game 5, with the Heat off to an 8-0 start, Ginobili subbed in for Danny Green and immediately fed Duncan, who got to the free-throw line. A few minutes later, Ginobili drove and got fouled, completing a 3-point play. On the next possession, he drained a step-back 3-pointer, scoring six points in 21 seconds and getting the Spurs right back in the game after falling behind 22-6.
“He did a great job,” point guard Tony Parker said.
If the NBA awarded its MVP trophy to the best player over the course of the entire playoffs and not solely for The Finals — like the NHL does with the Conn Smythe award — Ginobili would be high on the list.
He averaged only 25.5 minutes a game, but was tied for third on the team in scoring, with Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, at 14.3 points a game. His 4.1 assists per game were just behind Parker’s 4.1, and he shot 39 percent from beyond the arc (41-for-105).
Ginobili, who a year ago questioned his ability to put his aches and pains behind him, sat at the dais Sunday night like a new man, proud, satisfied and a champion yet again.
“I’m at a real high right now,” Ginobili said. “I feel so happy and lucky to be on this team.”