Late missed free throws by Kawhi Leonard, a missed layup by Tim Duncan and, of course, the heart-wrenching game-tying three-pointer in the dying seconds of Game 6 of last year’s NBA Finals are just a few of the small plays that have replayed countless times in the minds of the San Antonio Spurs, forcing them to wonder what could have been.
Behind all the improbable plays, there was a larger reason that kept the Spurs from winning a title, and that was Manu Ginobili. He was the most disappointing player on either side. His 11.6 points per game on a troubling 25 three-point shooting percentage made him a liability at times. Ginobili is supposed to be a difference-maker on the Spurs, and instead of being the edge that lifted them to the championship, he may have been the biggest reason for their falling to the Miami Heat.
This postseason has already proven that Ginobili intends to flip the script. There is nobody on the Heat’s second unit who can even come close to matching Ginobili’s production. In fact, even on the Heat’s starting lineup, only the Big 3 are averaging more points per game than him. Ginobili is the most significant producer on what has undoubtedly been the deepest bench this postseason.
Having a bench player as significant as Ginobili gives the Spurs an edge that the Heat will not be able to match. Even if Dwyane Wade remains healthy and maintains his steady play, he and LeBron James still cannot play an entire game on the court together which will, for at least short periods of time, leave Ginobili with opportunities to take over portions of the game.
The Spurs’ starting five can surely match the production of the Heat starting five and that is why Ginobili needs to be the difference when he faces the inevitable mismatch that is created by his coming off the bench.
Ginobili’s role becomes even more significant if Tony Parker is hobbled at all. Ginobili has the ability to take control of an offense and having him as an option will give Parker an opportunity to play fewer minutes, making him more effective while on the court if he does happen to be limited by his injury.
Ginobili’s offensive contributions speak for themselves, but he has also elevated his defensive play, especially when compared to last year’s Finals. Ginobili has averaged 1.72 steals per game, more than doubling the 0.7 steals he averaged in the 2013 Finals.
He may not be the best player on the Spurs considering he has one of the greatest power forwards of all time and a top-three point guard to contend with. However, he can still be the difference in the series. The Heat have no one on their second unit who can play at the level of Ginobili. He can control the game on offense and his great passing ability should limit the Heat’s opportunities in transition where they are the most dangerous and he can wreak havoc on the defensive end.
Ginobili knows that he has to be much better than last year and if he plays as well as everyone knows he is capable of, then he could very well be the difference that avenges the heart-breaking loss in the Finals last season.