Manu Ginobili — who’s 39-years-old — was the deciding factor in the San Antonio Spurs Game 5 win over the Houston Rockets.
Ginobili’s been in the league for a long time. He’ll turn 40 at the end of July, making him almost 83 in basketball years. The long-time Spur has been quiet for most of the regular season and playoffs, only coming out when San Antonio truly needed him. It was a slugfest Tuesday night between the Spurs and Rockets, and Ginobili cracked the 30-minute mark for the first time all season.
It wasn’t by choice. Kawhi Leonard tweaked an ankle and spent most of the fourth quarter and all of overtime on the bench. On top of that, LaMarcus Aldridge was having a rough night shooting the ball. The only sensible move was putting the ball in Ginobili’s hands and having him create, but Gregg Popovich had other plans. Both offenses executed horrendously over the final 17 minutes. It was nearly unwatchable. And let’s not forget that these are two of the West’s top three teams. Aldridge and Patty Mills were the leading shot-takers for San Antonio in the fourth, and they combined to go 4-of-13 while Manu was a cool 2-of-3 with five points.
The offenses didn’t get much better in overtime, but the Spurs put together enough decent possessions to take the 110-107 lead with less than 10 seconds left. On the final play, with the Rockets offense collapsing, James Harden hoisted up a prayer to tie the game and Ginobili flew out of the fountain of youth, elevated and performed the cleanest block of his life to preserve San Antonio’s nail-biting victory.
“It was a risky play,” said Ginobili after the game. “But it was risky to let him shoot, so I took my chances.” He finished the night with 12 points, seven rebounds and five assists to go along with his block, and he’s not the only vet to make a difference in these playoffs.
Joe Johnson comes to mind almost immediately. The Armadillo Cowboy (although, I’m not sure anyone calls him that) opened up the Utah Jazz‘s series against the Clippers with a 21-point performance that he ended with a game-winning floater. He followed that up with 28 points on 12-of-17 shooting in Game 4 which tied the series at two games apiece and gave Utah all the momentum.
Ginobili’s out-of-nowhere showing on Tuesday equals what Vince Carter did to the Spurs in the first round. Even though Carter didn’t do enough to win the series, he had four games of at least 10 points — at 40-years-old. That makes him about 94 in basketball years, and it also means that he joined Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone and John Stockton as the only 40-year-olds since 1964 to record multiple double-digit scoring games during a postseason.
We then have Nene, whose career was revived by Harden. Unfortunately, he’s out for the remainder of the postseason and won’t be making a difference against the Spurs, but his impact before the injury wasn’t quiet. He averaged 13.6 points and 6.6 rebounds against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round, and that included a 28-point, 10-rebound showcase in Game 4 where he looked like Hakeem Olajuwon. Without Nene’s absurd contribution, Houston would’ve been up Stuff’s Creek, and his perfect shooting night saved the Rockets offense. He then poured in 14 points and seven boards in the series-clincher, and, even though the numbers against the Spurs weren’t the same, he bothered their bigs to no end.
As Kenny Smith noted after Tuesday’s contest, Popovich doesn’t play the name game. If you produce, you play. It’s simple. As true as that is, it helps to have reliable players who have household names, and Tony Parker took Aldridge’s place as the second option to Leonard. Parker was having his best postseason in years before getting hurt, and he cracked double-digits in each game except for one. He went for 27 to close out the Grizzlies and had 18 points in 25 minutes before leaving Game 2 against Houston.
Being a four-time world champion, it’s obvious that Ginobili is going to make plays from time to time; the magnitude of them will vary, though. He’s not the player he used to be, and even making an attempt to swat that shot is nerve-racking — if he misses, Harden goes to the line with a chance to tie and we vilify him. That didn’t happen, luckily, so there’s no reason to sweat over it. If you argued that Ginobili saved the Spurs season, I’d have to agree with you. Even though Leonard said he’ll play in Game 6, we don’t know how effective he’s going to be, and the Rockets would be more than capable of closing out the series on their home court.
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