San Antonio Spurs fans – and maybe even some of the San Antonio Spurs themselves – are asking one question after the team’s 109-93 loss to the Miami Heat in Game 4 of the NBA Finals:
What’s wrong with Manu Ginobili?
“I don’t know,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “If I knew that I would have fixed it.”
Ginobili has built a reputation as one of the NBA’s most explosive reserves and a big-game performer, but hasn’t shown a lot of that during the Finals. He’s averaging 7.5 points on 34.4 percent shooting in the series, punctuated by a five-point performance on Thursday.
With the Finals now even, the Spurs could use a little more production from the third member of their Big Three.
“No one is happy,” Ginobili said. “Of course, I’d prefer to make more shots and play better. But I didn’t. That’s the bottom line.”
Ginobili’s scoring – and minutes – have dropped noticeably over the past two seasons. He averaged 11.8 points during the regular season, his fewest since his rookie year. He also had a long summer a year ago when the Spurs advanced to the Western Conference finals and Ginobili then played for Argentina’s national team in the London Olympics.
“That’s what they’ve been all season long,” said Ginobili, defending his low Finals scoring average. “It’s not like I’m scoring 30 a game this year.”
Ginobili’s scoring isn’t the only concern. He’s also appeared more mistake-prone, taking some ill-advised shots late in games and causing uncharacteristic turnovers. He’s always played with a gambler’s attitude, but he’s also usually made more winning plays.
Gary Neal has given the Spurs’ bench a lift with his shooting, but that wasn’t enough in Game 4.
“We definitely need Manu,” Spurs guard Tony Parker said. “We need to try 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 the slump. I’ve played with him a long time. I just know he’s going to have a big game soon.”
Spurs forward Tim Duncan says Ginobili needs to be more selfish offensively.
“He’s trying to make the right play at the right time,” Duncan said. “He’s trying to make the right pass, make the defense move instead of looking for his own. So I think he’s just trying to make the right play more than anything. We need him to be a little more aggressive, be a little more selfish, maybe, and hopefully we can find him a way to get him to do that.”
The Heat also have done their best to make the games more difficult for Ginobili.
“He’s a big-time player,” LeBron James said. “Against big-time players, you just try to make it tough on them. That’s what we’ve been trying to do. We’ve been trying to get high hands on his pick-and-rolls. He’s a great passer. When he raises for his [3-pointers], we try to get contests. When he drives the lane, we try to get a body in front of him and contest him at the rim.”
Ginobili called Game 5 in San Antonio a “must win” for the Spurs, given that Games 6 and, if necessary, 7 will be played in Miami. But that doesn’t mean Ginobili thinks the Spurs need a big-scoring night from him to win. He’s considered himself more of a facilitator this season because Parker and Duncan have played so well.
“I wish I could score more, but it’s not happening,” Ginobili said. “I have to try to do other stuff. I got to move the ball if my shot is not falling. I have to find the bigs and shooters. My teammates are doing great. If that happens, I use them. I don’t have to force the issue.
“That’s not what I do. It’s not what I’m asked to do.”
Ginobili turns 36 next month and will be a free agent after making $14.1 million this season. He’s said he’s not likely to retire and would like to end his career in San Antonio. Still, Ginobili also knows that this could be his best opportunity to win his fourth NBA championship.
And deep down, he also knows that if the Spurs are to win two more games, he’ll need to play better. The Spurs might not rely on him to put up points the way he once did, but they do need him to provide a spark.
“I didn’t do that good today,” Ginobili said. “But, I don’t feel the pressure to score 20 to win. That’s not who we are.”
Marc Spears covers the NBA for Yahoo! Sports. He previously has written for the Boston Globe and Denver Post. This article is reprinted here with the written permission of Yahoo!.