Miami Heat

Manu Ginobili supplied first-quarter lift when San Antonio Spurs needed it most

Redemption never tasted so sweet for the San Antonio Spurs as they took Game 5 to claim the series 4-1 against the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals.

And perhaps no Spur was taking the biggest sigh of relief following the triumph than Manu Ginobili.

The Argentine guard finished with 19 points and four assists to help lead the Spurs to a 104-87 victory over the Heat.

It was a much-needed redo for the Spur who played below Ginobili-like standards a year earlier against Miami.

In the 2013 Finals, he averaged 11.6 points, 4.3 assists, and 2.1 rebounds in the seven-game series and shot 43.3 percent and 25.0 percent from beyond the arc.

Ginobili was back to his form, having already surpassed those numbers, coming into Game 5 on Sunday.

Through four games, he was averaging 13.3 points, 4.5 assists, and 2.8 rebounds per game on 48.6 percent shooting and 38.9 from three-point range.

But it was his performance Sunday that was most pivotal.

Heading into the locker room at halftime, Ginobili was the team’s second-leading scorer with 14 points, one shy of Kawhi Leonard, and five points shy of his game-high in the first four games of the series.

“I felt better [this season] mentally and physically, [and] the team was even better,” Ginobili said. “We played at a really high level.”

Entering the game off the bench at the 8:41 mark in the first quarter, it didn’t take Ginobili long to give San Antonio the life it needed.

The 6-6 star saved San Antonio early when the game was beginning to get way out of control for the Spurs.

With his team down 22-6 with only one field goal made and 3-for-4 shooting from the free-throw line, Ginobili sparked a 12-0 San Antonio run with a three-point play and a three-pointer with 4:48 to play.

“The ball movement was incredible, so we didn’t depend on anybody,” Ginobili said. “We improved the intensity, and we played tougher.”

Following a Miami timeout, Ginobili drew a foul on Shane Battier before finding an open Leonard for a three-pointer, his second, to cut it to 25-15.

But shortly after LeBron James snapped the Spurs’ scoring streak, Ginobili was called for his second foul and was sent to the bench with just under two minutes to play in the first quarter.

Ginobili didn’t return to the game until the 5:53 mark in the second, just before San Antonio took its first lead of the contest at 37-35.

It didn’t take him long to make his presence felt, either.

Ginobili scored eight points in a 17-2 second quarter run — off a layup and one of two free throws — but it was a thunderous dunk over 6-11 center Chris Bosh and a three-pointer shortly after that sent the Spurs bench and the crowd into a frenzy.

“Defensively and offensively we made them move a lot [by] attacking the seams and having everybody contribute,” Ginobili said.

San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich opted to start Ginobili in the second half, and it paid off, as he contributed two assists, one rebound, and five points in 8:38 of play.

His production, including his third made three-pointer, helped the Spurs build a 65-44 lead with just over five minutes to play in the third quarter.

“I think that what happened last year made us really stronger, and we knew we were not going to let this opportunity get away,” Ginobili said.

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