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Manu Ginobili found his identity again, and that is how he found his game, and that is how his San Antonio Spurs won Game 5 of the 2013 NBA Finals, 114-104, to take a 3-2 series lead in the best-of-seven championship.
But to get to this point, we must retrace his steps to a week-and-a-half ago.
Back then, the 35-year-old Argentine had to become a playmaker for the San Antonio Spurs in this 2013 NBA Finals series with the Miami Heat.
Previous playoffs backup point guard Cory Joseph struggled against the swarming Heat defense and Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich decided to use his backup point guards less in this series, and to use his combo guard Ginobili as Tony Parker's replacement when the Spurs starting point guard was out the game.
Slowly but surely, Ginobili became more of a playmaker in the Finals and less of a scorer because of his new role.
But after mounting criticism of his newfound play, combined with the fact that his shooting numbers dropped dramatically in the playoffs (.560 to .505 true shooting percentage), Pop needed Ginobili to become like the 2011 All-NBA shooting guard who started 79 games for the Spurs.
So Pop asked for that Manu, and did so by by making the starting-lineup change himself, inserting Ginobili into the first five for the first time in this entire 2012-13 season.
Pop didn't need selfless sixth-man Manu, though the Spur is eternally team-first by nature.
Pop didn't need point-guard Manu, though the Spur will always play basketball with a high court IQ.
Pop needed shooting-guard Manu, who could and would shoot and drive at will, pushing the pace on the retreating Heat at a breakneck pace, where he'd initiate 12 drives at the hoop after previously only going for 4 strolls per Finals game.
That's the Manu that Pop needed and got right away in Game 5.
On the Spurs' first possession, Manu dribbled his man Mike Miller into a Tim Duncan pick-and-roll off the left wing, just so he could be matched up with Chris Bosh on the switch, so he could take him with a 22-foot jumper.
"I think that first shot was huge because that was not even a play for him," says Tony Parker. "It was a play for me, and he kept it, it was like a broken play. And he hits that 3. I think that the whole team, it helped everybody because we know Manu is a big part of what we do and we needed a game like that from him."
On the Spurs' second possession, Manu received the ball on the right perimeter and patiently waited for Danny Green to back cut LeBron James off a supposed Tony Parker screen, nailing Green with the assist for the layup.
On the Spurs' third possession, Manu patiently waited on the left perimeter for Tim Duncan to get post position on Bosh on the left block, then led Duncan with an entry pass to the middle, allowing his center to grab the pass and dunk the ball in one swooping motion over a helpside-yet-helpless Mario Chalmers for yet another San Antonio basket.
On the Spurs' fourth possession, with the shot clock winding down, Ginobili receives a pass from Parker and then took his slower man Miller off the dribble, forcing activity in the paint and drawing a Miller foul while Manu got the shot up. Two free throws awarded.
Spurs up, 9-4. Ginobili has four quick points and two quick assists.
Just like that, everything is good again.
Manu has found himself.
By playing alongside Parker to start things, Ginobili was able to get his shooting-guard game off, scoring 7 points and 3 assists in the first 5 minutes.
"I made the first two shots," says Ginobili. "I played with Tony more, so I was off the ball in more situations. I attacked better, got to the free-throw line a little bit more. Those things combined got me going.
"I needed it. I was having a tough time scoring. I needed to feel like the game was coming to me."
The snowball, the momentum, the home crowd chants just kept building from there.
And not just for Ginobili.
Danny Green continued to write his name into the Finals history books, establishing the series record for three-pointers with his 25th trey, which came on a night where he nailed 6-of-10 three pointers to finish with 24 points on only 15 shots.
Tony Parker's hamstring held strong as the All-NBA point guard had an iso-successful game, scoring 26 points on only 14 shots, knocking both Heat point guards off the floor, while also doling out 5 assists.
Tim Duncan's All-NBA center game was in full effect too, scoring 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting, along with 12 rebounds and 3 blocks.
Kawhi Leonard continued his quiet, lethal game, providing the usual good defense on LeBron James (8-for-22 for 25 points), while also delivering efficient offense with 16 points on 6-of-8 shooting with 8 rebounds.
Biggie-off-the-bench Boris Diaw even got in on the action, taking some LeBron responsibilities, enabling Leonard to guard D-Wade at key moments in the game. In fact, Diaw had the most success guarding LeBron in Game 5, holding him to 4 points on 1-of-8 shooting, with the shots coming at an average distance of 14 feet when Diaw took him.
"Boris is a pretty good defender," says Parker. "He looks awkward, but he gets the job done."
And by the time the Spurs dispatched the Heat in Game 5, Ginobili had served notice to the world that he was still one of the best shooting guards around, posting 24 points on only 14 shots, with 10 assists for a +19 plus-minus score in 33 minutes.
He became not only the third 35-plus-year-old to post a 24 & 10 numbers in playoffs history--Steve Nash and John Stockton were the others--Ginobili became the first to do so in a Finals series.
It was a game for the ages, it was a game for the aged.
Miami's Big 3 (LeBron, D-Wade and Bosh)--make that Big 4 with former Celtics Big 3 alum Ray Allen--all played, well, big in Game 5--like their group adjective says--scoring a combined 87 points on 65 shots for an impressive .589 true shooting percentage.
But it was Ginobili's catalyst action as a starting shooting guard that got the Spurs' new starting unit off on the right foot, thanks to a lefty's shot.
I mean, no matter how good Miami's Big 4 played, they simply were no match for the Spurs' Big 5 starters, who combined for an amazing 107 points on only 61 shots for an insane .748 true shooting percentage.
If the Spurs can push the pace the same way in Game 6 at Miami, with Ginobili putting his pedal to the metal, it will be awfully difficult for the defending champions to keep up.