The Heat jumped out to a 22-6 lead after Patty Mills left Ray Allen to pursue a pass from LeBron James to Rashard Lewis in the corner. The little Aussie was unable to recover to contest Allen's attempt and the Heat's lead ballooned to 16 just seven minutes into the game.
Then the man who split the Spurs' fanbase when he was re-signed in the offseason into two camps, one of keep the core together for another run and another of PATFO made a mistake by re-signing him, provided the spark that he has so often brought off of the bench for the good guys. To the delight of every Spurs fan, the Argentine seemed to shift the momentum with one drive to the basket. It was just the start of redemption for our beloved Manu Ginobili.
He's one of the all-time great competitors and winners in all of sports, and when his team needed something, anything at all, he delivered. In a non-modern-Spursian but classic Manu display. Numero Veinte saw an opportunity to get into the paint with Rashard Lewis isolated against him on the left side of the floor and drove to the hole from 30+ feet out. A subtle fake crossover/hesitation gave the veteran Spur just enough to explode to his right, getting to the boundary of the restricted area and drawing a foul on a just-a-fraction-of-a-second-late Shane Battier. Gino gets the ball to fall through the net, and the Spurs' rally was underway.
On the next Spurs possession GIno used a hand-off at the right wing from Tiago Splitter to drain a triple and in just 19 seconds the Spurs trimmed the 16-point lead to 10.
Manu brings the ball up on the next possession for the Spurs and the Heat immediately trap him after a Tiago Splitter drag screen. Having figured out the counter to the Heat's trapping, Manu fires a pass over to Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, who is wide open at the wing because Battier is occupied by the rolling Splitter, and Whi finds the bottom of the net. In 48 seconds of game time the Spurs trimmed a 16-point lead to seven. The crowd and bench are fully engaged, cheering on the five men on the floor.
The Spurs didn't stop there, and following a Manu/Matt Bonner pick-and-roll, Patty Mills joins the party with another three-ball. Bonner gathers the pass from Manu, puts the ball on the floor, is met by a couple Miami defenders and then makes an otstanding in-the-air pass to Mills. Gregg Popovich found a way to effectively use the veteran Spur during meaningful, if limited, game time, and it was great to see the Medium Fundamental contribute off dribble-drives and play smart, sound defense in this series.
I hope you enjoyed this one Matty, you've been a great pro, and after this playoff run you're a meaningful contributor on a championship team. I think a lot of Spurs fans are happy for you. I know I am, and it looks like Timmy Duncan concurs.
The Spurs finished the first quarter down 29-22, but the strange doubt that may have crept in with the Spurs down 16 was erased and the team we've cheered on all season kept chipping away, ahem, pounding the rock even. Popovich said he didn't call Kawhi's number once, but this play to start the second quarter is the alley-oop play the Spurs used to run for First Name Last Name. The point guard, Boris DIaw here, sets up on the left side while a big, Tiago Splitter in this case, clears out of the lane and sets a screen to free the small forward who then makes his way to the hoop and looks for the lob. This Diaw/Leonard hookup didn't result in a particularly spectacular dunk, but the pass from Diaw is absolutely perfect and Leonard stuffs it in easily. This is certainly a fundamentally sound oop, definitely Spursian.
I live in Austin and I drove down to San Antonio to watch the game with my best friend. During the Spurs' troubles early on I kept saying the Spurs needed to go to Tim Duncan in the post, not as a new game plan, but to switch it up and let the legend steady the ship. I also had a secondary motive, as I wanted Big Fun to have a big game and pick up his fourth Finals MVP award. With the Spurs unable to close the seven-point gap four minutes into the second and going scoreless for nearly three minutes, the Spurs did just that. Here's the first of Duncan's post possessions.
Udonis Haslem is an undersized center, and Timmy wastes little time after he gets the entry pass from Tony Parker in the left block. Duncan goes with a quick dribble to his right before spinning clockwise into a turnaround fade-away jumper. Tim connects and the Spurs are back within five. The two Australians on the bench think it's just swell.
Marco Belinelli didn't have the greatest postseason, but he made some timely buckets, hitting a big three earlier in the Finals and confidently knocking down this long two to bring the Spurs back within five. That said, I'd like to add that Marco was a huge contributor to the Spurs this season, playing the second most minutes in the regular season behind Timmy, and he was also the third leading scorer for the Spurs after shooting a ridiculous 43% on his attempts from deep. It was a great year for the first Italian to win an NBA Championship. The journeyman found a home in San Antonio and he also won the three-point shootout during the all-star break, making Italians and Spurs fans proud.
There's been so much content to get through during the last two series that I can't remember where I saw it, but there is a video clip of Pop talking to Marco as he's stretching and he just tells him to stay ready. It was a brief, one-sided exchange, but it added to my appreciation of one of the great Popovich traits - being able to personally connect with his guys. It's a touching moment, full of understanding and love.
The Spurs winning the championship has been an interesting experience for me. I didn't experience the elation of the fans at the arena, instead watching the team bring the trophy home to San Antonio in a slightly disconnected state. It's not that I wasn't happy, but I had a more visceral response, a purer feeling of joy when Timmy hit that game winner against Atlanta. I'm not saying I wish there was more drama in the Finals, but several years ago I became okay with the idea that the Spurs in the Tim Duncan era might never hang another banner and I made a concerted effort to enjoy the little things, to enjoy the journey of each season.
So as Popovich brought his players out of the game one by one late in the fourth, with the 'chip in hand and no comeback in the works, to get their applause from the fans I was happy, but it wasn't euphoria that I felt. It was a deep satisfaction, it was contentment. Closer to nirvana than euphoria, but not really either. It was healing and beautiful. Pride. I slapped fives with friends I've had since before the first championship. I don't think it's fully sunken in for me yet, but I have found myself thinking, "they did it, they won the whole dang thing." and each time I think that I smile. Then I saw this interview in Italian with Belinelli, and I lost it. Full-on grown man crying. Congratulations Marco!
The Spurs got Big Fun the ball down low again and he scores and draws the foul to pull the Spurs within one. Timmy's visibly pumped, and everything is going the Spurs' way.
Kawhi Leonard was brilliant for the last three games of the Finals and this PUJIT (pull up jumper in transition) that gave the Spurs their first lead of the night is fantastic. I loved George Hill like all Spurs fans, but trading him for a Finals MVP doesn't seem fair. We're a lucky group of fans.
Watching Ginobili attack and will his team back into the game was a ton of fun. This vintage driving reverse-layup gave the Spurs a two possession lead, and gave his fans one more play to remember forever.
Manu Ginobili threw down this absolutely amazine dunk on Chris Bosh to put the Spurs up seven after igniting the Spurs 36 points ago. As much as we love the way this team has played, sharing the ball and putting the team first, this Gino Jam is as great as it gets for Spurs fans. Our aging hero took it straight to the hole in transition with purpose and determination. I feel completely confident in saying that there was no fan of the Spurs that remained silent when this happened. It's too magnificent, too vintage, and Manu's fire is too palpable to not elicit a guttural response. I bet almost all of you even stood up. The reaction from the bench is almost as good as the play itself. Patty with "The Slapper", Danny Green holding his brothers back, Cory Joseph and Aron Baynes (who didn't see meaningful minutes in this game) lost their minds, Jeff Ayres is pumped up, Marco seems to have a deep sense of pride, and even 14th-man Austin Daye is giddy. Man, I love this team.
As if that legendary dunk wasn't enough, the wily Manu uses a Timmy pick to knock down a step-back triple over Haslem after the Heat switch in this one. Manu and the Spurs were simply not going to lose this game. The bench erupts with the crowd as the ball flies true and the Spurs swung the game 32 points in just 17 minutes. We have a bunch of Argentine Pounders and Manu's first half performance must have been even sweeter for them. Congratulations to all you Spurs fans who found their way to the good guys by way of Manu. I love that Marco was the first one onto his feet off of the bench. Manu and Beli share an incredible connection, often looking like they have a mind-meld thing going on when they are on the court together. It's all so great. What a comeback for the good guys!
We've got to give some love to Boris Diaw. The big Frenchman didn't score in double figures during the Finals, but he led the team in assists with Manu and Tony forced to pass out of the Heat's trapping scheme. Boris just does it all. If you're a regular you know about my affinity for the man, and if you're not I encourage you to check out this piece I wrote about Bobo with a video mix, and the one where I made a case for him as Sixth Man of the Year. Here he drives from the perimeter and gets his shot to fall. Boris was amazing all season, and over the past three weeks or so he showed a national audience just how skilled, versatile, and smart he is. It was a joy to watch Boris all season. This was the last score of the half and the once down 16 Spurs enjoyed a seven-point lead going into the half.
After that Manu slam we get to see Tim Duncan with what will become a classic moment in NBA history. Look at how happy Timmy is. He knows they're going to win. He knew they were going to win before the series started, but here he can taste it and he's ecstatic for his dear friend. I love how focused and almost angry Manu is juxtaposed with the pure joy that Duncan shows. The great Manu is looking down court and formulating his next plan of action. Thats Manu, that's the Spurs in general. Wow! Like Erler said, this played out like a Disney movie, like a fairy tale. If seeing Tim Duncan smile again doesn't make you happy, well, I'm sorry you're dead inside.
Click HERE for part two. What a team!