Philadelphia, PA – The talk of the Miami Heat's Big Three has droned on for years now and the unit finally came together in Game 4 of the NBA Finals.
Before Dwyane Wade recruited LeBron James and Chris Bosh, the San Antonio Spurs used a formidable trio to combine for 10 NBA titles. Tim Duncan is a four-time champion and both Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili have three rings.
It's no secret how they go, the Spurs go. Ginobili is a main spoke in the wheel, but has been flat over the last three games of these finals.
A facilitator off the bench, the veteran Ginobili helped the Spurs take Game 1 of the NBA Finals with 13 points and attempted 11 shots. However, Ginobili hasn't taken more than seven in each of the past three games and is averaging just 5.7 points over that time. He has scored five points in each of the losses and had seven in a 113-77 blowout in Game 3, which was highlighted by Danny Green and Gary Neal combining for 51 points.
Ginobili was asked if he was frustrated with his performances following Thursday's 109-93 defeat.
"Of course, I prefer to make more shots and play better, but I didn't and that's the bottom line," Ginobili said at his locker. "Nothing else to explain. We had a great opportunity to be up 3-1 and we let it go."
It wasn't just a lack of support from Ginobili that impeded San Antonio from taking a commanding lead in this series. The Spurs committed 19 turnovers for 23 Miami points and lost the battle on the boards, 41-36. Parker, who's nursing a balky hamstring, slowed down in the second half and so did the rest of the team. The Spurs made just 23-of-31 free throws and watched the Heat shoot 52.9 percent for the game.
Ginobili said that James and Wade were "aggressive" and forced the issue in Game 4 to even this best-of-seven series. But that's what the Heat have been doing all season, especially when they go small.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said if he knew why Ginobili has been struggling in this series, he would have fixed the issue. Popovich hopes Ginobili can step up Sunday in Game 5, the last game in the Alamo City before the series shifts back to South Beach.
"I wish I could score more, but it's not happening," Ginobili added. "I gotta try to do the other stuff. I gotta move the ball if the shot is not falling. I gotta be sharp feeding the bigs, finding the shooters. I don't have to force the issue."
Ginobili has scored 18 or more points off the bench 29 times in the playoffs and the Spurs own a 23-6 record when that occurs. They will need that Sunday in what Ginobili described as a "must, must win."
"We all know now that Game 5 is a must, must win for us," he said. "We don't want to go back to Miami knowing that we have to win both."
If the Spurs play as sloppy as they did on Thursday, they will be in trouble because Miami is a tough place to win even though Game 1 went their way. Turnovers, poor defense and decision making, and missing the seams for an opener shooter cost San Antonio a chance to move closer to its fifth title.
"When there are too many things that you do wrong against a great team like them, you don't have many chances and I think that's what happened today, Ginobili said.
Even if Ginobili's offensive woes continue, he still has the ability to get the ball to Parker, Duncan, Green and even Kawhi Leonard, who's been playing tough defense on James save Game 4. So it's not imperative for Ginobili to net 20-plus points because, as he said in the locker room, he doesn't put up 30 a night anyway. The surrounding cast has to do its part as well.
One of 12 players to have at least 2,000 points, 600 rebounds, 500 assists and 200 steals for their postseason career, Ginobili averaged 11.3 points per game against the Lakers (four games) in the first round, 12.7 ppg against Golden State (six games) and 10 ppg (four games) against Memphis.
Ginobili said he will use the next few days to watch video and coordinate a strategy to help his team take back the series lead in Game 5. He said it's frustrating to have such a wide gap between games, especially after playing so poorly. But it also gives the team time to rest, get stronger and talk about mistakes.
However, confetti will be ready to fall from the rafters once the series returns to Miami if Ginobili and Co. fail to answer the bell.