2014 was the first NBA season I watched without much enthusiasm. I was pretty emotionally numbed from the horror that had befallen the Spurs in 2013 and my brain reacted accordingly. All season long, I refused to get very invested only to have it all slammed back in my face.
The Spurs had the best record in the West and it barely registered in my head. They stumbled and struggled to figure things out against the Mavs, laid waste to the Blazers, and got revenge on the Thunder and my reaction was “cool”. They beat the Heat in Game 1 and I was mildly enthused. They lost Game 2 and I was mildly disappointed. They dominated Game 3 on the road and I thought “I don’t want to go through this again!!!”
Then the Spurs did something unexpected. They absolutely pummeled the Heat again on the road in Game 4. Complete and utter domination. This was the game (more so than Game 3) where it felt like the Spurs imposed their will on both ends and announced that they were the much better team. Everything seemed to fall into place in that game and I finally woke up. The championship was within their reach and I was completely re-engaged.
And then the Spurs came out tight and anxious in Game 5 and we sputtered out to a 16 point deficit. Lebron was rolling, the crowd was nervous, Parker and Duncan were struggling to start, and the refs weren’t helping matters much. At that moment, after all that had happened in the 2013 Finals, I don’t think my heart could have taken a return trip to Miami.
Enter our lord and savior, Manu Ginobili.
One theme that keeps coming up time and again in these posts of mine is that Manu is a fantastic jumper cable. If the team is struggling, he will generate something. It’s just what he does. Here, with the team down 22-6, Manu did what he does. He attacked and drew an and-1. He then immediately followed it up with a vintage Manu three. Just like that it was a 10 point game. He then assisted on a Kawhi three and once Patty Mills hit another three, the Spurs were within four and suddenly looked like the same team that had pummeled the Heat into submission in Miami. Then in the second quarter, he authored a seven point burst where he had THE DUNK (more on that below), a vintage reverse layup, and a vintage step-back three that served to set up the Heat for a third quarter thrashing. Then in that third quarter, he and Patty Mills teamed up for one of the most exhilarating 57 seconds in Spurs history as they hit three consecutive threes, capped off by a classic Manu fist pump. Seriously there were so many moments of catharsis in this game and Manu was at the center of it all.
His numbers weren’t that impressive. 19, 4 and 4 in 28 minutes. But so much was riding on this game. A year of heart-ache, a chance at redeeming the most painful NBA Finals loss in history (no hyperbole, though the Warriors choking in 2017 is probably close), a chance to lift a weight off of an entire fan-base…and Manu was game. He did a little bit of everything that makes him so special. He jump-started the team in the most important of situations. He attacked with a tenacity I hadn’t seen from him in years. He hit dagger step-back threes (these are the shots that I wish he removed from his arsenal after 2011 because he no longer had the lift to consistently make them but dammit, this game he made them). He was Manu.
Oh, and to cap it off, lets talk about that dunk? It was ridiculous. He basically hadn’t dunked the ball over anyone in what legitimately felt like three years but here he was taking out all of the heartache of the team and it’s fans out on the Heat in one fell swoop. I mean, this was vicious, powerful, and so completely unexpected! He stiff-armed Ray Allen out of the way almost to say “yeah you may have stolen one from us but WE WILL GET WHAT’S OURS.” Then, because he was unfortunate to not take shelter in the path of a natural disaster, Chris Bosh was destroyed. If this dunk was the only thing he did all game, this game probably would have still been close to the top 10.
He basically ate Chris Bosh.