The 2013 NBA playoffs may well be remembered for the players who did not partake in the festivities, but San Antonio Spurs supersub Manu Ginobili is doing everything in his power to put the focus back on the hardwood.
Funny to think that only a few weeks ago he appeared as if he might be forced to endure his postseason from the trainers' table.
A late-season hamstring injury cost the former Sixth Man of the Year all but 14 minutes in San Antonio's final 11 regular-season games. The 12 minutes he managed in the Spurs' season finale brought more questions than answers, as the 11-year veteran posted some uncharacteristic and unflattering numbers: two points, 1-of-4 from the field, two assists and two turnovers.
But he's since captured the full benefits offered by the league's second season, the chance to rewrite this chapter of his storied career.
So far his postseason novel reads more like a water faucet ad, with some scalding hot efforts scattered in with a few frigid nights.
Monday night's come-from-behind, double-overtime win over the Golden State Warriors saw both the good and bad Ginobili make an appearance in the 58 minutes.
Truth be told, he was both Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in the final 50 seconds of the second extra session. After a pair of Stephen Curry free throws trimmed San Antonio's lead to 126-123 with one minute left on the clock, Ginobili fired up a deep, ill-advised three early in the shot clock.
His long-range effort missed its mark, and Curry scooped in a finger-roll layup just 12 seconds later to make it a one-point game. Tony Parker missed a potential dagger with 9.9 seconds left, and Curry found a streaking Kent Bazemore for a breakaway reverse layup to give the Warriors a one-point lead with 3.9 seconds on the clock.
But a defensive breakdown left Ginobili with a wide-open look from the left wing, and the Argentinian calmly ripped the net.
All transgressions were forgiven, all 15 missed field-goal attempts were quickly forgotten. Ginobili went from Gregg Popovich's doghouse to the head seat at Pop's breakfast table in the blink of an eye, via Buck Harvey of the San Antonio Express-News:
Buck Harvey @Buck_SA
Pop on range of emotions between Ginobili 3s: Went from trading him on the spot to wanting to cook him breakfast.5/7/2013, 5:18:14 AM
The 35-year-old may not have the same spring in his step at this stage of his career. He labored through the second-worst shooting season of his career (42.5 percent from the field), and those numbers have dipped through five playoff games (38.0 field-goal percentage).
But make no mistake, Ginobili is the ultimate X-factor not only for his Spurs, but among all of the eight teams still standing.
Lost amid his woeful shooting night and game-saving bomb were his team-high 11 assists, five of which came after the third quarter. It was the third time in five playoff games that he's dished out at least six dimes, with only 12 turnovers in his 114 postseason minutes.
The relentless penetrations from Parker exposed the Warriors defense late in regulation, but they don't have the same effect without the capable shooter and creator, Ginobili, lurking on the perimeter.
Danny Green gives this team an added three-point threat, which he put on broad display with a pair of clutch threes in the contest, but doesn't have the same dribble-drive game as Ginobili. Kawhi Leonard adds another slasher to the mix, but he's not the same caliber of long-range shooter as Ginobili.
He's always been a player whose role has been hard to define.
He outperforms his reserve status, but his ability to initiate offense makes him an ideal fit for the second unit. He's a scorer at times, a distributor at others and attacks the defensive end with intelligence and a veteran savvy.
But there's always been one role Ginobili has masterfully filled, via ESPN.com's Marc Stein:
Marc Stein @ESPNSteinLine
He's just a winner. Always and forever. #ginobili5/7/2013, 5:01:00 AM
By definition, wild cards come with plenty of ups and downs. They might frustrate their own coach on one trip, then deflate their defenders the next time down.
Ginobili's not the only X-factor still standing in the postseason, and far from the only one capable of taking and making a game-winning basket (see: Nate Robinson, J.R. Smith).
But he's the biggest, most important player of that crop.
His clutch bucket in Game 1 reverberated around the basketball world, but its his three NBA championship rings that make this an open-and-shut case.
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