Most of the postgame narratives will focus on the resurrection of the Miami Heat's Big Three, as LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh combined to score 85 points in their 109-93 win over the San Antonio Spurs in Game 4 of the NBA Finals Thursday night.
But the bigger issue going forward is how desperately the Spurs need their own star trio to provide similar production.
Without simultaneously excellent performances from Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, San Antonio isn't going to survive.
Coming into Game 4, the Spurs had accrued a 2-1 series advantage without their three stars concurrently firing on all cylinders.
In Game 1, they probably came closest. Duncan pumped in 20 points, 14 rebounds and four assists; Parker scored 21 points and dished out six dimes; and Ginobili scored 13 points on 11 shots. That's as good as they've been, though, and the Spurs' other win in this series—the 113-77 blowout in Game 3—was actually the result of a less likely trio of impressive performances.
In advance of Game 4, it was Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and Gary Neal who had been stealing the spotlight.
The Spurs Danny Green-Gary Neal-Kawhi Leonard trio has scored a combined 130 points in the NBA Finals, the same amount as the Heat's Big 3.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 13, 2013
The emergence of the Spurs' role players is certainly a great thing for the future of the team, and stellar showings from secondary contributors are always welcome. But if the big names aren't producing, the step-up efforts of peripheral players are rarely enough to sustain success—especially against a team as talented as the Heat.
Predictably, Neal, Green and Leonard didn't combine to drill another 15 three-pointers in Game 4. Role players are what they are for a reason: They can't always be counted on to carry the load.
With Duncan, Parker and Ginobili combining for just 40 points Thursday night, the Spurs didn't have enough to keep the game close after halftime.
It's easy to see just how important it is for the Spurs to have all three big guns firing at the same time. Miami stomped San Antonio precisely because Bosh played brilliantly on both ends and Wade put on an all-time turn-back-the-clock performance. With James rediscovering his decisive offensive attitude, the trio was simply too much for San Antonio to handle.
Heat scored 77 points in Game 3, Big 3 combined for 85 points themselves in Game 4. That was a championship defending effort.— Brian Windhorst (@WindhorstESPN) June 14, 2013
And now, the Spurs' prospects look much bleaker than they did two days ago.
Now all the narratives reverse … suddenly, the Big Three is "unstoppable" again. The swings of a good NBA Finals.— Jimmy Spencer (@JimmySpencerNBA) June 14, 2013
There's no secret to the Spurs' path to victory. Duncan and Parker have both been effective in spurts during the finals. But Ginobili has been—to put it mildly—disappointing.
According to Chris Tomasson of Fox Sports, Duncan believes Ginobili's problem has to do with his pass-first mentality: "I think he's trying to be incredibly unselfish right now...rather than looking for his own. We need him to be a little more selfish."
That's nice of Duncan to say, but the truth is that Ginobili hasn't been able to hit a shot to save his life. He's shooting 34 percent from the field and just 18 percent from long range in the series. More shots might not be the answer.
In Game 4, he was worse than ever. Manu suffered a few zingers in the aftermath of his 1-of-5 shooting night, some of which cut deep.
Manu Ginobili put in the worst performance of someone of Italian descent since Sofia Coppola in The Godfather Part III.— Not Bill Walton (@NotBillWalton) June 14, 2013
Although, the honest, nearly pitying tweets were probably even more painful. Sometimes, stats hurt.
As I mentioned in my postgame report, Manu Ginobili has failed to score double-figures in seven of his last nine games.— Tom Haberstroh (@tomhaberstroh) June 14, 2013
Hell, there was even a truly rash suggestion tossed out.
Why not roll the dice and give @Real_T_Mac some burn? He couldn't be any worse than Manu was tonight.— Jarrod N Rudolph (@JRudolphSports) June 14, 2013
Then again...that might be crazy enough to work.
Look, Ginobili is vitally important to the Spurs attack. When Tony Parker sits, he's the primary ball-handler. If Ginobili can't be a scoring threat and continues to commit the kinds of careless turnovers that have characterized his finals performance, San Antonio is going to have to run Parker into the ground.
And that might not even be an option if the point guard's tender hamstring continues to be an issue. It certainly appeared to be in the second half of Game 4, when Parker missed all four of his field-goal attempts and was noticeably hesitant to attack.
As scary as it sounds, the rest of this series is going to foist even more pressure onto Ginobili. If he's not fit to carry the load alongside Duncan and Parker, the Spurs are in serious trouble.
At the same time, Wade is a perfectly good example of a player who appeared hopelessly lost, only to find his game at the most critical time. Know this: Things look extremely grim for both Ginobili and the Spurs.
But because Wade showed that it's never too late to show up, all hope may not be lost for Ginobili.
My uninformed medical opinion: If Wade can resurrect, so can Manu.— Ethan Strauss (@SherwoodStrauss) June 14, 2013
The Spurs' veteran trio was the first "Big Three" of this latest generation of NBA powerhouses; they've been doing this for a long time.
It'd be foolish to count them out of a series in which they've already taken two games against a Heat squad that won 66 games during the regular season. But if Duncan, Parker and especially Ginobili can't match Miami's star power, this could be the Spurs' last ride for some time.