Apparently, the reports of Manu Ginobili's death were greatly exaggerated.
The 35-year-old veteran came into Game 5 of the NBA Finals in the midst of one of the worst stretches of his storied career. With four-game averages of 7.5 points on 34.5 percent shooting from the field, Manu simply hadn't been Manu.
Retirement talk cropped up between Games 4 and 5, abruptly shining a harsh spotlight on the reality that Ginobili might very well be nearing the end of his basketball career. As tough as it was to admit, he certainly looked like a player on his way out.
But after pouring in 24 points and handing out 10 assists in the San Antonio Spurs' 114-104 win over the Miami Heat in Game 5, Ginobili silenced doubters, shifted the balance of power in the finals and solidified his legacy as one of the most fearless competitors in NBA history.
Things were different from Ginobili right from the opening tip—mostly because he was actually on the court to participate in it. That's right—Gregg Popovich played one of his favorite hands, starting Ginobili for the first time all year.
He hit his first shot, an off-the-dribble step-back that would have made J.R. Smith smile. Had the low-percentage look not gone in, things could have turned out very differently for Ginobili and the Spurs. But the ball ripped through the net for two (although it was originally mischaracterized as a three), and Ginobili was off and running.
He whipped sweet dimes to Danny Green and Tim Duncan on the Spurs' next two possessions, looking every inch the swashbuckling dynamo San Antonio fans had come to know over the past 11 seasons.
There have been greater Spurs, but never one as beloved as Manu Ginobili. This feels like a religious revival in San Antonio.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) June 17, 2013
He'd go on to pile up the statistics. In fact, Ginobili's numbers were remarkable. They didn't just represent his return to form, they bore witness to a great player taking his game to its highest level.
Absurd: Just the second time in Manu Ginobili's 11-year career that he's tallied 24+ points and 10+ assists in a game.— Tom Haberstroh (@tomhaberstroh) June 17, 2013
More than the stats, though, it was the way Ginobili darted around the floor. He showcased all of his vintage moves, from wrong-footed takeoffs to nearly impossible finishes.
The whole arsenal of shots and passes that no other NBA player completes—or even attempts, in many cases—was on display.
Suddenly, the narrative surrounding these finals has changed. Dwyane Wade's Game 4 explosion had many arguing that the Heat were invincible so long as the Big Three played well together. In the aftermath of that game, it was hard to argue with that logic.
But now, it's the Spurs who seem unbeatable when Ginobili plays his best.
San Antonio clearly fed off his inspiring effort, knocking down a whopping 60 percent of its shots as a team and playing with an offensive flow that no amount of defensive pressure from the Heat could disrupt.
Stepping back a pace, it's impossible to overstate the greater significance of such a big-time performance under these particular circumstances. Ginobili couldn't have picked a better moment than Game 5 to rise from the dead, as NBA Finals history shows that when the series has been tied 2-2, the winner of Game 5 has gone on to take the title 20 out of 27 times.
Manu's effort was hardly a surprise to his teammates, who had seen him step up when it counted so many times before:
Tony Parker opened his postgame press conference by saying, "I told you Manu was going to play good. You didn't believe me."— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) June 17, 2013
And in an amusing twist, his breakout game inspired what might go down as the understatement of the century from Popovich:
"When Manu plays like Manu Ginobili, we're a much better basketball team." - Gregg Popovich— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) June 17, 2013
Best of all, we know Charles Barkley is happy. Until Sunday night, the Chuckster had taken to whispering his famous tag line for this favorite Argentine. After Game 5, get ready for a lot more of this:
In summation, Manu Ginobili isn't dead. But he may have just killed the Miami Heat's title chances with one of the greatest individual comeback performances in NBA Finals history.