Manu Ginobili turns 37 years old in a month and a half.
When you have as many miles on your legs as the San Antonio Spurs' star super-sub guard does, discretion is often the better part of valor when it comes to attempting the sort of athletic feats for which you used to be famous; remember, Manu literally hurt himself while dunking back in January, coming down from a rare-these-days flight with a strained left hamstring that landed him on the injured list for two weeks. Understanding how important the Argentine legend was to their chances of winning it all this year, the Spurs jokingly banned Manu from trying to dunk any more this season. He ignored the edict a couple of weeks later, only to come up juuuust a bit short of finishing the flush.
With the Spurs holding a 3-1 lead over the Miami Heat in the 2014 NBA Finals, and playing for the chance to hoist the Larry O'Brien Trophy in Sunday's Game 5, Ginobili once again found himself with an opportunity to throw caution to the wind. This time, though, he finished. With authority.
With San Antonio leading 40-35 and just under three minutes remaining in the second quarter, Tim Duncan rebounded a missed 3-pointer by Heat big man Chris Bosh and tossed ahead the outlet pass to Ginobili. Manu dribbled calmly up the right side of the floor, passed the timeline and saw no black jerseys impeding his progress through the paint.
Smelling blood, he drove left (always left), darting past Udonis Haslem and bumping off Ray Allen with his right shoulder before taking off. Bosh, who earlier Sunday vowed that Miami would win Game 5 to extend their season, slid to meet him and turn away the dunk attempt. He didn't.
Here's another look at the dunk from multiple angles:
Energized by the big bang on Bosh, Ginobili promptly came back on the ensuing possession and drilled a step-back 3-pointer over first-quarter star LeBron James:
The sequence capped a fantastic first half for Ginobili, who scored 14 points on 5-for-7 shooting in just under 11 minutes off the bench. After Miami stormed out to a 22-6 lead in the first quarter, Ginobili helped spark San Antonio's comeback, producing nine points in 44 seconds — driving for an and-one layup, hitting a 3-pointer and setting up a triple by Kawhi Leonard — to get the Spurs started on what would wind up being a 41-18 run over the final 17:04 of the opening half, sending San Antonio into intermission with a 47-40 lead.
Asked by ABC's Doris Burke to sum up what led to the Spurs' change in first-half fortunes, Ginobili shrugged and, predictably, spoke in general team-first terms.
"We grew the intensity, we played tougher, and we started to move the ball better," he said.
All that's true. But Ginobili's ability to move himself sure didn't hurt, either.
San Antonio never looked back after their offense got on track following that sluggish start, steamrolling the Heat en route to a 104-87 victory that finished off a dominant five-game NBA Finals win and earned the Spurs the fifth — and perhaps most impressive — league championship in the Tim Duncan/Gregg Popovich era. After the game, Ginobili — who finished with 19 points on 6-for-11 shooting, including a 3-for-6 mark from long distance, to go with four rebounds, four assists and just two turnovers in 28 1/2 minutes — discussed what was going through his mind as he took off for the rim.
"The last time I tried, I got blocked by Caron Butler against OKC, badly," he said.
"And I was made fun of by my teammates in a rough way," a smiling Ginobili continued. "They actually made me promise that I wasn't going to try that again, and I said, 'Yes, I won't try that again.'
"But in the heat of the battle, with the adrenaline pumping and the situation ... really, I don't know what happened. I went hard and once I was in the air, I felt like I had a shot, and I tried. I think it helped me, and it helped the team, too, to get pumped up."
If the clip above isn't rocking for you, feel free to check it out elsewhere, thanks to @cjzero.
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