Nothing was more predictable this spring than Game 5 of the NBA Finals. Nothing. After just 10 field goals and 30 points through the series’ first four games, anyone who watched a lick of basketball over the past decade knew what was coming: Manu Ginobili. Four-straight duds. Series knotted. Final home game of the season. There’s only so long you can hold the proverbial villain down. Twenty-four points, 10 dimes and a 10-point win later and we had our reckoning.
This 6-6 guard will never wear the black hat well. He’s too good, too respected, too real to hate. But during the playoffs, Ginobili realized even his own fans weren’t happy with his play. (And that’s saying a lot. Anyone who knows a diehard San Antonio fan knows they’ll defend their guys to the bitter, bitter end.)
After his rebirth in Game 5, Ginobili scored 18 points in Game 7 yet gave the ball away a dozen times during those final two games in Miami. It was an ugly capping on perhaps the most disappointing season of his career. In 2012-13, his scoring nearly dropped to a career-low (11.8 points a night). His shooting plummeted to less than 43 percent.
How close he came to retiring over the offseason:
By the end of the season â€” and I mean the regular season and not the playoffs â€” I thought about it a lot. I was so tired of it. I hadn’t suffered a muscle strain in my whole life and I went through three in four months. I felt negative, fed up. And I thought about retiring. I hadn’t come close to making up my mind but I thought it was something I had to discuss with my wife, “what if …?” She told me that it was my decision and she was fine either way. But when I recovered physically I started to feel better about it all. When the season ended I grieved for 48, 72 hours and I didn’t feel retired. I knew something was missing, that I still wanted to play.
The criticism he got during the playoffs, something he’s rarely experienced during his career:
Strange. You usually read things in the newspaper or hear them through other people. But during the playoffs, for example, I’m isolated, bulletproof. I don’t read anything, don’t watch highlights, nothing. At first those criticisms didn’t reach me, I only had to deal with my own. I knew how I was playing and what I can give the team. But when I started to get questions in a specific tone, that’s when I realized: “Something must be happening. I’m being criticized. Otherwise, they wouldn’t ask me that.”
I started to realize that they were saying I wasn’t playing at my level and it was weird. Especially in the playoffs. It had happened in other times of the season, when I was injured and they were saying that it wasn’t the same, that the best of Ginobili was in the past. This time it was during the playoffs. It was weird and it hurt. Because I have a well-developed ego and, like I said, I was always proud to say I never under-performed in the playoffs. I had that credibility in my career. So when that happened this season, it hurt.
Injuries are grinding, especially minor ones that never go away. Because of muscle strains, Ginobili wore out playing all year “with the parking break on.” He felt weak at times. He felt frail. He even felt vulnerable, the crippling thought that his body was breaking down before his mind gave permission.
Manu Ginobili thought about retiring this summer. No one would’ve batted an eye. Most 36-year-old guards melt away, finally succumbing to the endless rehab, the endless injuries. However, the Spurs longtime sixth man grieved for only hours after the Finals. Then the itch to play came back.
At this point, if we know anything, it’s that a comeback season next year from Ginobili wouldn’t surprise. It’d be almost predictable.
How much does Manu have left in the tank?
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