This piece was originally published at AllUCanHeat. Read the original here.
Ginobili’s 16-year career came across the Miami Heat in a major way.
“Game recognize game”. Riley Freeman’s comment rings equally as true for Grandad’s relationship in The Boondocks as it does in the NBA.
NBA players are at the peak of their craft. Through a myriad of collected stats, finding broken records can happen almost nightly across the Association’s 82-game season.
But every so often individual achievement needs nothing more than recognition. Stats will never completely describe the Cleveland Cavaliers drought-ending championship in 2016 anymore than they can capture Dwyane Wade’s impact on the entirety of South Florida.
The case of Manu Ginobili’s retirement after 16 seasons in the NBA is much the same. Sure, he led all players in win percentage among those who played at least 1,000 games.
But at the most basic level, game recognizes game. In the last week, players, media and fans have overwhelmingly shared their love and respect for Ginobili’s game. From acknowledging his popularization of the now-famed Euro-step – from Argentina by way of Sarunas Marciulionas from Lithuania – to defining what it meant to sacrifice for the well-being of his team, Ginobili’s contribution and reputation among basketball circles is statistically immeasurable.
A member of the San Antonio Spurs, Ginobili was occasionally on the wrong end – or right end, depending on perspective – of the Miami Heat. Through 16 seasons he faced off against Miami 26 times. Some contests were more important than others, but each bolsters the legacy of one of the NBA’s most traveled athletes.
As Heat players like Josh Richardson continue to honor Ginobili’s contributions, here’s a look back at his top 3 games against Heat Nation.
November 11, 2004
In just his third season in San Antonio, Ginobili was competing for his second NBA title. For the half-decade prior the Spurs were already perennial champion contenders, winning no fewer than 53 games between 1999 and 2005.
Already stacked with competent role players like Stephen Jackson, Bruce Bowen and Robert Horry – not to mention future Hall of Famers David Robinson, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker – Ginobili’s presence was minimal in the Spurs’ run in 2003.
By 2004-05 however, Ginobili had found his niche. Popovich built on Ginobili’s success as a sixth man, adding to his nightly workload 10 more minutes per game than his rookie season.
The season would be most remembered as the year the Argentinian set his career high – 48 points against the Spurs’ frequent rival Phoenix Suns in January. But two months earlier, while his all-time performance was still brewing, Ginobili had a memorable game against Miami.
To start the season the Heat won their first four games, three of which came in double digits. A year before Miami’s championship run and the team was already shaping up to be a contender with a newly acquired Shaquille O’Neal at its helm.
However, Ginobili and the Spurs had different plans, instead capitalizing on Miami’s first loss of the season to the Dallas Mavericks.
While O’Neal and Tim Duncan battled on the low block, Ginobili worked his magic on the wings. His 29 points that night marked the third time in his three-year career that he’d shoot at least 80 percent from 3 on a minimum of 5 attempts.
Adding to the madness, Ginobili tallied a game high seven assists and seven rebounds in what would become the Spurs’ fourth win during their 2005 NBA championship run.
June 16, 2013
The 2011-12 season marked the new-look Heat finally hitting their stride. Miami performed well in the lockout season; James earned his third league MVP (first with Miami) while pushing the Heat past an Oklahoma City Thunder team still in gestation.
Defeating Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden 4-1 in the 2012 NBA Finals sealed the league’s fate. The Heat followed up the shortened season with another blowout year by adding on 20 wins, and a 27-game win-streak, in 2012-13.
Despite breezing through the regular season, and the first two rounds of the NBA playoffs, the conference and NBA Finals hit the Miami hard. The Indiana Pacers nearly upended Miami’s title dreams in the conference Finals, taking the series to a seven game slobberknocker.
But where every team thus far had failed to dethrone the Heat, the Spurs waited for Miami’s arrival to the NBA Finals, sporting a recipe that few teams could replicate: rest.
San Antonio took just 13 games to reach the Finals where Miami took 16. They finished off the Memphis Grizzlies in the Western Conference Finals in four contests which allotted them nine days off before the winner-take-all series.
Having just 3 days off between the Eastern Conference Finals ending and the start of the Finals, Miami’s overexertion showed. The Heat traded games with the Spurs – lose at home, win at home, lose on the road, win on the road – which made for another long-winded series.
For Miami, Game 5 was special. The winner would tilt the series in their favor, 3-2.
At the time, the Finals followed the 2-3-2 format. An added bonus to the potential victory was that a Miami win in Game 5 meant the Heat needed to win just one of two remaining home contests in Games 6 and 7.
Ginobili, of course, had other plans.
San Antonio’s Game 4, which was a 16-point home loss, saw Duncan as the only Spur to crack the 20-point threshold. Ginobili fell flat with five points and four fouls in 25 minutes off the bench.
In a change of pace, Popovich swapped Ginobili into the starting five, putting Tiago Splitter, best known James’ vertebrae-crunching rejection, on the bench.
“Of course, I am [concerned],” Popovich told Sports Illustrated. “He’s having a tough playoffs, and he hasn’t really found a rhythm or found his game yet. I think that he’s obviously not as confident as usual, and he knows full well that he hasn’t performed the way he would like and the way he’s used to. But it’s simplistic to say, what are we going to do to get him going? He’s going to get himself going or he won’t. He knows that he’s got to play better for us to be successful.”
The move was controversial if only because Ginobili had essentially been playing at half speed all series. He managed just 30 total points through the first four games, and Game 5 would be his first start all season.
Needless to say, Ginobili came out swinging. His first bucket came 17 seconds into the game over the Chris Bosh and his Laffy Taffy arms.
Though that was his only triple, Ginobili generated offense through 10 assists that complemented his hard-fought 24 points.
Inevitably, the Spurs lost the series 4-3, but Ginobili’s instant transition from sixth man to starter was the ultimate character swap. At 35 years of age, Ginobili continued to lean into his role as the Spurs’ shapeshifter as amicably as ever.
June 15, 2014
For the first time in the four years between 2010 and 2014, the Miami Heat were completely humiliated.
Though Miami regularly demoralized teams, erasing their leads while tossing photo-worthy alley-oops they were rarely victimized. After suffering defeat to the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 Finals the Heat raised their super-human basketball standards, putting the league into Miami vs. Everybody mode.
For the first three seasons of the James-Wade-Bosh era, Miami developed rivalries within their conference. The Bulls, Pacers and Boston Celtics all believed in a world that didn’t have the Heat in the Finals.
They all came up short.
Unlike those teams however, the San Antonio Spurs didn’t have four regular season contests and an early playoff series to change Miami’s course.
Members of opposing conferences, the Spurs and Heat played just two regular season games. Games that could hardly replicate the tenacity and fervor of a Finals matchup.
Once again in 2014 San Antonio awaited Miami to finish up their Eastern Conference table scraps. Again, the Pacers tried to emblazon their logo on future NBA encyclopedias, and again Miami’s narrative continued, this time finishing the Pacers by the end of Game 6.
Equipped with another year’s worth of experience however, the Spurs became the first team to break the Heat since the Mavericks in 2011. After capitalizing on a late game push in San Antonio’s AC-less arena in Game 1, the Spurs allowed the Heat just one, two-point victory before banishing them from NBA relevance.
Ginobili, who had returned to his role as sixth man full time, was instrumental in keeping the San Anotonio’s foot on Miami’s neck.
Entering Game 5 Miami played with a renewed urgency. Their 16-point first quarter lead was cut to 10 however through a pair of Ginobili 3-point plays.
The Heat had hoped to ramp up the game’s physicality and send the series back to Miami for Game 6 and the 36-year-old Ginobili was ready for the challenge.
Ginobili’s iconic Game 5 dunk over Bosh was both the punctuation on the series and an apt summary of his career.
From that point on, the Spurs never trailed, ultimately securing their franchise fifth NBA title.
For Ginobili, the moment was one of personal excitement. The emphatic jam came irrespective of the undiagnosed stress fracture in his right leg.
“I have no clue where it came from,” Ginobili said of the dunk. “I wasn’t planning it from the beginning, but I went up pretty good and said, ‘What the Hell. Let’s try.’ I’ve been told by multiple teammates not to try it any more … but I was feeling pretty optimistic about my chances.”
It has been four full seasons since the Spurs and GInobili competed in the NBA Finals. As quickly as it was born the Heat-Spurs rivalry died, though the lasting sting of the 1-1 Finals record lingers for both sides.
Though he was never honored as Finals MVP against Miami, Ginobili represented the same brand of culture that the Heat so highly value. His constant sacrifice set a standard for peak professionalism. Finally, after 16 seasons and four championships, Ginobili’s legacy can be evaluated in its entirety.
From his transition for a plucky, international star to household name wearing black and white, Ginobili’s career is provides yet another roadmap to finding success among the world’s best athletes.