SAN ANTONIO — Spurs coach Gregg Popovich had to do something to spark Manu Ginobili and it appears placing the struggling swingman in the starting lineup was the salve he needed.
Scoring a season-high 24 points, Ginobili looked rejuvenated after a dreadful first four games of the NBA Finals, delivering one of his vintage performances as the Spurs seized control of the series. He carried San Antonio at times in its 114-104 win over the Miami Heat in Game 5 Sunday at the AT&T Center, proving relief for Spurs faithful and more importantly, himself.
He entered Sunday shooting just 34.9 percent from the field, missing 13 of 16 3-point attempts and averaging 7.5 points, 4 below his season average. Ginobili admitted that confidence became an issue.
“Yeah, yeah, for sure; I needed to make a couple of shots,” he said. “Not that I made that many; from the 3-point line I still shot 1 for 4 [Sunday]. But I just had a better overall offensive game, and I needed to feel like that. So good that it happened in an important situation.”
Ginobili learned he would make his first start of the season Saturday before practice. Popovich sought to counter Miami coach Erik Spoelstra’s smaller lineup with one of his own, and Ginobili served as the perfect response.
He began the game with a 3-pointer, giving the frenzied crowd at the AT&T Center some encouragement after their Spurs were walloped in Game 4. Ginobili then hit two free throws and a long 2-point jumper six minutes into the game. With the Heat charging back to cut the Spurs’ lead to 76-75 late in the third quarter, Ginobili sparked a 21-2 run with two drives, leaving defender Norris Cole helpless.
“Manu is a competitor,” Popovich said. “He just keeps pushing. I mean he’s come to practice and worked on his shot. He’s seen film. He has confidence in himself that he should just continue to compete. That’s what he’s done his whole career. And tonight he played his best game in a while.”
Up and running
Ray Allen scored 15 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter as Miami sliced a 20-point deficit to 8 in final 90 seconds before falling short.
Allen is now 22 for 34 shooting in the series (64.7 percent) and 11 of 17 from the 3-point line. He also became the first player in Finals history to collect two 4-point plays in the same game.
The Spurs are attempting to chase Allen off the 3-point line and force him to take defenders off the dribble and attempt contested 2-pointers. He has been successful in attacking that strategy.
Being the NBA’s all-time 3-point leader, Allen is synonymous with the long-range shot, but he has shown the ability to use his dribble this season more than in years past while with the Celtics.
Allen said posting up smaller defenders and using his runner was not encouraged in Boston. In Miami, he is allowed to roam and take advantage of the open paint because of the presence of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
“That’s always been part of what I’ve done,” Allen said. “Teams have tried to make me put the ball on the floor and as the game speeds up, you have to be able to speed up with it. You can’t go all the way [to the basket] because you have a big [man] sitting at the rim, so a lot of my scoring options are right in that mid-range area.”
Wade was working out before Game 5 with his sons, Zaire and Zion, passing him the ball on jump shots. James’s son Bryce celebrated his sixth birthday Friday hanging out in San Antonio with dad . . . With Ginobili in the starting lineup, Tiago Splitter, who hasn’t been the same player since that Game 2 blocked shot by James, took a seat on the bench and played one minute in the first period. He finished with 4 points in 10 minutes. Boris Diaw and Neal were the first Spurs off the bench. Mike Miller remained in the starting lineup for Miami with Udonis Haslem coming off the bench. Neither scored a point Sunday . . . Of the previous 27 times an NBA Finals series has been tied, 2-2, the Game 5 winner has taken 20 of those series. The last time the Game 5 winner lost the Finals was in 2010, when the Celtics dropped the final two games to the Lakers . . . The Spurs have 50 3-pointers, two short of the Celtics’ Finals record set in 2008.Gary Washburn can be reached at email@example.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @gwashNBAGlobe.