SAN ANTONIO (AP) — “Here comes Manu!”
Usually heard midway through the first quarter of home games, the refrain that Manu Ginobili is coming off the bench makes San Antonio Spurs fans respond unlike almost any other time during the game.
It also often means great things are about to happen for the Spurs.
“He gives that team a totally different dimension and a totally different look and those are big elements coming off the bench that really help teams win,” said Cleveland’s Daniel Gibson, who has emerged as the Cavaliers’ top reserve during these playoffs.
Ginobili scored 16 points in the Spurs’ 85-76 victory in Game 1 of the NBA finals. Game 2 is Sunday in San Antonio.
Along with Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, Ginobili is the final piece of the Spurs’ top-scoring trio and the team’s beloved sixth man, a role he’s more than happy to fill.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich moved Ginobili to the bench midway through the season in hopes of getting more offensive energy from his reserves. That helped the Spurs overcome some midseason struggles and go 23-6 after the All-Star break.
“It hasn’t been tough. I took it very lightly since the first moment he told me,” said Ginobili, in his fifth season with the Spurs. “Not very big changes for me, only the fact of not playing the first 5 minutes.”
The Argentine star was runner-up for the Sixth Man award to the Phoenix Suns’ Leandro Barbosa. He started 36 games and played the reserve role for 39.
Among players who came off the bench for a majority of their games during the regular season, Ginobili, with an average of better than 16 points, ranked behind only Barbosa, who averaged about 18.
Ginobili has averaged 16.4 points during the playoffs. He made half of the Spurs’ six 3-pointers in 28 minutes Thursday.
“I know that even when I start, I’m not a player that plays 38 to 40 minutes, so my minutes didn’t drop,” Ginobili said. “I still play the last 5 to 6 minutes, and I feel like I’m a very important player in this franchise.”
Ginobili’s relaxed attitude about being a reserve stops there. He’s known as physical player, even if a bit of a flopper, who called the bloodied and bruised eye he got during the Western Conference semifinals with the Suns “no big deal.”
While Ginobili can be somewhat inconsistent from game-to-game scoring-wise, when he’s hot, he’s often responsible for big runs and bigger wins.
In February in Atlanta, Ginobili came off the bench to score 24 consecutive San Antonio points in a 10-minute span of the first half. He finished the night with a season-high 40 points as the Spurs beat the Hawks 103-96.
After he got raked across the eyes on a drive to the basket in Game 3 of the series with Phoenix, he went on to score eight of his 24 points in about the next 1 1/2 minutes.
“They taught me to release the reins a bit, and their play, their random play and their aggressiveness, their passion on the court meant an awful lot,” Popovich said, also referring to Parker.
Popovich called the decision to bring the 29-year-old Ginobili off the bench a “seat-of-the-pants sort of thing.”
“The bench wasn’t really producing a whole lot. I thought maybe it would be easier for Michael (Finley) or Brent (Barry) to play with the starting group,” Popovich said. “And I’m fortunate in that Manu is the kind of guy that obviously cares more about the team. Sure, he’d rather start, but he’ll do whatever he’s got to do for the team and would take it well and not moan and groan about it.”