The original Spurs championship team was based heavily on the frontcourt duo of David Robinson and Tim Duncan. Times have changed for San Antonio. While Duncan and Kawhi Leonard are integral parts of the Spurs’ team, of course, the team’s fortunes and outcomes in this year’s NBA Finals have been largely dictated by its backcourt.
While Danny Green has had a sensational NBA Finals, and would probably be named MVP if San Antonio ends up winning, the story in Game 5 were backcourt mainstays Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. Ginobili had his first 24-point, 10-assist game in five years and Tony Parker was 10-f0r-10 within 10 feet of the basket, as San Antonio went on another third and fourth quarter run to defeat Miami 114-104 Sunday night.
“We are playing in the NBA Finals, we were 2-2, and I felt I still wasn’t really helping the team that much,” Ginobili said after the game. “And that was the frustrating part.”
Ginobili’s presence and role in the San Antonio offense has been, and will be, essential to the team’s success. Ginobili has played over 30 minutes twice this series and taken double-digit shots in those two games. Unsurprisingly, the Spurs won both those contests, Games 1 and 5. He took 11 total shots in the Spurs’ two defeats to Miami, and Gregg Popovich certainly realized that San Antonio would only win if Ginobili played a major role.
Popovich inserted Ginobili into the starting lineup Sunday, and it was no coincidence that San Antonio became the first team to shoot at least 60 percent from the field in a Finals game since the 2009 Magic.
“He’s such a huge part of what we do and how far we’ve come. You can see it tonight in how we played and the results of the game,” Duncan said.
Parker’s presence was also felt the most in those first and fifth games, San Antonio wins. Those were the only games in which Parker played over 35 minutes, shot over 50 percent from the field and scored at least 20 points. He had 26 Sunday night on 10-for-14 shooting and made a determined effort to do his scoring damage near the hoop.
Parker is averaging over 21 points per game in the playoffs, but just over 16 in these Finals. San Antonio was fortunate enough to get great nights from Green and Gary Neal in the Game 3 blowout, but it’s been Parker’s scoring ability that helped propel the Spurs in their other two wins. But as important as Ginobili and Parker have been, another key backcourt member may be the Spurs’ most important piece of all.
Green has certainly had a historically brilliant NBA Finals, already setting the record for most 3-pointers made in a Finals series and threatening the all-time single-season playoff record, and he could be the biggest reason why the San Antonio Spurs hold a 3-2 series lead on the Miami Heat. He had 24 points on 8-for-15 shooting in Game 5.
When Green has been on his game offensively, the Spurs have defeated the Heat in this series. There’s no disputing that after checking out the splits:
|Green||Min||FG %||3 FG%||Points||Assists||Reb|
His field goal percentage has been much better in San Antonio’s two losses, but only because he’s been more tentative to shoot in those games. Green has averaged 13 shots in Spurs wins this series, compared to just seven in losses. He’s scoring 7 1/2 more points per game in wins than in losses, and is averaging 2 1/2 more rebounds in just 100 more seconds per game.
So it should come as no surprise that San Antonio is averaging over 106 points per game in wins and just over 85 points per game in losses. That’s an enormous disparity, and it’s largely due to the efforts of San Antonio’s indispensable backcourt trio that have taken unique paths and roles during the series.
We certainly expected Parker to be an impact player in the series, but did anyone expect Green to be the consensus pick for team MVP this series? And while Ginobili is surely up there in age, he virtually disappeared in three of the series’ five games. But in the most important Finals game this season to date, it was the Spurs’ backcourt that answered the call and excelled in the year’s highest leverage situation. For the Spurs to ultimately capture the championship, it will not be up to the big men to close out the series, but three guards who shined the brightest when it mattered the most.
Shlomo Sprung loves advanced statistics and the way they explain what happens on the court. He is also the web editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. A 2011 graduate of Columbia University’s Journalism School, he has previously worked for the New York Knicks, The Sporting News, Business Insider and other publications. His website is SprungOnSports.com. You can follow him on Twitter.