The San Antonio Spurs have become masters at eluding the ever-present figure looming over their shoulders that is Father Time. Unfortunately for Manu Ginobili, the bald spot that has been spreading across his head for the greater portion of his career may finally be showing its biological truth.
Every season the experts say that this could be the year that age catches up to the powerhouse that is the Spurs, and every season Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili sheepishly smirk off the claims and utterly dominate the regular season. Last season took us all back to the dynasty days of the Spurs as they transferred their domination in to the playoffs, making it seem that their six-year Finals drought was merely folklore.
Unlike the past, however, while Duncan and Parker continued to shine against the favorite Heat, Ginobili struggled, committing 12 costly turnovers in the two losses that sealed Miami’s second championship in as many seasons. The two-time All-Star and 2008 Sixth Man of the Year winner seemed lost and overly forceful as he saw his fourth ring slipping away. It was almost heart wrenching to see the always-confident, Euro-style lefty struggle during the times he historically excelled.
To be brutally honest, Ginobili failed to adapt his game as he aged despite his two running buddies remarkable baseline examples for success while fighting the same battle.
Don’t fret, troubled Spurs fan, Tim and Tony are still here doing what they do best: picking and rolling and driving and kicking and shooting and scoring. Business as usual. The most formidable tandem in the Western Conference for more than a decade looks and plays nearly the exact same way as they did way-back-when during their first title run in 2003. Only the rare spot-up three by Parker can be differentiated from the beginning of the Big 3 era to more recent years. This two-man game may be the root of Duncan and Parker’s success, and ultimately Ginobili’s demise.
Manu was always known for his attacking ability, being able to Euro-step his way through the lane with ease off the dribble. But as the years have caught up to him, defenders have settled on his less-potent jump shot. Unlike Tim and Tony, Manu was always the spark off the bench
While the pick and roll offense advanced to be the cornerstone of the Spurs’ system, Manu ultimately regressed, slowly but surely, into his abysmal Finals performance. Plain and simply, Ginobili failed to perform to the expectations he had for himself based on previous Finals appearances., his wingmen changing through the years. Though the three always closed out the games together, Ginobili never naturally developed the offensive chemistry that Duncan and Parker have.
Ginobili continued to play as if he’s the eager, 22 year-old that he once was, (arguably) costing the Spurs their fifth championship.
But one fact remains ahead of any assumption or criticism: the Spurs are winners. Their coach is a winner, their players are winners, their front office constantly recruits winners. They continue to exceed expectations year after year. Players come and go, but the three cornerstones of a three-ring dynasty remain. Manu Ginobili may not be the All-Star he once was, but the spark plug that he represents in the old, reliable, family station wagon that is the Spurs is still a couple years away from needing replacement.
Don’t take the regression of Manu with a heavy heart, Spurs fans; you’re all in for a nice Sunday drive off into the sunset with the family you’ve come to love… you just might have to save a seat for Father Time.
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