SAN ANTONIO - What's the matter with Manu?
Manu Ginobili isn't scoring. His game is now careless instead of famously creative. In these NBA Finals, where LeBron James and Dwyane Wade just delivered a forceful reminder in Game 4 about stars deciding this series, the San Antonio Spurs are still waiting on one of their biggest.
The impatience is starting to show.
"He's having a tough playoffs, and hasn't really found a rhythm or found his game yet," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said Friday. "I think that he's obviously not as confident as usual, and he knows full well 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?"'
Simplistic, maybe. But their prospects of winning a fifth title may hinge on just that.
Ginobili scored five points in 26 minutes in a 109-93 loss Thursday night, knotting the series heading into San Antonio's final home game Sunday. He's shooting just 34 percent against the Heat and is averaging 7.5 points, down from his 11.8 scoring average during the season.
Overall, Ginobili has shot 38 percent in the playoffs, a career worst. Only one of his last 11 tries from behind the 3-point line has connected. It got so bad in Game 4 that even the Baseline Bums, a boisterous section of Spurs die-hards in the AT&T Center where the wily Ginobili is most beloved, yelled for the Argentine to quit jacking up shots.
Ginobili seems to be getting fed up, too. He looked bothered by questions about his persistent struggles after shooting 1 for 5 on Thursday night and tying his third-lowest scoring game in 21 career Finals appearances.
The other time he managed just five points in the Finals? Game 2 in this same series.
"It's not that I've scored 30 a game this year," Ginobili said. "I'm surprised. I wish I could score more. But it's not happening. I got to try to do other stuff. I've got to move the ball. If the shot is not falling, I've got to be sharp feeding the bigs and finding the shooters. I don't have to force the issue. That's not what I do. That's not what I'm asked to do."
Putting a finger on what Ginobili does has always been tough to define - a quality that has made him one of the NBA's most entertaining players the last 11 years. At his most dazzling he's a fearless attacker, game-winning marksman, uncanny improviser and a master of falling-down shots that defy belief.
In Game 1, Ginobili perfectly bounce passed to Tony Parker between the legs of Miami's Norris Cole - while Cole had his back turned and running. The brilliant delivery was vintage Ginobili, but his performance the rest of this series has been otherwise forgettable.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra on Friday downplayed the effect the Heat defense has had on Ginobili, saying that it occasionally has come down to him missing some shots he normally makes. But Ginobili's game has never been predicated on jump shots, and Spoelstra and the Heat are wary of him turning it on.
"We've always looked at him very similar to our guy, to Dwyane," Spoelstra said. "And what makes him probably most dangerous is the unpredictability, his ability to be aggressive and do things on the court that aren't necessarily scripted. That's where he's most dangerous.
Ginobili turns 36 in July. He will be a free agent this summer and has said he's not ready to retire. Three years ago, when Ginobili was playing at the end of his last contract and plagued by injuries, Popovich and Spurs general manager R.C. Buford didn't seal a new deal until Ginobili ripped through an exceptional two months late in 2010 that showed he still had it.
Now two wins from a championship, the Spurs need Ginobili to prove that again.
"He's going to get himself going or he won't," Popovich said. "He knows that he's got to play better for us to be successful."