Heading into a tie-breaking Game 5 in the Western Conference Semifinals between the San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets, there was no reason to think that Manu Ginobili would make any kind of considerable impact on the game.
However, not only did he play 32 minutes, posting 12 points, seven rebounds and five assists, but he also made a heroic last-second block on James Harden in overtime to seal the deal for the home team, extending the Spurs’ series lead to 3-2 and perhaps saving their entire season in the process.
With point guard Tony Parker out for the remainder of the playoffs and with Kawhi Leonard hobbled with knee and ankle injuries in the game, the 39-year-old Argentinian was in at the end of overtime and switched onto Harden in the game's final possession.
After Harden quickly beat him off the dribble and worked his way to what seemed like an open three-pointer that would have tied the score, Ginobili recovered and delivered an epic clean block from behind, thus ending the game in front of the roaring home crowd.
Check out the play below:
Since Harden is one of the craftiest offensive players in the NBA, he often times gets fouled on three-point shots, but very rarely gets blocked cleanly on his attempts, thus making Ginobili’s swat even more improbable.
Consider the following stat:
Just 1.4 percent of Harden’s three-point shot attempts were blocked heading into Tuesday’s game.
Harden now joins a list of future Hall of Famers that Ginobili has blocked in crunch time.
Also, to add to the improbability of the 39-year-old blocking one of the best NBA players in such a moment at this point in both of their careers, it’s important to remember the following:
That’s a testament to how long Manu has been a force in the league.
After the game, Ginobili explained the play and conveyed what was going through his mind before and after the epic play.
Looking back, since the Spurs were up by three in the remaining seconds, the “safe” call would have been to foul Harden and attempt to send him to shoot two at the free throw line, where he would come up short of tying the game at best. Then, as typically done, the Spurs could advance the ball to mid-court, inbound it, get fouled and there wouldn’t be much time left on the clock.
But, since Harden is perhaps the best in the NBA at getting referees to blow the whistle, coach Gregg Popovich likely didn’t want any of his players to put him at the line on a three-point attempt, which he instinctually might have been able to draw.
Heading into Game 6 on Thursday, San Antonio holds a 3-2 lead in the series and will be looking to move on to the next round, where the Golden State Warriors are waiting. If Manu can provide what he did on Tuesday and if Kawhi gets healthy, the Spurs have a solid shot of at least eliminating the Rockets.