SAN ANTONIO Manu Ginobili darted and slashed, leaned and launched, pivoted and passed and did all those odd and clever little things that have defined him for more than a decade. The things he has always done. The things he seemed unable to do anymore.
With the NBA Finals down to a best-of-three affair, and control up for grabs Sunday night, the San Antonio Spurs placed their faith in the one pillar of their Big Three who had yet to join the series. Ginobili returned to the starting lineup and promptly returned to form, scoring 24 points and adding 10 assists to lead the Spurs to a 114-104 victory over the Miami Heat.
Ginobili had scored just 30 points in the first four games of the series, looking older than his 35 years would suggest. The longtime sixth man looked closer to retirement than championship glory.
"I was angry, disappointed," Ginobili said. "We are playing in the NBA Finals, we were 2-2, and I felt I still wasn't really helping the team that much. And that was the frustrating part."
But coach Gregg Popovich gave Ginobili his first start of the season, placing him alongside Tim Duncan and Tony Parker once more, and suddenly it looked like 2007 again. Duncan had 17 points and 12 rebounds, and Parker scored 26 points.
San Antonio now is one win from its fifth championship, its fourth in the Duncan-Parker-Ginobili era.
Miami, meanwhile, must do what neither team has done in this series win two in a row to repeat as champion. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade scored 25 each for the Heat, with Ray Allen scoring 21 and Chris Bosh 16.
After falling behind by 17 points in the second quarter, Miami spent most of the night trying to claw its way back. The Heat sliced the deficit to 75-74 late in the third quarter and momentarily appeared ready to seize control.
But Danny Green, the breakout star of this series, hit a three-pointer to stem the tide, and Ginobili followed with two beautiful shots a baseline floater and a running jumper triggering chants of "Ma-nu" and launching a 19-1 run that put away the game.
"Once we got it back to one, we felt that we had weathered the storm," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "Then we missed a couple shots that we normally are accustomed to making.
"We just didn't show the mental resolve that we needed to at that point."
Ginobili closed the third quarter with a running bank shot and opened the fourth with a jumper, the arena rocking with every swish. Kawhi Leonard's two free throws made it 96-76 with 9:12 left.
Green supplemented the Spurs' Big Three with 24 points. He also made six three-pointers, pushing his series total to 25 and breaking the Finals record held by Allen, who made 22 for Boston in 2008.
Popovich's decision to start Ginobili and bench Tiago Splitter was, on the most basic level, a response to Miami's downsizing its lineup in Game 4. The Spurs needed another guard on the floor.
It was also perhaps a move to snap Ginobili out of his funk. And perhaps there was a bit of sentiment involved, too. This was the Spurs' last home game of the season and quite possibly the last for the Big Three. Ginobili becomes a free agent July 1 and turns 36 on July 28. There is no guarantee he will be back.
If the Spurs were going down, they were going down together.
"I'm really excited for Manu, for his performance," Duncan said. "But we need him to do it one more time."
For the second time in three years, the Heat is heading home down 3-2 in the Finals, and it ended badly the last time, with Dallas claiming the 2011 championship in Game 6 in Miami.
"We're going to see if we're a better ballclub and if we're better prepared for this moment," Wade said.