Ginobili had been averaging just 7.5 points on 34.5 percent shooting in the series, making only three of his 16 3-point attempts. But Popovich made the finals’ second lineup change in two games, after the Heat inserted Mike Miller to start Game 4.
Ginobili didn’t make a start this season and certainly hadn’t been playing like someone who belonged with the first five. But in the Spurs’ biggest game of the season, they remained confident he would break out, and they were right.
“I knew that I was not scoring much and I felt it in the air. But I tried not to care about it. I know I’m critical enough of myself to be worrying about what other people say,” Ginobili said.
It was the first time he scored 24 or more points since having 34 on June 4, 2012, against Oklahoma City, according to STATS.
The AT&T Center crowd roared when Ginobili was the last starter announced, the cheers growing louder when he made a jumper — originally ruled a 3-pointer but later overturned by replay — on the first possession. He assisted on the Spurs’ next three baskets, and it was 15-10 when he later hit a 3 that did count.
Parker picked it up from there, dancing his way into the lane repeatedly and scoring seven points in a 12-0 run that made it 29-17.
Leonard’s 3-pointer with 4.7 seconds left, on an assist from Ginobili, made it 32-19 and gave the Spurs 12 makes in 19 attempts (63 percent) in the opening 12 minutes.
Green’s third straight 3-pointer made it 45-28 about 5 minutes into the second quarter, and it seemed the trend of blowouts would continue.
But James suddenly got rolling during a 14-2 Miami spurt that cut it to five on his third consecutive Heat basket.
San Antonio made 21 of 34 shots (62 percent) in the first half, opening a 61-52 lead on Parker’s drive with 0.4 seconds left.
It was a fitting finish if it was the last home game in the finals for San Antonio’s star trio, which has combined for 101 playoff victories. Ginobili has said he might think about retirement as he turns 36 next month, and Duncan is 37.
Both coaches said it was difficult waiting two days between games — Popovich said it was “like death” — though he did say it was great for the Spurs because they have some older players.
The break seemed to help his team early, particularly Parker, whose energy sagged in the second half of Game 4 as he struggled with a strained hamstring that he said could tear at any time and would’ve had him sidelined during the regular season.
If things fall right for the Spurs, he’ll have plenty of time to heal after Tuesday.