Their names belong on the marquee because of who they are. Dwyane Wade and Manu Ginobili are headliners in this NBA Finals series full of headliners.
Their pedigrees and championship histories tell us so. Name two shooting guards other than Kobe Bryant with a bigger impact on the game over the last decade than D-Wade or Manu. The Heat and Spurs don’t have multiple banners in the rafters without these guys.
But they’re not those guys anymore. Anyone who’s watched No. 3 for the Miami Heat and No. 20 for the San Antonio Spurs for this past season, and especially the playoffs, has noticed the dropoff going into Game 3 Tuesday night in San Antonio.
Whether it’s injury or mileage – likely the combination of both – the production they’re giving doesn’t match the name. Thinking either team could win a title without the best out of its All-Star 2-guard would have been preposterous a year ago.
It’s reality now.
D-Wade and Manu are in the midst of their poorest postseason runs. Wade, 31, is averaging the fewest points (14.1) and minutes (34.9) of any of his nine years in the playoffs. His ailing right knee has robbed the two-time champ of the burst we’re used to seeing and lift on his jumper.
Flashes have been there. Just look back to Game 7 against Indiana, as Wade repeatedly sliced through the lane as Miami carved up the Pacers to win the East. He’s also scored just 10 points in three of the last five games, albeit one was Sunday night’s Game 2 romp.
Wade averaged 22.8 points in last June’s title run and 28.4 in 2006. While the scoring hasn’t consistently been there through the first 17 games of these playoffs, Wade has tried to make up for it in other areas. He’s averaging nearly five assists and five rebounds per game, and working hard on the defensive end.
“When you’re not performing at the level that you’ve become accustomed to, the game of basketball that comes so natural, comes so easy at times, can be the most difficult and the toughest thing to play in, and to be a part of,” Wade said recently.
“So it’s always moments where you question certain things. But for me the biggest thing was to try to make an impact in the game. I want to make an impact offensively. I want to make an impact defensively and everything else.”
Ginobili’s offensive struggles are just as pronounced. His scoring average of 11.2 is his lowest since his rookie year (9.4) when he came off the bench in all 24 games on the march to the 2003 championship. Manu’s playoff minutes (25.5) and shooting percentage (38.0) are also career lows.
At 35, that once floppy hairdo has succumbed to a crew cut and balding spot. Father Time is catching up to El Contusion, but that dagger 3-pointer or dive to the floor to save a loose ball hasn’t gone the way of the CD. Manu remains relevant, even if somewhat scratched.
“I don’t know if I’m going to play better than before or not,” he said before the Finals. “I just know I’m going to help my team and do whatever I can. If it’s scoring, I’ll try to. If not, passing or defending, doing what all my teammates are trying to do.”
Sure, Wade and Ginobili are still needed by their teams. It isn’t as if Gregg Popovich is going to ground Ginobili or Erik Spoelstra will forsake Wade. You dance with who brung ya. But these ring-bearing coaches didn’t win their rings by being rigid and refusing to adjust.
So if Miami needs to go with the hot hands of Ray Allen and Mike Miller off the bench instead of Wade, it’ll happen. Danny Green knocked down five 3-pointers in Game 2 for the Spurs, and Gary Neal is more than capable of finding that same stroke.
Wade and Ginobili are banged up but not knocked out. They’re not the former Finals MVPs they once were – D-Wade won in 2006 and Manu should have in 2005 – but the tank is not empty. In a series that could be decided by which Big Three plays the best, these charter members could still make the difference.