Should Dwyane Wade and Manu Ginobili Be Benched in Game 7?

The players with the worst plus-minus in the 2013 NBA Finals have a combined five NBA championships, Olympic gold medals for two different countries, and enough individual achievements to warrant a Hall of Fame induction. They are also two of the most fearless slashers in the game, capable of hitting acrobatic shots among the giants, and often tumbling to the floor in the process. Have their hard minutes caught up with them at the worst possible time?

San Antonio’s Mani Ginobili openly discussed retiring after his poor play in Games 1-4. Even after an inspiring Game 5 performance his plus-minus is at –38 for the series. The next worst Spur is at -4. Miami’s Dwyane Wade, hobbled by an aching left knee, stands at –52. Both teams, for the most part, have played better without them on the floor.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich ignored the noise and started Ginobili for the first time all season in Game 5; the Argentinian tallied 24 points and 10 assists and looked like pre-bald spot Ginobili. He played 35 minutes in Tuesday’s Game 6 overtime loss and was on the court in crunch time. With San Antonio down one in the closing seconds, he drove into a swarm of defenders and was stripped, giving him nearly as many turnovers in the game (8) as points (9).

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has been less certain about what to do with Wade. Like Ginobili, Wade elevated his play for one game this series: Game 4, when he scored 32. But he struggled on Tuesday and Spoelstra benched him for the majority of the fourth quarter, when Miami rallied. The effect of Wade not on the floor was clear—the Heat’s offensive spacing was better, LeBron James had more driving lanes, and the defense was improved.

Tonight, the coaches face decisions that will go a long way in determining which team hoists the trophy (9:00, ABC). Spoelstra’s dilemma is that Wade’s knee, widely believed to be a huge factor in his struggles, is not always in pain. if he’s feeling good, he can do what he did in Game 4 and not just complement LeBron but carry Miami for stretches. When he’s hobbled, he hurts his team.

Ginobili has always been a challenge for Popovich. In a recent Sports Illustrated article, Chris Ballard writes that Pop had to learn to stop coaching Ginobili so as not to stifle his creativity on the court. Yesterday I asked Ballard if he thought Popovich would limit Ginobili’s minutes tonight. He wrote back that it would “kill Pop to do so,” and that “you take the good with the bad” with Ginobili.

Those might sound like sentiments better reserved for a youth league than Game 7 of the NBA Finals, but Popovich is a ruthless tactician. He’s likely going to play Ginobili major minutes, but not because he feels sorry for him. Besides Tony Parker, Ginobili is still San Antonio’s best shot creator. His turnovers have been the biggest issue; Pop will simply have to hope his brilliant/careless guard is more brilliant tonight.

Both coaches will likely dance with the players they brought. If one player can deliver a vintage performance he will likely will be celebrating at the final buzzer.

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