3. Manu packs James Harden in a pivotal Game 5
The latest entry in the Texas rivalry between the Spurs and Rockets in 2017 had a little bit of everything. Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge were forming the next one-two punch in San Antonio, Jonathon Simmons had come out of nowhere to play critical minutes, and Manu Ginobili was on the verge of retirement at age 39.
On the other end, one of the most hated rivals of Spurs fans, James Harden, was cooking in the playoffs and just put up 28 points and 12 rebounds to help the Rockets blow out San Antonio in Game 4.
Harden's style of play is what bothered many Spurs fans the most, as he often made his offensive priority to draw fouls instead of seeking real shots. Still, no matter how he got his points, he already had a triple-double highlighted by 33 points when he received the ball with five seconds left and his team down by three points in Game 5 .
Facing a 27-year-old Harden on the perimeter, Manu appeared to be beaten by The Beard to the 3-point line. With his tremendous hustle and basketball IQ, though, Ginobili jumped even before Harden did and secured a game-saving block to give the Spurs a 3-2 series lead.
San Antonio went on to blow out Houston on the road in Game 6 without Kawhi Leonard in what's widely regarded Harden's worst game of all time.
Manu Ginobili's huge play in Game 5 of the 2017 Western Conference Semifinals might be the most popular play in Spurs history if it wasn't for the Memorial Day Miracle.
2. Manu Ginobili makes the shot that defines his international success
It would be a severe oversight if I got through this countdown without acknowledging one of the biggest reasons Manu Ginobili was such a global phenomenon. The leader of the Golden Generation of Argentina basketball, perhaps his crowning achievement in the world of basketball came in the summer of 2004.
Leading up to the 2004 Olympic Games, Team United States had won the gold medal in the previous three tournaments, and Manu Ginobili was determined to make sure that streak ended. Yet, Team Argentina got off to a rough start on the opening day of the tournament, finding themselves down by a point to Serbia with 3.8 seconds left and no timeouts.
What followed was some Manu magic that was only a taste of what was to come in the tournament. Ginobili's leaning, falling-out-of-bounds bank shot secured an unlikely victory and thrilled the Athens crowd.
This happened during group play, meaning Argentina still would've been alive even if they'd lost this game. But as is the case with many plays on this countdown, this one just perfectly encapsulates Ginobili's spirit and never-give-up attitude.
Argentina still ended up losing a couple of group play games, but when the knockout rounds began, Manu went into overdrive. Against a Team USA roster consisting of Tim Duncan, Allen Iverson, Dwyane Wade, and a young LeBron James, he buried four 3-pointers on the way to 29 points and an 89-81 win.
Manu pitched in another 16 points in the gold medal game that Argentina won over Italy, and his legacy was forever cemented in international basketball history from that day forward.