In a series full of surprises, the San Antonio Spurs shocked the NBA in Tuesday’s Game 6 by failing to do what has done them so well since the Clinton Administration – execute fundamentals down the stretch.
San Antonio gave up two crucial offensive rebounds in the final moments of the fourth quarter of the Miami Heat’s eventual 103-100 win in Game 6, leading to two dagger three-pointers from LeBron James and Ray Allen. The Spurs also aided in Miami’s cause by missing two big free throws in the final minute of regulation, failing to call a timeout down one point with a minute to go in overtime, along with curiously sitting stars Tim Duncan late in regulation defensively in order to match up with Miami’s small lineup, and Tony Parker (who had hit a clutch three-pointer late in the fourth quarter) offensively in the final play of overtime.
It was enough for Miami, a team that was down double-digits in the fourth and seemed to have no answer for San Antonio’s long-armed, paint-packing defense, to pull out the win. In a night full of shrugged shoulders and clueless offense, the Heat had all the answers in fourth quarter and overtime when it came to opportunistic play, and while Miami doesn’t have much to build on Xs and Os-wise heading into a decisive Game 7 on Thursday, it has a Large Hadron Collider’s-worth of momentum as it suits up for the final game of the 2012-13 NBA season.
Despite the missteps on either end, it was a classic game, and perhaps the best NBA Finals contest in years. The Spurs rocked out to an early advantage in the first half based around Tim Duncan’s efficient and decisive work in the paint. The Spurs center made his first eight shots and dove into halftime with 25 points to his credit, dominating a Miami defense that seemed hell-bent on stopping sharpshooter Danny Green from getting open looks on the outside.
The roll kept on in the third quarter, except by then Duncan (who finished with 32 points and 17 rebounds) had stepped aside to let Tony Parker (19 points) and Kawhi Leonard (22 points) take over some of the scoring load. The real breakthrough came on defense, though, as San Antonio continually went under screens and clogged the middle so as to bait Heat scorers into turning into Heat shooters. The result was a combined 38 points for Miami in the middle two quarters, hardly the sort of output needed to pull even in what could have been a decisive NBA Finals game.
By the end of the third, though, the Spurs were absolutely gassed. San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich had no choice but to sit Tony Parker and Tim Duncan for extended minutes to start the fourth period, and as a result the Heat clawed their way back to an eventual two-point lead on a Dwyane Wade lay-in. LeBron James, meanwhile, began to dominate on his own – taking advantage of step-slow San Antonio defense in the recovery zones, making up for a 3-12 start to the game from the field to finish with 32 points on 11-26 shooting, with 11 assists and 10 turnovers.
A quick mini-run from San Antonio, predicated on defense and opportunistic offense of its own (including the aforementioned desperation three-pointer by Parker over tough defense by James) gave the team a five point edge heading into the game’s final minute, and after Dwyane Wade clanged a turnaround jumper it seemed like the title was all San Antonio’s.
The champs weren’t done, though.
After Manu Ginobili split a pair of free throws with 28 seconds to go, LeBron James missed a 26-foot heave in an attempt to cut the lead to two. Mike Miller secured the offensive rebound and immediately dished back out to James, who hit on his second three-point attempt. After Kawhi Leonard was intentionally fouled, the second-year swingman’s first free throw spun in and out. He made the second, but the Heat were down to a one-possession deficit. With Tim Duncan watching from the sideline, James again missed a three-pointer, but Chris Bosh sent his offensive rebound toward Ray Allen, who hit a game-tying three-pointer with just five seconds left. San Antonio could not score to end regulation.
San Antonio had its chances in overtime, but it simply did not have the legs to compete offensively, scoring just five points in the five-minute overtime period. Parker looked especially winded, and while Spurs fans will bemoan a missed foul call that could have sent Manu Ginobili to the line to tie the contest late in OT, the Spurs seemed to receive all of the close calls in what at the time appeared to be the deciding third and fourth quarter, and Manu himself did the Spurs no such favors with eight turnovers in a poor performance.
The Spurs competed, though, in that overtime. And while that may seem like slim praise for a team that blew a chance at winning the NBA title in six games, understand that no other team in modern NBA history has entered an overtime period like that with a burden like San Antonio’s. And though the Spurs eventually fell, most other teams would have fallen in a far more decisive and embarrassing manner after a gut punch like that. This bodes well for their Game 7.
LeBron’s brilliance, Miami’s younger legs, and San Antonio’s closing window does not bode well, however. Then again, this why we play these games. On-paper advantages haven’t done a damn thing for the Miami Heat in the 2013 postseason, so why should things start working that way on Thursday?
We get a Thursday, and that’s all that matters. One game to win it all. It’s hard to ask for much more from an NBA season.