What message did San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich tell his team in the locker room just after losing the NBA Finals to the Miami Heat 95-88?
“I just told them I loved them,” said Popovich.
Game 7 brought out the best two teams in the NBA and they battled for four straight quarters, back and forth, until the Heat ended up being the victor with a LeBron James jump shot from 19-feet away with 27.9 seconds remaining.
The Spurs would try to make a comeback like the Heat did in Game 6, except the cards or like Ray Allen said after Game 6, “luck”, didn’t fall on their side Thursday.
For Heat head Coach Erik Spoelstra, the Spurs were the toughest competition his team has ever faced.
Spoelstra started, “but absolute respect and our hats go off to the San Antonio Spurs. A class organization. A championship organization. We have as much respect for them as anybody in this league. And that was the toughest series we've ever been in.”
“LeBron was unbelievable,” said Tim Duncan after the game. “Dwyane was great. I just think they found a way to get it done. We stayed in the game. We gave ourselves opportunities to win the game, we just couldn't turn that corner. They made more plays down the stretch, bottom line.”
James was just that, unbelievable. James led the Heat with 37 points, 12 rebounds, and two steals. Throughout the entire series the Spurs were daring James to take jump shots and specifically 3-pointers. Thursday though, the strategy backfired on them as James knocked down 5-of-10 three pointers.
“Yeah, he carried his team tonight,” said Kawhi Leonard of James. “He was very aggressive. He played great.”
James’ sidekick Wade also pushed through the injuries that are currently affecting his body to score 23 points, grab 10 rebounds, and provide two blocks.
On a night where Chris Bosh, Mike Miller, and Ray Allen were all held scoreless for Miami, Shane Battier (18 points) and Mario Chalmers (14 points) provided the support in the scoring department to assist Wade and James.
Battier was huge off the bench as he knocked down 6-of-8 three pointers.
On the Spurs’ side, Duncan led the team with 24 points, 12 rebounds, 4 steals, and 1 block. For Duncan, Game 7 will be a game he remembers more than Game 6 because he had a chance to tie the game in the final minute, but failed to make a 4-foot hook with Battier mismatched and defending him.
When asked if he thought the series was lost in Game 6, Duncan responded: “For me, no. Game 7, missing a lay‑up to tie the game. Making a bad decision down the stretch. Just unable to stop Dwyane and LeBron. Probably for me Game 7 is always going to haunt me.”
The Spurs’ rising young star, Leonard was Duncan’s sidekick Thursday as he scored 19 points, grabbed 16 rebounds, had 1 steal, and 1 block.
After cutting the Heat lead to 2-points with two minutes remaining with a 3-pointer, Leonard had a chance to give the Spurs the lead with 1:26 remaining, but as written earlier, luck just wasn’t on their side.
“I just talked to Kawhi and told him he was absolutely amazing,” said Popovich. “Nobody expected him at this young age to play the way he has through the whole playoffs. He really is a star in the making. He's just beginning to feel what he has.”
A man who needed a redemption game, Manu Ginobili, did what he could to contribute a bit more positively to the team on Thursday as Ginobili finished the game with 18 points and five assists.
When the Spurs were falling behind by six points, he was responsible for draining a 3-pointer to bring the Heat lead back to a one possession game in the final five minutes. But with Ginobili, there’s always a risk. Ginobili, after not turning the ball over in the first three quarters, turn the ball over four times in the fourth quarter, his last one just after James had put the Heat up 4 points and 28 seconds remaining.
Ginobili for one, will always remember Game 6.
“In my case I still have Game 6 in my head,” said Ginobili. “But being so close and feeling that you are about to grab that trophy, and then seeing it vanish is very hard.”
“So many little things that could have gone our way in the last play or the last two plays to win it,” continued Ginobili on Game 6, “that, you know, there's such a fine line, such a fine line between being celebrating and having a great summer, with now feeling like crap and just so disappointed.”
As the Heat had Battier and Chalmers step up for their struggling members, the Spurs unfortunately didn’t get the same support as Tony Parker, Danny Green, and Gary Neal all struggled when Duncan, Leonard, and Ginobili needed them most.
“I have no excuse,” said Parker after the game. “I'm not going to put it on my hammy and stuff like that. I just didn't play well. My shot was not falling. Couldn't get in a rhythm tonight.”
Parker, in an elimination game, finished with 10 points on 3-of-12 shooting, turned the ball over twice, and only passed for four assists. He was also held scoreless in the second half when his team needed him most. Whether he’ll admit it or not, one could infer that the numerous injuries Parker endured through the entire season finally caught up to him in the Spurs’ finale.
"You've got to come to play and I didn't,” said Green after the game. “I let Timmy, Manu, and Pop down."
The two shooters who were terrorizing the Heat defense with their hot 3-point shooting through games 1-5 again struggled in Game 7, as Green and Neal combined for 10 points on 3-of-19 shooting. The Spurs’ bench as a whole was outscored 21-12.
With a long summer approaching them, the 2013 season didn’t end like the previous five seasons where the Spurs failed to win the championship. Instead, they’ll remember this one because they had the championship trophy in their hands in Game 6, but couldn’t seal the deal.
Even for a soon to be Hall-of-Famer like Duncan, he’ll remember Game 7 as the game where he failed to sink a jump hook and it eventually cost him a title.
“For our part,” said Popovich, “I couldn't love our guys more. What they accomplished this year is something nobody would have ever expected. And they showed a lot of mental toughness and a lot of good play to get where they got. And I couldn't be more proud of them.”
“We had a great opportunity in Game 6, and tonight we did a great fight, but just couldn't get over the hump,” finished Parker.
“That's life, sports.”