With 28.2 seconds remaining in Game 6 of the NBA Finals, the stage was set for the San Antonio Spurs to claim their fifth NBA championship, as the Spurs had the defending champion Miami Heat on the ropes with a 94-89 lead.
But as LeBron James said after the game Tuesday, there’s a reason basketball is a full 48-minutes and not 47:30 minutes.
“And you know,” said James of his teams 103-100 overtime victory, “that's why you play the game, to the final buzzer. And that's what we did tonight. We gave it everything that we had and more.”
For Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, he sees a successful defensive possession as one in which the opposing team misses and your team secures the rebound. Even if the other team misses, you still have to grab the rebound to actually complete a full defensive possession.
On Thursday, with a 5-point lead in their hands and 28 seconds left, the Spurs failed to follow their coach’s principle.
After Manu Ginobili gave the Spurs that 5-point lead by making one of his two late game free throws, the Heat went down on the other end of the court and James took a contested 3-pointer that he missed. However, the Heat regained the offensive rebound and James connected on his second 3-pointer to cut the Spurs’ lead down 94-92 with 20 seconds remaining.
Kawhi Leonard (22 points, 11 rebounds) would receive the ball and visit the foul line but the young 21-year old couldn’t connect on both free throws and there sat the Spurs with a 2-point lead and 19.4 seconds remaining.
James would take another contested 3-pointer on the other end for the Heat but Chris Bosh would grab the rebound, find Ray Allen in the right corner and Allen would sink the 3-pointer to tie the game at 95 with 05.2 seconds remaining.
Without any timeouts to advance the ball, Tony Parker would run the length of the court and force a shot that had no chance to go in. There were the Spurs, title in their grasps, and they couldn’t close out the Heat because of two defensive stops.
“It was just unfortunate the bounces that we get,” said Tim Duncan after the game, “but that's how basketball goes. They're a very good team over there and they continue to play right down to the wire.”
In overtime, the Spurs and Heat would exchange the lead but with 2.4 seconds remaining and his team trailing the Heat 102-100, Ginobili would turn the ball over for the 8th time of the night and then Allen would make two more free throws to give the Heat the eventual 103-100 score.
As Bosh did in the first regulation with the big rebound in crunch time, he came through again as he blocked a Danny Green desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer.
With the win, the Heat forced a Game 7 at home and according to Allen, who is a past champion, in order to win a title, you need luck, and luck was definitely on Miami’s side with their backs against the wall Tuesday.
“And I've known my whole career sometimes you just get lucky,” said Allen. “When you win championships, it involves a little luck. That right there was luck shining on our side.”
There were a lot of reasons why the Spurs couldn’t close out the Heat in Game 6 that didn’t really involve luck, but mistakes more on their own part.
Ginobili, who was the hero in Game 5, returned to his struggling form in the Finals as he finished the game shooting 2-of-5, scored nine points, only had three assists, and had a career high eight turnovers. The Spurs as a whole had 15 turnovers; Ginobili was responsible for more than half of them. After the game, he knew he had one of his worst games possible.
“I was very insecure‑‑ well, I had a career high in turnovers in a really bad moment,” said Ginobili after the game. “It really helps to make me feel terrible.”
“Even with all that,” continued Ginobili, “we were so close of winning it. So it's one of the many things I'll be thinking tonight.”
The saying, the ‘Spurs go as Parker goes’ had more truthfulness to it again as Tony Parker struggled from the field shooting 6-of-23 from the floor, passing for eight assists, and scoring 19 points.
He had a bright moment late in the fourth quarter as he went on a personal 5-0 run to regain the lead for the Spurs, but in overtime, when his team needed him most, he went 0-for-4 and only scored one point. Although, Parker did mention he was fatigued in overtime.
“I was cramping a little bit at the end of the game,” said Parker.
Aside from the 12 offensive rebounds and 15 turnovers, free throw shooting came back to haunt the Spurs as well in the end. The Spurs left seven points at the free throw line (21-of-28), but four of those misses came in the fourth quarter and overtime.
Duncan, who had a brilliant first half (25 points) and 30-points and 17-rebounds overall, mentioned free throws as a big part of why the team couldn’t close out the game.
“We missed some free throws down the stretch that could have clinched it for us,” said Duncan after the game.
On the Heat side, you have to give them credit for their comeback victory. Down 13 points late in the third quarter and starting the fourth quarter trailing by 10 points, James became that player so many of his critics want him to be: A player who looks absolutely unstoppable when he has that fire in his eye.
James went into what some were calling “Nova” mode in the fourth quarter as he scored 16 of his 32 points in the quarter while finishing with a triple double as he added 11 assists and 10 rebounds.
On a night when Dwayne Wade was struggling (14 points) and looked like he re-aggravated a knee injury, the Heat role players came to James’ aide. Mario Chalmers stayed consistent throughout the game as he scored 20 points, Bosh had a quiet 10 points and 11 rebounds, and all of Allen’s 9 points came in the fourth quarter and overtime.
And as their offense struggled for two quarters, the Heat defense really clamped down on the Spurs in the fourth quarter (20 points) and overtime (5 points). As promised before the game by Bosh, the Heat took away the Spurs’ best 3-point shooter in the series, Green, as Green could only take five attempts from distance and he only made one of them. Green finished 1-of-7 from the floor and only scored three points. The Spurs as a whole shot just 5-of-18 from 3-point range.
Now with the series all knotted up at three games a piece, the Heat are glad they won those 66 games during the regular season to host Game 7 on their home floor.
For the Spurs, they’ll have to regroup both physically and mentally as they still have a chance to win that 5th NBA Championship on Thursday.
“We'll use these 48 hours until the next one to get physically right, get reenergized,” said Duncan. “We'll do what we usually do. We'll watch a little bit of film, and make a couple of little tweaks.”
“Obviously, it's a tough loss,” added Parker. “We had a great opportunity to finish it. But that's basketball. We can show what we're made of and have a great opportunity‑‑ can't forget we have another opportunity on Thursday to try to win a championship.”
And for all those San Antonio fans who are thinking that series is over just because the Spurs failed to close out Game 6, I leave you with the man at the head of the team, Coach Popovich, whose comment about Game 7 ought to remind you he will have his players ready even after a tough loss.
When asked how he’ll get his team ready for Game 7, Popovich gave a “Pop” answer. “Get them on a bus,” said Popovich, “it arrives at the ramp over here, we get off the bus, we get on the court and we play. That's how we get ready.”