One more defensive rebound, and the Spurs would have been spraying champagne.
One more board, one measly Heat miss corralled by the Spurs in the final 23 seconds of regulation, and the NBA Finals are over. Forget a Game 7, forget LeBron James’ headband, forget Manu Ginobili laying a gigantic egg for the umpteenth time in the series. It should be over. Tim Duncan should be passionlessly acknowledging his fifth championship. Tony Parker should be bathed in liquor, clutching his finals Most Valuable Player trophy.
Instead, they must play on. And it is hard to see any team that was that close come back and win another game on the road, no matter how experienced and professional that team may be.
James, as he often does, toyed with everyone’s emotions for the entirety of the Heat’s 103-100 win in Game 6. He came out blazing with five points and five assists in the first quarter, but he ran into trouble when Boris Diaw entered the game and began guarding him. James sputtered through the third quarter without a basket, and as Miami began the fourth with a 10-point deficit, James’ legacy was on the line.
He came through in the fourth — sort of. James had 16 points in the final frame, but after Parker scored five straight improbable points to give the Spurs a two-point lead with 58 seconds to go, James turned the ball over on back-to-back possessions. Three free throws by Ginobili gave the Spurs a 94-89 advantage, and when James back-rimmed a 3-pointer with 23 seconds left, it was over. At least, it should have been.
But the free ball bounced off two Spurs and into the hands of Mike Miller, who flipped the ball to James, who swished a three. Still, the Spurs were in control, even after Kawhi Leonard only hit one of his two free throws to maintain San Antonio’s three-point edge. Then James missed another three with seven seconds remaining, and it was in the books, as long as the Spurs got that pesky rebound.
They didn’t. Chris Bosh, who spent most of the game getting abused by Duncan to the tune of 30 points and 17 rebounds, did. Bosh found Ray Allen in the corner for a three, and it was a tie game. It might as well have been “ball game,” because there was no way the Spurs were going to recover in that slim two-minute break between the end of regulation and the overtime tip-off. They put on a decent show, but they were done for the night. The plastic could safely be taken off the stalls in the visitor’s locker room.
The question now becomes, are the Spurs also done for the series? Normally, carryover from one game to the next is minimal. Five times previously in these finals, one team has lost in a way that many observers said there was no coming back from. Every time, the loser turned around and won the next game in equally stunning fashion. Momentum only goes as far as the next possession.
This one felt different, though. When the Spurs bounced back from the 19-point loss in Game 2 and the 16-point loss in Game 4, they were not so close to a championship that they could taste the bubbly and feel the ugly commemorative hats on their skulls. The Larry O’Brien Trophy was still an elusive goal then, whereas with 23 seconds left in the fourth quarter of Game 6, it suddenly became tangible. It wasn’t just attainable, it was attained. Only suddenly, it wasn’t anymore.
Until James and Allen hit those two massive threes in the waning seconds of the fourth quarter, the story was being written that James was a choker. Not this time. The Spurs were the ones who coughed up a sure victory on Tuesday, and they know it. If they can indeed scrub away the memory of this loss and take the title on the road on Thursday, they will accomplish the most stunning feat in this already awe-inducing series.