NBA Experiencing the Pinnacle of Sports: Game 7
When I first wrote about this series, I said that I was excited; this was going to be a battle between two experienced teams loaded with talent and skill. I thought it was going to be an extremely well-played series. I thought every game was going to be close. Sadly, the first five games weren’t as exciting as I hoped. Game 1 was great, but then the Heat and the Spurs took turns beating the hell out of each other, like two heavyweight boxers who became apathetic to putting their hands up.
It was a true trade of blowouts; neither team was able to string together two wins in a row. When it looked like the Spurs were too old and slow to keep up with this Heat team, they used their offense to key together big scoring runs and got contributions from their unheralded talent. When it looked like the Heat were shying away from the moment, one of their stars came up huge. Each coach kept changing their lineups to find even the most minuscule advantage.
And then came Game 6.
Holy crap, Game 6.
At first, it seemed like the Spurs were going to run away with it. Tim Duncan had turned the clock back to 2003 and was putting together a classic performance (25 points in the first half!) while the Heat just couldn’t get it together. In the first half, LeBron James only had nine points and looked frustrated by the Spurs defense. The Spurs ran out to a 12-point lead at halftime and it looked like this was going to be the tone for the rest of the game.
But, the Spurs just weren’t able to run away with the game in the second half. Tim Duncan, who had gotten the best of every match-up the Heat had thrown at him, suddenly wasn’t getting the same kind of looks. The Spurs offense, which had been running exceptionally well in the first half, was now grinding to a halt and seemed to be forcing isolation plays for Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili. While the Spurs stayed on top in the third quarter, they didn’t gain any ground and only led by 10 points.
What came next was nothing short of extraordinary.
It started off plainly with a Mario Chalmers three-pointer to make it a 7 point game, then LeBron made a driving layup to cut it to 5. Manu hits a 2 pointer, but then a Mike Miller three brings the difference back to 5. The Spurs take a timeout.
LeBron goes up for a dunk and gets his sweatband knocked off by Tim Duncan. Of course, this is all LeBron needed to channel his true pow-oh wait. I’m not on First Take. This has nothing to do with anything, especially not the play of the greatest player alive.
What did happen was a classic rope-a-dope strategy by LeBron and the Heat. They let the Spurs build a lead — but not too big a lead — and tire themselves out. When it became winning time, the Heat had a fifth gear and the Spurs were stuck in fourth. Another dunk by LeBron a few seconds later, and the Heat are only down 3.
Now, the Heat defense — the nebulous, athletic, smothering defense — is in full effect. The perimeter is packed and the Spurs can’t seem to get any thing going. Their shooters can’t seem to find the space they once could and interior passes are met by hard double teams. The Heat get a rebound off of a Danny Green miss and LeBron scores on the next possession to make it 82-79. Chris Anderson throws in a free throw and the Heat are only down by 2. And then, after another Danny Green miss, Jesus Shuttlesworth starts to make his presence known.
A nice little layup. The Heat take a 2 point lead. Suddenly, the narrative changes. It’s no longer about the Spurs’ grit and toughness; it’s about the Heat’s comeback and domination. The Spurs are looking old again. But it’s Kawhi Leonard, one of the few Spurs under 30, who makes an impact and keeps the Spurs within 1.
Leonard came up huge in this game with 22 points and was a much needed contributor, a fact that will get swept under the rug quicker than you can say “clank” in a few minutes. LeBron makes a layup to push the Heat lead back to three, the cadaver formally known as Manu Ginobili hits layup to keep it to 1 point. Dwyane Wade hits two free throws and the Heat are back up 3. The Spurs take a timeout.
If it wasn’t for a few mistakes, this game would be known as Tony Parker’s best for what happens next.
Boom. Tie game.
An incredible shot by a guy who has had his fill of incredible shots in this series. LeBron couldn’t have defended it better, but Parker found juuuuuust enough space to pull up and hit that three to tie it. Parker gets a steal off of a bad Chalmers pass and puts it in for a 2 point lead.
As fantastic as LeBron had been in the fourth, the next sequence of plays were about to define his 2013 season.
- Kawhi Leonard steals the ball from him and it leads to two Manu Ginobili free throws.
- On the next possession, he throws a bad pass that Manu Ginobili steals and gets fouled.
- Ginobili misses the first free throw and keeps Miami’s hopes alive in a 5 point game.
- Miami fans storm to the exits.
- The sports world points and laughs.
But it’s not over yet. In an effort to benefit his perimeter defense, Gregg Popovich elects to leave Tim Duncan on the bench on the next Heat possession. Somewhere, Frank Vogel shakes his head sadly.
LeBron brings it to two. The Spurs advance the ball and look to get it to one of their better free throw shooters. They got it into Kawhi Leonard.
The first free throw spins around the rim and falls out. San Antonio fans puke a little bit into their mouths as Miami fans are trying to find a way into da clubz. Leonard hits the second and keep the Spurs up 3. Miami takes a timeout, and again the Popovich takes out Duncan. I’m not sure why he does this a second time. I understand the need for good perimeter defense, but after getting burned on an offensive rebound a possession before, I’d put Timmy back in. As the saying goes: “Those who do not recognize history are doomed to repeat it.”
But hey, maybe it won’t be so bad. It’s not like Miami has the greatest three-point shooter of all time out there on the floor.
I think Ray Allen wanted us all to remember that he’s been doing this for years and not just in one extraordinarily hot week.
Boom. Tie game. San Antonio fans can’t believe what just happened, and Heat fans just got texts from their friends that maybe something good happened but they’re not very sure but people seem excited so they should go back to their seats.
Tony Parker can’t hit a miracle shot, and we head into overtime.
Lo and behold, as is likely to happen, the Heat finish off the win.
Game 7 is tonight. There’s an excitement when there’s a Game 7 in any sport. An entire season boiled down to one final “win or go home” scenario.
- Will the Spurs cement their dynasty, or have the Heat laid down a foundation for a new one?
- Can the Spurs get one more game from their big 3?
- Will Chris Bosh continue his outrageous defensive performance?
- Will the refs let the teams play?
- Will Dwyane Wade show up?
- Will Manu?
- Can the Spurs role players bring their A-games?
- Who will win?
So many questions, so little time to answer them before we all find out. My prediction? I think the Heat win going away. As mentally tough as the Spurs are, it’s difficult to bounce back from a loss like that. Miami smells blood in the water, and they’re not going to let up. This game will have a lot of hype, but it will be difficult to watch as a former champion gets dismantled on South Beach and this video starts to have an eerily prophetic feel to it.
When not attempting reverse jinxes, Ben Christ writes about Sports and Videogames for Hobbes Lives.