- Series Hub: Spurs-Heat
MIAMI – The yellow rope had been arranged carefully around the perimeter of the court at AmericanAirlines Arena. Less than a minute remained and the San Antonio Spurs were up by five points, so out of necessity, the logistics and security of their trophy presentation were underway.
In moments, that rope would be pulled high and tight, sealing the court like the something velvet separating the unwashed from South Beach’s swankiest. The Larry O’Brien trophy would be hustled onto the floor as most of the Miami Heat fans who hadn’t already left found the exits. Celtics legend Bill Russell would amble onto the floor, too, to hand off the eponymous hardware given to The Finals MVP.
Then and there, that figured to be Tim Duncan, who, hmm, just happened to have checked out of the game with 28.2 seconds left, his side up 94-89.
In perhaps the most glaring celebration shutdown since the Lakers’ infamous balloons high in the rafters of Los Angeles’ Forum went pfffft! against the Boston Celtics in the 1969 Finals, that “victory rope” Tuesday night in south Florida got turned into crime-scene tape.
So steady and fundamentally sound, the Spurs failed not once, but twice, at one of the game’s essential skills. Maybe you’ve heard of it: No rebounds, no rings. Plenty of nightmares, though.
And the Miami Heat, just seconds from elimination in six games and an endless summer of second-guessing and rebuke, were revived. Alive. And finally in control again, their 103-100 overtime victory tucked away along with momentum what’s left of the 2013 Finals and the home court for Game 7.
As for LeBron James, the lightning rod for so much criticism and praise and everything in between, he’s not letting people write him or his team off quite yet. In the fourth quarter and overtime, he had 18 points, four rebounds, four assists, one steal and one block (of Duncan) in capping another triple-double. He shot 8-for-14, threw off one headband, went from hero to goat and back again several times over and summarized the whole evening better than those actually charged with doing so.
“It was by far the best game I’ve ever been a part of,” a thoroughly relaxed (and relieved?) James told reporters after midnight. “The ups and downs, the roller coaster, the emotions, good and bad through the whole game. To be a part of something like this is something you would never be able to recreate once you’re done playing the game.
“I’m blessed to be a part of something like this. And I’m happy about the way we dug down and were able to get a win it didn’t look like we could muster up at some point in the game.”
Miami had trailed by 13 deep in the third quarter and by 10, 75-65, at the start of the fourth. Then the defending champions – adversity junkies, too, for the past two playoff rounds – embraced the desperation. Mario Chalmers hit a 3-pointer, James drove for a layup and Mike Miller went downtown without one shoe. At 79-74, James fashioned an 11-3 run by scoring or assisting on nine of the points, putting the Heat up 84-82 with 6:03 to go.
The Spurs were faltering, aching, running on fumes. Duncan — his 25-point first half seemingly so long ago — hadn’t adjusted to a more aggressive Miami defense and neither had Manu Ginboli or Tony Parker. But James was back to muffing things too in a sloppy, enthralling mess of a finish.
“I basically just told myself, give it all I got,” the MVP said. “If we go down losing, I’m going to go down with no bullets. I’m going all out. … I just tried to play both sides of the floor on a high-intense level until I had no more left in the tank.”
San Antonio was righting itself. Ginobili raced downcourt for a layup, then Parker hit a step-back 3-pointer over James and a spin around Chalmers for two more. James went 1-on-1 vs. Parker but lost the ball. Then he turned it over again 11 seconds later.
And there the Heat were, down 94-89 with 28.2 seconds left. The yellow rope was out – it wasn’t the Spurs’ fault, it’s not even their building – and the Miami players noticed. Ticked them off.
“That’s why you play the game to the final buzzer,” James said.
So James missed a 3-pointer, the ball bounced off, Duncan wasn’t around to possibly gran the rebound and James canned a second chance from the arc. Duncan subbed in for the Spurs’ offensive possession but, when Kawhi Leonard got fouled and missed the first of his two free throws, he subbed out again. It was 95-92, 19.4 seconds left.
This time, James fired from out front again, Chris Bosh got the ball from grabbing hands that, again, didn’t include Duncan’s. He shoveled the ball to Ray Allen on the right baseline and instinctively, the NBA’s all-time champion of 3-point makes and takes did what he does.
Where was Duncan? It was eerily similar to Pacers big man Roy Hibbert sitting out two late crucial plays against Miami in Game 1 of the East finals. The Spurs’ Hall of Fame-bound center defended the moves because his team has played that way all season, opting for a switching defense with more mobile players on the floor.
“We got a stop and we got a bad bounce, and right out to Ray Allen for a 3, ” Duncan said. “Just situational. But there’s no questions there. It’s the plays we’ve been making all season long.”
San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich doesn’t favor what he dismissed as the “European” approach of fouling when up by three points near the end. So, apparently, no questions there either.
In overtime, San Antonio stopped scoring with 2:42 left. Its 100-97 lead vanished amid an Allen catch-and-shoot on the move, a layup by James, three missed jump shots and three turnovers when poise mattered most. Now this whole series has been pushed into overtime for the Spurs, who will drag around what-might-have-beens for 48 hours before getting a chance to do all over again what they essentially had done.
“So, it’s terrible,” Ginobili said.
A few minutes later, from the same chair, James was laughing. “We could have played the worst six games of our lives,” he said, “but we got a Game 7 on our floor.”
That’s everything Miami could have hoped for. It’s everything San Antonio must dread, from the moment the yellow rope came out.