Five points and 28 seconds. It’s all that stood between the San Antonio Spurs and a stunning fifth championship.
Five points and 28 seconds to knock out hero-turned-goat-turned-hero again LeBron James and the Miami Heat on their home floor.
Five points and 28 seconds to immortality for Tim Duncan, who had delivered a masterful Game 6.
Five points and 28 seconds the Spurs might never live down.
San Antonio led 94-89 with 28.2 seconds left and it could have been a six-point bulge had Manu Ginobili not missed the front end of two free throws. From there the Spurs collapsed. Kawhi Leonard missed a free throw with 19.4 seconds left that could have been the clincher. The unflappable coach Gregg Popovich will reflect on some questionable strategic calls in the crunch, such as twice removing Duncan on Heat possessions. And twice, the Heat took advantage with offensive rebounds that led to 3-pointers, first from James to slice the deficit to 94-92 with 20.1 seconds left and then from Ray Allen with 5.2 seconds to go to force overtime.
Five points and 28 seconds that could ultimately define the 2013 NBA Finals.
A look at what went right and what went wrong:
Right: His critics ready to pounce, and in this case rightly so, James came through in the clutch with his team hanging onto life by a thread. Through three quarters, James had three field goals and two turnovers. He had missed nine shots and the Heat trailed 75-65, just 12 minutes away from elimination. Then James turned in a phenomenal fourth quarter with 16 points and a tremendous block of Duncan at the rim. However, there were also the three turnovers, two on consecutive possessions in a 12-second span with less than 40 seconds to play. The Spurs went up five, but the now-headband-less James nailed the crucial 3-pointer with 20.1 seconds to go. He ultimately finished with his second triple-double of The Finals.
Wrong: Was Popovich responsible for James and the Heat catching fire to open the third quarter? On the road, up 10 and 12 minutes away from claiming the title, Popovich opted to start the fourth quarter with Parker and Duncan on the bench and a five-man unit of struggling offensive players: Gary Neal, Danny Green, Manu Ginobili, Boris Diaw and Tiago Splitter. Ninety-four seconds later, the Spurs’ 75-65 lead was 77-73 and Miami charging hard. Popovich quickly summoned Leonard off the bench and then Duncan at the 9:23 mark. Parker sat until the 7:35 mark with San Antonio clinging to an 82-79 lead. With a chance to bury the Heat, Popovich chose to rest his two big guns at the same time, a move that backfired.
Right: Prior to Game 6, Chris Bosh said that Spurs sharpshooter Green wouldn’t find much open space to go off from the 3-point arc, where he had made 25-for-38 in the first five games. When Green got free for a wide-open 3 that he buried in the second quarter, there was plenty of sniping at Bosh in the Twitterverse. He’d get the last laugh as Green wouldn’t make another shot from beyond the arc, finishing 1-for-5 from back there and 1-for-7 overall for three points. Meanwhile, Bosh would grab 11 rebounds, including a huge offensive board in the final seconds of regulation that set up Allen’s game-tying 3-pointer. Bosh also blocked Parker’s jumper with 32.3 seconds left in overtime and then he swatted Green’s desperation corner 3 as the final buzzer sounded.
Wrong: The Spurs’ backcourt failed to come through on both ends. Parker, Ginobili, Neal and Green combined to go 11-for-42 from the floor (26.2 percent) and 4-for-14 (28.6 percent) from beyond the arc with 10 turnovers, eight of which were committed by Ginobili. Each made just one 3-pointer and the Spurs’ five from beyond the arc were their fewest of the series. At the other end, Miami point guard Mario Chalmers killed Parker and anyone else guarding him with 20 points. He had 14 points in the first half, which was one more point than Chalmers had managed in the previous three games combined.
Right: Miami shooting guard Mike Miller remarkably recorded his first field goals of the series as a starter. Inserted into the starting lineup for Game 4 after going 9-for-10 from beyond the arc in the first three games, Miller could barely get a shot up as a starter, going 0-for-1 for no points in Games 4 and 5. In Game 6, he hit his first 3-point attempt in the first quarter and finished 2-for-2 from back there and with eight points, seven rebounds and two assists. His biggest contribution was his lone offensive rebound of the game with 22.9 seconds to go in regulation. He split a couple of Spurs and grabbed James’ 3-point miss, got it back out to James on the wing where he nailed his second attempt to cut the Spurs’ lead to 94-92.
Wrong: Manu, Manu, Manu. After his feel-good, 24-point, 10-assist breakout in Game 5, Ginobili reverted to his mostly bumbling ways in this series, low-lighted by eight turnovers, including two critical miscues in overtime. He was horrendous on the offensive end with just nine points and getting of just five shot attempts. He thought he got raked across the arm driving through the lane in the final seconds. No call was made and he could have just as easily been whistled for traveling. The ball popped free and into the arms of Allen, who was fouled and hit the two free throws for the 103-100 lead with 1.9 seconds to go.
Right: The Heat and Allen turned the tables on the Spurs from the 3-point arc, knocking down 11-for-19 while the Spurs went just 5-for-18 — and 18-point differential. Allen, the league’s all-time 3-point leader, has been overshadowed by Green during this series. In Game 5, Green broke Allen’s Finals record for most 3-pointers in a single Finals. Not to be outdone, Allen dropped the game-tying 3-pointer with 5.2 seconds to go and saved the Heat from elimination.
Wrong: After Parker hit a 3-pointer and a little dipsy-do shot in the lane and Ginobili made one of two free throws for a 94-89 lead with 28.2 seconds to go, the Heat (un)faithful started filing out of the building. Maybe for a January game against the Bobcats, but just up-and-leaving in Game 6 of the NBA Finals? No matter how dire the situation, this should never occur. In the words of Charles Barkley, “Turrrrrible!”