2013 NBA Finals: Spurs-Heat

Blogtable: Last Word On 2013 Finals




Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


Week 35: Last word on 2013 Finals | Most intriguing Draft prospect | Advice for Dwight, CP3


Last word: What I’ll remember most about the 2013 NBA Finals is …?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comTwenty-eight seconds left. Spurs up five. Miami fans heading for the exits. Then everyone got a refresher course in the fat lady and Yogi Berra.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comRay Allen‘s tying 3-pointer in Game 6. It goes in annals of the greatest clutch shots in Finals history.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: It was different. The Heat didn’t beat a team in The Finals for the first time, as in 2012. They didn’t steamroll the competition, as was the case for long attaches of the regular season. The Heat had to gut and grind these seven games out against a quality team. Different in a good way.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: How close the Spurs were to winning the championship in Game 6. If Manu Ginobili hits both free throws with 28 seconds left, if Kawhi Leonard hits both with 19 seconds left, if they could just grab a rebound on either of the Heat’s last two possessions of regulation, or if Ray Allen’s three is a couple of inches to the left or right, everything would be different. The title certainly wasn’t given to Miami, but it’s amazing how it was determined by a series of somewhat random events. Heck, Leonard’s three with 1:26 left or Duncan’s layup in the final minute of Game 7 could have been the difference as well. The whole season — 1,315 games — all came down to just a few seconds.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Ray Allen’s corner 3-pointer that sent Game 6 to overtime saved so much bacon in Miami the Heat need to retire his jersey. The fallout would have been catastrophic if he missed that shot. The fact that he had the wherewithal to back up to the 3-point line the way he did in that situation is a testament to the sort of preparation and understanding of the game that you expect from a future Hall of Famer.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Game 6. I think it’s the best game I’ve ever seen in person, and I’ve been to more games than I can count. I know the Heat fans took some criticism for leaving early, but I understand — with 28 seconds left and Miami down five, I actually went on Delta.com and tried to change my flight home. I’ve never been so glad to have had bad wireless service.

Adriano Albuquerque, NBA Brasil: It has to be Game 6 as a whole. That whole game had just so many storylines — Duncan’s first half, Birdman’s return to the rotation, Kawhi’s facial on Miller, Miller’s shoeless 3-pointer, LeBron’s eruption without the headband, the Spurs’ collapse in the final seconds, Parker’s big shots, “the yellow rope”, Ray Allen’s game-tying 3, and Bosh’s two blocks in the end. Allen’s 3 is an instant “Forever is Big” commercial.

Philipp Dornhegge, NBA Deutschland: The class that both organizations displayed. No surprise from the Spurs, but they also brought out the best in the Miami Heat. The Heat’s series with the Pacers and Bulls were dogfights, marked by a lot of chippiness. In The Finals, we got the cleanest series I’ve seen in a long time. Zero technical fouls (!), an infinite amount of mutual respect between the teams and great sportsmanship after all was said and done.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: It can’t be anything else but Game 6. From LeBron’s dominance to Ray Allen’s 3-pointer and from the Spurs’ meltdown to Gregg Popovich‘s “we don’t foul over here”. It was maybe the best NBA Finals I can recall, one for the ages. It had it all. The MVP who shushed all the haters, the old-timers with a heart as big as their legacy, newcomers (Green, Leonard, Chalmers) and above all the feeling that “we want more.” Don’t stop the season NOW. Not after THESE games! Who can wait until October?

The 28 Seconds That Ended The Spurs’ 2013 Championship Chances

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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — For Tim Duncan, the enduring image of the 2013 NBA Finals will always be the running hook he missed to tie Game 7 with about 50 seconds to play.

“Probably for me,” Duncan said afterward, “Game 7 is always going to haunt me.”

Yet it was Game 6, with the Spurs ahead 3-2 in the series, that will burn in the memories of most San Antonio fans. The Spurs opened the fourth quarter ahead by 10 points. They led by five points with 28.2 seconds to play, a lead they would almost certainly salt away 99 out of 100 times.

Game 6, though, was the 100th time.

“Bad, very bad,” Spurs guard Manu Ginobili said. “It’s a tough moment. We were a few seconds away from winning the championship and we let it go.”

The improbable unraveling in those 28.2 seconds as a fifth championship was within their team’s grasp — the inexplicable reversal of fortune that ultimately granted the Heat new life and, eventually, back-to-back championships — will be the moments that churn  stomachs in San Antonio for years to come.

“It was by far the best game I’ve ever been a part of,” LeBron James said of the Heat’s 103-100 Game 6 overtime win. “The ups and downs, the roller coaster, the emotions, good and bad throughout 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 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.”
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How Long Does The Heat Big 3 Last?





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – They haven’t even had the parade yet and all anybody wants to know is if the Miami Heat’s Big 3 is ready for an encore or the end of a fruitful three-year run together?

LeBron James isn’t going anywhere, Heat boss Pat Riley cannot let that happen. And Dwyane Wade is already the most decorated and beloved player in franchise history. He should be and probably will be allowed to leave on his own terms, whenever he gets to that point in his career.

That leaves Chris Bosh, the oft-maligned third member of the crew, the one who went scoreless in that deciding Game 7 of The Finals, the one who always seems to be at the center of trade rumors when the topic of what the next act is for this Heat outfit. If Bosh is the one member of the group that is expendable, the time to strike and make a move could be upon us this summer.

Free agency is around the corner, July 1, and if the ongoing escapades between the Los Angeles Clippers and Boston Celtics have shown us anything, it’s that there are teams out there ready to risk franchise and limb to either remain or make themselves relevant in the championship picture.

Only Riley knows how long the Heat’s Big 3 lasts. It’s going to be his call, no matter what anyone else says about it. And in the immediate aftermath of the Heat clinching their second straight title, he didn’t seem inclined to touch a hair on the head of his masterpiece:

“I just want this thing to keep going,” the 68-year-old Riley told ESPN.com after the Heat defeated the San Antonio Spurs in Game 7 of an epic Finals. “I’m at an age now where I’m ready to just fly off somewhere. But I’m not going to because the Good Lord has blessed me with a team that’s allowed me to grab onto its coattails for as long as they want to be together.”

But it’s obvious that the gap between the Heat and the rest of the pack is closing. We saw that in the playoffs, when Joakim Noah, Roy Hibbert and then Tim Duncan took turns exposing the Heat’s tender underbelly inside.

A “stretch 4 or 5″ like Bosh is a luxury for a team that is head and shoulders above the competition, a team with a healthy James and Wade to lean on night after night. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has often referred to Bosh as his team’s most important player, though I’m still not sure how much of that is honesty and how much of it is posturing to keep Bosh’s fragile confidence intact. But this three-year grind the Heat have been on has taken its toll on Wade (knees), and even LeBron looked mortal dealing with the likes of Paul George and Kawhi Leonard in the Eastern Conference finals and The Finals, respectively.

There’s a reason Bosh, an eight-time All-Star and self-professed future Hall of Famer, was reduced to pedestrian numbers this postseason. As the quality of the competition increased, Bosh’s performances didn’t increase along with it. Sure, he mustered a couple inspiring performances along the way and played a huge role at the end of the Heat’s pivotal Game 6 overtime comeback win.

But Bosh’s critics, and there are plenty of them, would point to the fact that Spurs coach Gregg Popovich had Duncan on the bench when Bosh grabbed that critical offensive rebound and found Ray Allen for the game-tying 3-pointer at the end of regulation.

In theory, that is work that a younger and perhaps much cheaper big man (names like DeMarcus Cousins and Kevin Love have been floated for months now) can do.

The company line, however, tends to favor at least one more year of this holy hoops trinity. James, Wade and Bosh all have opt-outs in their contracts that come up after the 2013-14 season, giving any one of the three the option of bolting from this championship experiment for the fruits of free agency. And James and Bosh are young enough and healthy enough to command the full max-salary available from any team capable of paying that price.

Wade, who has spent his entire career with the Heat, believes in the future of the Big 3, as my main man Mike Wallace of ESPN.com explains:

“Our first year together, we tried to make it work,” Wade said. “But we weren’t the team that we needed to be to gut out a Game 6, to win a game like that. Everybody can’t get to the Finals and win six [championships] in a row — and not lose one like Michael Jordan. But we are excited about the future of this organization. We are still a good team, and we’re going to do everything we can to make sure we stay competitive.”

But in some ways, they remain a work in progress. While Riley said before the playoffs that he envisioned the Heat being like the Spurs, who kept Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili together for a decade, Wade said he, Bosh, and James haven’t spoken as a group yet about how they’ll approach their contract options after next season.

“This organization doesn’t rest on trying to make sure we can put ourselves in a position to have a trophy like this,” Wade said as he sat next to the Larry O’Brien Trophy. “So we’ll be back next year again, looking to do it again. We’re living in this moment right here, and it’s a sweet moment. It’ll be sweet to be able to have a long run like the Spurs, but we’ll get to that when we get to that.”

Three years, three straight trips to The Finals and two straight titles … is it just the beginning or is this the beginning of the end?


Right & Wrong: King James Earns Title

 

The Miami Heat got the repeat and LeBron James is the undeniable king of the court.

Like it or not, the Heat, established in 2010 to pile on titles, have played for one in each of their three seasons together and they’ve won the last two. It hasn’t been a cakewalk. They’ve been tested along the way and even they acknowledge that their 2013 foe, the San Antonio Spurs, afforded the Heat new life when they couldn’t close out Game 6. For the immortal Tim Duncan, coach Gregg Popovich, the rest of the Spurs and their legion of die-hard fans in South Texas,  94-89 with 28 ticks to the title will be tough to reconcile.

But give the Heat their due. Dwyane Wade put his bad wheel behind him and came to play. Shane Battier brushed off a brutal first five games with two high-impact performances, going 9-for-12 from beyond the arc. His 6-for-8 night in Game 7, making his first five, offset a strange scoreless game for Chris Bosh, Ray Allen and Mike Miller.

And finally, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, 42 years old, has earned two championships. He made an adjustment to his starting lineup, sat Battier along the way, benched veteran Heat stalwart Udonis Haslem as well as Chris “Birdman” Andersen, who was so integral in the East finals. He used James to defend Tony Parker at just the right times and ultimately Spoelstra matched the wily Popovich step-for-step through seven wild games.

For one last time, here’s a look at what went right and what went wrong in one of the most riveting NBA Finals in years.

Right: LeBron’s fourth Finals started slowly with 18, 17 and 15 points in the first three games, and again the criticism came hot and heavy: Not assertive enough; needs to score more; no killer instinct. Wrong, wrong and wrong. He scored no fewer than 25 in the next four games and at least 32 in three. His Games 6 and 7 totals: 69 points, 22 rebounds, 15 assists and five steals. Yes, his two turnovers at the end of a brilliant fourth quarter in Game 6 looked to be the start of a long summer of LeBron bashing, but his 3-pointer helped to save the day as the Spurs collapsed in those final 28 seconds. He was sensational in Game 7 with 37 points — that included five 3-pointers as the Spurs dared him to shoot it – and 12 rebounds. The four-time regular-season MVP deserved his second Finals MVP averaging 25.3 ppg, 10.9 rpg and 7.9 apg.

Wrong: Duncan waited six grueling years to get back to the Finals for a shot at a fifth championship. He had never before swallowed defeat and the bitter taste of this loss will linger. Game 6 will burn for a long time, but so will the short running hook he missed with 48.9 seconds left with a chance to tie the game, and the ensuing tip that wouldn’t go. Back at the defensive end, Duncan slapped the floor in disgust and moments later James drilled an open jumper to make it 92-88 Heat with 27.9 seconds to go. He wouldn’t get another shot opportunity. At 37, Duncan had a phenomenal season and a terrific playoffs. His 30 points and 17 rebounds in Game 6 should have been enough to seal the deal and his 24 points, 12 rebounds and four steals in Game 7 proved he has plenty left to go for it again.

Right: Bad knee and all, Wade left the drama behind and just balled. In the final three games, Wade put up two double-doubles with 25 points and 10 assists in Game 5 and 23 points and 10 rebounds in Game 7 that included a critical first-half onslaught of 14 points and six rebounds.

Wrong: Wade’s counterpart, Manu Ginobili, had his one shining moment in Game 5, but otherwise struggled through a regrettable Finals and postseason. Not that he didn’t put it all out there because Ginobili knows no other way to play. He battled through the good and bad in Game 7 to post 18 points and five assists, but he had four more turnovers to give him 12 in the last two games. All four came in the final quarter and the last one, a wild drive ending in an errant pass with 23.8 seconds to go ended all hope.

Right: Popovich hasn’t been shy about tabbing second-year forward Kawhi Leonard as the future face of the Spurs franchise, and now the world knows why. Leonard, who valiantly took on the unenviable task of guarding James, was everywhere in Games 6 and 7, amassing 41 points, 17 rebounds and four steals. He missed a crucial free throw late in Game 6, but the San Diego State product’s future is extremely bright. As Popovich said after Game 7: “Leonard is a star in the making.”

Wrong: Tony Parker and Danny Green suffered unthinkable free-falls that the Spurs ultimately could not overcome. Parker didn’t use the Grade 1 strain of his hamstring as an excuse and he really couldn’t because he went 10-for-14 from the floor for 26 points in Game 5. But in Games 6 and 7, Parker went 9-for-35, including 6-for-23 in Game 7. In the Spurs’ four losses, Parker shot 32.3 percent (21-for-65). Green was having a storybook Finals, knocking down 25-for-38 from 3-point range through the first five games. He set a new Finals record for most 3-pointers made and he was shooting for the record for most 3s in any playoff series. But the well dried up as the Heat applied great pressure. Green went 2-for-11 from beyond the arc in the final two games. In the first five games he made three, four, five, six and seven 3-pointers. In the last two, he made one in each. After three games he was the leading scorer in the Finals and through five games he had scored no fewer than 10 points. In Games 6 and 7 he scored eight combined.

Right: Mario Chalmers doesn’t always get the job done, which is why Spoelstra occasionally benched the point guard, but the Heat aren’t celebrating today without his gutsy play in Games 6 and 7. Chalmers totaled 13 points on 4-for-19 shooting and 25.3 mpg in the middle three games in San Antonio. In the final two games he totaled 34 points on 13-for-26 shooting and 41.5 mpg while outplaying Parker. He proved especially crucial in Game 6 with 20 points that included 4-for-5 from beyond the arc.

Wrong: Popovich has earned the respect he receives, but it doesn’t mean he’s beyond reproach. He made strategic decisions late in Games 6 and 7 that didn’t work out and Popovich should explain those moves when asked. That’s how this business works. Late in both games, Popovich put the ball in the hands of the turnover-prone Ginobili instead of Parker, who was taken out of the game for a late possession in Game 6 and was sitting on the bench in Game 7 with 27.9 seconds to go and the Spurs with the ball trailing by four. Ginobili drove, got caught in the air under the basket and tossed an awful pass that was easily intercepted by James. It was Ginobili’s fourth turnover of the fourth quarter. Parker, who was having a rough night shooting, no doubt, is typically quite secure with the ball and had two turnovers all game. After the game, Popovich was asked by a San Antonio reporter why Parker was not in the game: “Because that’s what I decided to do,” Popovich answered. The reporter followed up: “Can you elaborate on that?” Popovich said: “No.” It seems Spurs fans have the right to understand why their All-Star point guard was sitting at the most critical juncture of the season. Even if the coach has earned the benefit of the doubt.

Game 7: The Morning After


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By NBA.com staff reports

A classic Finals ended with a classic Game 7. LeBron James cemented his place in NBA history scoring 37 points as the Heat captured a second-straight NBA title with a 95-88 Game 7 win over the Spurs. Here’s a quick recap of NBA.com’s complete Game 7 coverage.

Game Coverage

NBA Finals

Analysis

Heat Celebration

Video Highlights

Postgame Press Conferences

Photos

Heat, Spurs Prove The Value Of The 3

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MIAMI – Add one more to the list of 3-point records set this season.

Stephen Curry broke Ray Allen‘s record for most threes in a single season, hitting 272. The New York Knicks (891) and Houston Rockets (867) each eclipsed the previous record (841) for most 3-pointers by a team, while the Golden State Warriors become the ninth team in NBA history to shoot better than 40 percent from beyond the arc, attempting more threes than all but one of the previous eight. As a whole, the league attempted 4,445 more threes and made 1,251 more than it ever had.

Danny Green almost got the San Antonio Spurs their fifth NBA championship with a Finals record 27 threes. And when the Miami Heat finally got control of Green, Shane Battier shot them to their third title with six threes on Thursday, the most anyone has made in a Finals Game 7. LeBron James, meanwhile, finally made the Spurs pay for their sagging defense by hitting five threes himself.

Yes, 3-pointers are important. Of the 21 “Impact Plays” measured over the course of The Finals, 12 were shots from beyond the arc. And that doesn’t include Allen’s three to tie Game 6 with 5.2 seconds left.

You can have offensive success by taking care of the ball, getting to the free throw line or crashing the boards and giving yourself second chances. But the most important thing you can do offensively is shoot the ball well. And as we learned from the Spurs’ defensive improvement this season, the most important thing you can do defensively is prevent your opponent from doing the same.

The Heat and Spurs ranked second and fourth, respectively, in 3-point percentage during the season. Miami surrounded James and Dwyane Wade with shooters, while the Spurs complemented Tony Parker and Tim Duncan with the same. They opened up the floor and forced defenses to pick their poison. Do you want to let one of the league’s best finishers get to the basket or do you want to leave a deadly shooter open in the corner?

The Indiana Pacers and Memphis Grizzlies lacked shooters, but ranked first and second in the league at defending the 3-point line. They had the one-on-one defenders and rim protectors that allowed teammates to stay at home on the perimeter. But Tony Allen‘s defense can only get you so far if he can’t make a shot from outside the paint.

You can bet that the Pacers and Grizzlies, along with the Denver Nuggets and Chicago Bulls — two more contenders that ranked in the bottom 10 in 3-point percentage — will be in the market for shooting this summer. Free agents Kyle Korver and J.J. Redick will be getting plenty of phone calls on July 1.

This is the way the league is going. The Phoenix Suns led the league in offensive efficiency for six straight seasons when they surrounded Steve Nash‘s pick-and-roll brilliance with shooting. The Orlando Magic got to The Finals by putting a bunch of shooters around Dwight Howard and his rolls to the rim.

And now, with most of the league’s best defenses looking to load up on the strong side, it’s never been more important to space the floor. The Lakers had both Nash and Howard, but couldn’t match the Suns’ or Magic’s success with Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace at the forward positions. And the Brooklyn Nets struggled against Tom Thibodeau‘s defense when Gerald Wallace and Reggie Evans shared the floor.

The Spurs, with their ball movement and weak-side shooting, were able to make the Heat pay for their aggressiveness much more than the Pacers could. And the Heat, with James and his snipers, gave the Spurs tougher defensive decisions than the Grizzlies did.

Until Battier busted out of his slump in the final two games of The Finals, the Heat basically had two guys who could shoot, Allen and Mike Miller. And in the 103 postseason minutes in which those two were on the floor together, Miami’s offense was absolutely deadly, scoring 129 points per 100 possessions (or 115 points per 48 minutes).

James’ attacks and ridiculous bullet passes had a lot to do with that, but Allen and Miller made things easier for the MVP because opponents were afraid to leave them open beyond the arc. Neither hit a three in Game 7, but Battier and James picked up the slack and the Heat finished the season 34-2 (3-1 in The Finals) when they made at least 10 threes.

Miami won the 2011-12 championship without Allen, but they pursued him aggressively last summer, knowing what may be the No. 1 guideline in putting together an NBA team right now. Allen ended up proving his worth in Game 6 and Battier did likewise in Game 7.

In short, you can never have too much shooting.

Challenged Outside, Finals MVP James Goes All-In For Rings, Vision

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MIAMI – The San Antonio Spurs took a calculated risk early in the 2013 Finals, allowing – almost daring – LeBron James to shoot jump shots, treating it as the least potent of his many poisons.

Turns out, it was one of those slow-acting toxins, taking a full seven games before crippling and finally taking the life out of the San Antonio Spurs Thursday night at AmericanAirlines Arena. James, the Miami Heat superstar whose game is the most scrutinized in basketball, adapted and overcame yet again, scoring 37 points with 12 rebounds in 45 minutes in the 95-88 Game 7 clincher.

James boosted Miami to its second consecutive NBA championship, in its third straight trip to The Finals, by launching 20 of his 23 shots from outside the paint. It was the most for him since his ballyhooed move to south Florida in July 2010.

He was perfect on the three he got inside, mind you, but James did his greatest damage from longer distances. His 9-for-20 from outside wasn’t as accurate as what he shot overall this season (56.5 percent) but it was deadly all the same, coming over San Antonio’s defense on shots that the Spurs were prepared to live with, yet could not survive.

James even hit five 3-pointers on his first seven attempts on a night when corner-and-arc specialists Ray Allen and Mike Miller were a combined 0-for-9. Shane Battier was the Miami 3-point shooter who was hot, draining six of his eight, but James was the bonus sniper on the perimeter. So much so that, with a couple more, the nitpickers who have stalked his career for impact and legacy might have complained that he doesn’t mock-shrug nearly as well as Michael Jordan.

“Two-and-half games I watched film, and my mind started to work and I said, ‘OK, this is how they’re going to play me for the whole series,’ ” James said after joining Jordan and Bill Russell as the only players to win back-to-back MVP awards and NBA championships.

“I looked at all my regular-season stats, all my playoff stats, and I was one of the best mid-range shooters in the game. I shot a career high (40.6 percent) from the 3-point line. I just told myself, ‘Don’t abandon what you’ve done all year. Don’t abandon now because they’re going under [screens]. Don’t force the paint.’

“Just saying everything you’ve worked on, the repetition, the practices, the offseason training, no matter how big the stakes are, no matter what’s on the line, just go with it.”

James went with it all the way to his second Bill Russell NBA Finals MVP award, becoming the ninth player in league history to win more than one. He joined Jordan (1991-’93, 1996-’98), Hakeem Olajuwon (1994-’95), Shaquille O’Neal (2000-’02) and Kobe Bryant (2009-’10) as the only ones to win that honor in consecutive years.

The hordes who root against James, who pick at any failings in his play at any point in any game, had nothing late Thursday night. It might be a while before they have something again.

“The vision that I had when I decided to come here is all coming true,” he said, his 37 points the most in a Finals Game 7 since Jerry West scored 42 while losing to Boston in 1969. It bumped up James’ scoring average in Game 7 situations, already a record, to 34.4. The Heat star averaged 25.3 in these Finals, 25.9 in the 2013 postseason.

“I said before the series I was a better player than I was last time I faced the Spurs,” said James, whose Cleveland team got swept by San Antonio from the 2007 Finals. “To be able to come through for my teammates in the biggest moment on the biggest stage makes me more satisfied than anything in the world.”

This second title – they’re at the “not three” point now in their boast of multiple Larry O’Brien trophies – fulfilled a remarkable season in which Miami posted a 66-15 record in the regular season, strung together 27 victories in February and March and went 16-7 in the postseason through two seven-game challenges against Indiana and San Antonio. Winning Game 7, limiting the Western Conference champs to 17 points on six field goals and seven turnovers in the fourth quarter, and making good on the expectations and the hype triggered the expected celebration – and kept a lot of ever-ready critics off their backs for the next five months.

But this was no “Big Three” production. Dwyane Wade, Miami’s veteran and hobbled shooting guard, pulled out a performance from the days when he still had knees, scoring 23 points with 10 rebounds. “All the giddiness is the champagne talking,” said Wade, who gained his third ring (his first came in 2006) but whose future and present were questioned constantly through his gimpy postseason. “This is the sweetest one by far.”

Forward Chris Bosh, however, went scoreless in almost 28 minutes, missing his five shots. Allen and Miller gave the Heat nothing offensively, either, making Battier’s performance so vital as coach Erik Spoelstra shuffled through his deck. And much-maligned point guard Mario Chalmers, maddening at times to teammates and Heat fans, still found ways to torment the Spurs through his 6-for-15 shooting for 14 points.

Not that San Antonio needed any more torment. The Spurs already had been through a mental wringer for two days, pushing away bad memories from Game 6 and their lost failures at its end. They shook those, seemingly, and even took a 71-69 lead with five seconds left in the third quarter. But Chalmers’ buzzer-beating bank shot from 28 feet made it 72-71 and, from there, the Spurs were noble, relentless pursuers – but they never led again.

The desperation and the fatigue appeared to wear on them – the Spurs missed seven of their first 10 shots in the fourth quarter and turned over the ball five times in seven minutes. Manu Ginobili, shakier again beyond his 6-for-12 shooting and four turnovers, was an obvious goat and one of the few San Antonio players who admitted to lingering Game 6 trauma.

But Ginobili had company. Young Danny Green, a Finals record-breaker in hitting 25-for-38 3-pointers through the first five games, went 1-for-11 from that distance in the final two games. With Miami’s defense finally taking him seriously, Green shrunk in the big-game glare. He shot 1-for-12 Thursday, eventually aiming and praying the ball or passing up shots altogether.

Kawhi Leonard stepped up (19 points, 16 rebounds, exhausting defense on James) but Gary Neal and Boris Diaw stepped back. Then there was Tony Parker, who lay claim to being the league’s best point guard during the playoffs’ first three rounds and dominated Game 1 of the Finals, was 3-for-12 for 10 points and scoreless in the final quarter, a victim of James’ defensive mismatch and orchestrated Heat pressure.

Last and assuredly not least, there was Tim Duncan, poised to snag his fifth championship ring and fourth Finals MVP award had the Spurs managed to win but struggling down the stretch. It was Duncan’s turnover off an offensive rebound, trying to reset San Antonio’s possession, that set up Battier’s final 3-pointer to make it 88-82 Miami. It was Duncan forcing and missing a hook shot at 90-85. And it was Duncan missing a chance to tie – a point-blank hook and a tip – with less than a minute left that sealed the Spurs’ fate.

After a timeout, James probed from the outside, then hit – what else? – a 19-footer that made it 92-88. A short while later, after the horn and an on-court celebration that 48 hours earlier nearly had been theirs, it all was a little much for the Spurs’ great big man.

“Tough to swallow,” he said. “Game 7, missing a layup to tie the game. Making a bad decision down the stretch. Just unable to stop Dwyane and LeBron. Probably for me, Game 7 is always going to haunt me.”

In those moments, the spectre of James likely will loom large, his outside jump shots flying just over Duncan’s outstretched fingers. It happened several times Thursday, a challenge met and defeated, more often than San Antonio could survive.

Shane Battier Stakes His Claim In Game 7

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MIAMI – “Reports of my demise were premature. That’s my opening statement.”

Coming into the 2013 NBA Finals, if you had to choose a member of the Heat most likely to reference Mark Twain to lead off a postgame press conference, brainy Duke alum Shane Battier probably would have been the choice.

But if you were looking for the Heat player to shatter the NBA Finals record for most 3-pointers made in a Game 7, at least after his Eastern Conference finals showing, it almost surely wouldn’t have been Shane Battier.

Battier’s value to the Heat throughout the regular season was found mostly in his defense, particularly drawing charges, and in stretching defenses by draining 3s. He shot 316 treys in the regular season and knocked them in at a 43 percent clip, good for sixth in the NBA among qualifiers. But during the first two rounds of the playoffs, as Miami dispatched Milwaukee and Chicago, Battier went 12-for-46 (26 percent). In the Eastern Conference finals against the Pacers, Battier’s minutes shrank as he fell out of the rotation, and he made just two 3s in the entire series.

At the time, Battier handled questions about his reduced role with a somewhat poetic turn of phrase, noting, “Sometimes you’ve got to eat a turd sandwich. Makes the ribeye taste better next time.”

But as the NBA Finals progressed against the Spurs, Battier’s role increased almost game by game. In Game 5, he notched a then-series high 17 minutes, making two 3-pointers. In Game 6, with the Heat fighting to stay alive, Battier had his biggest game yet, hitting three treys in a dozen minutes, including one that banked in off the glass.

“I believe in basketball gods,” Battier explained. “I felt that they owed me big time. I had a bunch of shots in San Antonio that went in and out. So when that banker went in, I said, ‘You know what? They owe me.’ But it was the start of a pretty good streak there.”

Was it ever. Battier came off the bench early in Game 7 and ended up scoring 18 points in 28 minutes, hitting 6-for-8 from three-point land and setting an NBA record for most triples made in an NBA Finals Game 7.

“Honestly, I felt good the last couple of games. And I made a couple of threes last game, and so I felt really confident tonight. I think that our starters were going to be pretty tired after Game 6 — it was an emotionally and physically draining game. I only played 12 minutes. So I felt great.”

If his offensive contributions weren’t enough, with just under a minute to play and the Heat up only two, Battier got caught defending Tim Duncan in transition, and had to guard him solo in the post. Duncan went to a running hook that missed, and then got his hands on the rebound but couldn’t convert, with Battier battling him the entire time.

“I’m 215 pounds, 6’8”,” Battier noted. “I’m obviously giving up major weight and height to Duncan. So I was just praying that he missed it. To be honest with you, I don’t think I affected the shot that much. I was just trying to make his shoot over the top. And that’s a shot Tim Duncan usually makes eight out of 10 times. For whatever reason, that shot didn’t drop right then. I’m very thankful. It wasn’t because of my defense. Just missed it.”

Battier may have tried to downplay his contributions, at least defensively, but his Heat teammates weren’t having it. Dwyane Wade called Battier “one of my favorite teammates of all time,” and Wade couldn’t minimize Battier’s offensive show.

“Shane ain’t hit a shot since … I don’t know when,” said Wade. “But tonight, he was unconscious. And he’s just a big-time player. You want that for Shane so bad. You wanted to see those shots go in for him because of everything he stands for.”

Most of the Heat’s important long-range marksmen couldn’t find the range Thursday night — Mike Miller, Ray Allen and Mario Chalmers were a combined 1-for-13 on 3-pointers. But in the end it didn’t matter, as Battier seemed like he couldn’t miss. And now, with his second NBA title in hand, he’s ready to trade in that sandwich for a steak.

“Tomorrow I hope my wife cooks me a nice ribeye,” Battier said. “I’m looking forward to my ribeye tomorrow.”

Game 7: The Impact Plays

MIAMI – The most important play in a game isn’t always the one you remember most. Sometimes, it’s subtle and doesn’t even make the highlight reel. Sometimes, something as simple as a change in possession can be more important than a shot that does or doesn’t go in.

The NBA has a way to use analytics to figure out just which plays had the biggest impact on a close game. It’s a “leverage” model that was developed to evaluate and instruct referees by pointing out which calls or no-calls had the biggest impact on a game’s result.

Here’s the idea: At every point of a game, each team has a certain probability of winning. Putting the quality of each team to the side, when the game tips off, the home team has a 60 percent probability of winning and the road team has a 40 percent probability of winning. After the first basket, those numbers haven’t changed much. But if the home team is up 10 with the ball and five minutes to go in the fourth quarter, their win probability (WP) is obviously a lot greater than 60 percent.

So, by calculating win probability both before and after a play occurs, it can be determined just how important that play was. Score, possession and location are the factors. And obviously, plays in the last few minutes of the fourth quarter (or overtime) in a close game are more important than any others.

Using the league’s data model, we’ve determined the three most important plays of Game 7 of The Finals, a 95-88 victory by the Miami Heat, earning them their third NBA championship.

Appropriately, the final game of this incredible series came down to the final minute. And there were plenty of big plays down the stretch.

3. +10.9 percent – Leonard’s 3 cuts it to two


The Heat were seemingly in control, up five with just over two minutes left. And they had the Spurs stopped with 10 seconds left on the shot clock. But LeBron James gave Kawhi Leonard just enough space on the right wing and Leonard stroked a trey to make it a two-point game.

Before the shot, the Spurs’ WP was just 10.1 percent. After, it was up to 21.0 percent.

2. +11.0 percent – Duncan misses a chance to tie


Down two in the final minute, the Spurs quickly got the ball up the floor and into Tim Duncan in the post. Duncan had a mismatch against Shane Battier and got straight to the rim, but missed a short hook shot that would have tied the game with 50 seconds left. He got his hand on the rebound, but couldn’t control the tip.

With possession, the Spurs’ WP was 29.4 percent. But after the Heat grabbed the second rebound, it was down to 18.4 percent. If Duncan’s shot had gone in, it would have been up to 40.0 percent.

1. +16.4 percent – Chalmers’ steal leads to Battier’s three


With 3 1/2 minutes left and the Spurs down three, Tim Duncan grabbed a huge offensive rebound, but he was trapped on the baseline and Mario Chalmers intercepted his pass out to the perimeter. He got the ball to James, who raced down the floor, drew two defenders under the basket and found Battier in the corner.

Battier drained his sixth and final three of the night to put the Heat up six. Battier’s six threes are a record for a Finals Game 7.

Before the steal, the Heat’s WP was 75.3 percent. The change of possession increased it to 83.0 percent (+7.7) and the three increased it to 91.7 percent (+8.7).

24-Second Thoughts On Game 7

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24 – Not sure who I’m going to miss more this summer, Julia Dale or Jesse Williams (who needs to stay out of Dwyane Wade‘s closet. #NBAStyle). Excellent work you two, but onto the game now … finally!

23 – So much for the Spurs’ Game 6 hangover. Just as I suspected, they’ve got the adrenaline pumping, starting with Tim Duncan, who converted his first coast-to-coast, one-man break with a dunk since he was at Wake Forest. I love Game 7s, love the drama, energy and the competitive fire it brings out of great players. Spurs up 11-4, by the way, bringing it to the Heat without so much as a care about Game 6. Better step it up Heat, because the Spurs plan on leaving the building with Larry O’Brien.

22 – These officials (whose names shall not be written here, don’t want to jinx it) are allowing a staggering amount of physical contact on both sides early on here. I have to admit that I love it. I’d rather they blow fewer whistles in a game like this. They’ve probably missed a few fouls (like this one) but you have to give up something to get a game like this called the right way. They are setting a tone right now and making sure both sides realize that they are going to have to decide this thing and not rely on selling calls to gain an advantage. This is how it should be done.

21 – As TNT’s Shaquille O’Neal would say, “Birdman … Birdman!” Chris Andersen making his presence felt with pure energy on both ends. Two big 3-pointers from Shane Battier help spark the Heat’s 8-0 run late in the first quarter. First 12 minutes a bit sloppy on both sides but so what, “both teams played hard my man.” #RasheedWallace 

20 – Battier’s revenge! Knocks down his third 3-pointer of the night and making his case for extended minutes tonight. You had to figure he was going to resurface at some point after going underground earlier in this series.

19 – Spurs battle right back with a mini-run of their own, fueled by the turnovers they are causing as the Heat rush toward the basket time after time and get balls stripped or tapped out from behind. This is the pace Spurs coach Gregg Popovich talks about all the time.  The “old and crusty” Spurs look like the much more effective team in transition right now, just as they have to me for much of this series.

18 – Six quick points for LeBron with the small-ball lineup of Mario Chalmers, Birdman, Mike Miller and Ray Allen. First bucket was a coast-to-coast drive and the foul, one of those moves only LeBron makes. And then the Spurs dare him to shoot a long jumper and he dribbles it out and steps back and drops a 3-pointer over Danny Green to stretch the Heat lead to six, 33-27. This is the same group that went on that 33-5 tear in Game 2, the group that went wild with Wade and Chris Bosh on the bench.

17 – I don’t care what Kawhi Leonard‘s driver’s license or birth certificate says, he’s a man beyond his years. He’s got 10 rebounds already and is going at LeBron on both ends. His work in this series has been a revelation, even for the folks who watch the Spurs on the regular. Surely, no one expected this young cat to play like this on this stage. A young star has been born folks.

16 – Wade matches his Game 6 output before halftime, scoring 14 points in 18 minutes by going back to Flash mode. Heat lead 46-44 at the break on Wade’s third pull-up wing jumper. The Spurs are sagging off of both Wade and James, daring them to beat them with anything but plays at the rim. They’ve picked their spots to attack and when to step back and knocked down shots. They scored 20 of the Heat’s final 21 points of the half, a sloppy but beautifully chaotic first half that has featured all of the energy we could have asked for from both sides in a Game 7. Wade is shutting up his critics by gutting it out and playing like the future Hall of Famer he is on the biggest stage.

15 – The Game 7 crucible is costing us some aesthetics in this game, but honestly that’s what I expected. Lakers and Celtics did this same thing in 2010, when the action was scattered all night and the Lakers needed a late-game rescue from of all people my main man  Ron Artest (now Metta World Peace). I’m wondering what non-megastar in this game is waiting in the wings to play hero tonight?

14 – Leonard is seriously in danger of stealing The Finals MVP award for the Spurs if they find a way to win this game. as good he was in the first half he’s been even better since then, attacking offensively and scoring in a variety of ways. He gets basically whatever he wants with those umbrellas for hands. He does it all without ever so much as single change in expression … he might be a suitable heir to the no-nonsense throne Duncan has occupied for years in San Antonio.

13 – Party is over for DDG. He’s 0-for-7 and appears to have lost all confidence in the past six quarters of this series. Never saw a guy shoot the lights out the way he did in the first five games of this series. Never seen that spark disappear as quickly as it has for a guy who made it look so easy for so long.

12 – Right on queue, DDG snaps his 0-for-8 streak and drains the corner 3-pointer for a 57-56 lead with 5:08 to play in the third. Good thing Pop coaches the Spurs and not me, because I’d have taken DDG out long before that shot.

11 –Another 3-pointer for LeBron, that’s four tonight. Phil Jackson told me on Episode 122 of the Hang Time Podcast that this is exactly the way you have to defend LeBron. But he just measured up another one and nailed it for a 62-57 lead. Not sure if this plan is going to work if he shoots 5-for-7 on his next seven attempts from deep.

10 – Spurs come right back with a run of their own. Boris Diaw makes you wonder what might have been if he was in just decent (not necessarily superior) shape. Could you keep him out there on LeBron for an extended stretch and let Leonard eat someone else alive on the offensive end? Great game either way and anyone who assumed we wouldn’t get an epic Game 7 out of these two outfits (and all of the competitive warriors on both rosters) better sit back and enjoy the rest of the last and best game of the season.

9 – Manu with the cold-blooded driving layup with 5.2 seconds to play in the third gives the Spurs a 71-69 lead. And Chalmers answers with a running 3-point heave at the buzzer that kisses off the glass and goes in for a 72-71 Heat lead with what should be the 12 best minutes of the season left to play. Drop the mic Game 7. #InstantClassic!

8 –  Battier is 5-for-5, nails another corner 3 on the sweet pass from LeBron. Shades of Artest 2010, folks.

7 – Ginobili giveth and then he taketh away with his driving layup sandwiched between two costly turnovers. If looks could kill, Pop would be in the Dade County lock up already. Meanwhile the Spurs keep daring Wade and LeBron to beat them with jumpers and you guessed it, they keep beating them with jumpers. The Spurs won’t abandon the plan and it could end up costing them this game and title No. 5.

6 – Manu giveth … again!

5 – Battier with another 3 on a feed from LeBron and the 88-82 lead. He’s playing redemption’s song for the awful stretch of basketball he played earlier in this series. He’s kept Miller and Allen on the bench for the duration here. But Duncan comes right back with a layup and foul (a horrible call on Bosh for his fifth), sinks the free throw and makes it an 88-85 game with just over three minutes left in a game that should make you forget about the instant classic that was Game 6.

4 – Leonard has yet another answer for you LeBron with the wing 3-pointer. This kid has played the game of his life on the global stage. Unreal effort.

3– If you can’t tie the game with the greatest power forward to play the game being guarded by a completely overmatched Battier at the rim, then maybe it’s just not your night. The Spurs couldn’t have asked for a better set up and Timmy just missed the bunny.

2 – Just 39 seconds and two points separating the Heat from a repeat title. And LeBron gives us another swished jumper for his 34th and 35th points of the night. A four-point lead in this game and this series means nothing with 28 seconds left. Remember Game 6?  But it helps when you make the steal on the Spurs’ next play, get fouled and sink both free throws for the 94-88 lead with 23 seconds to play. Get the confetti ready Miami, it’s party time.

1 – Not one, Not two … LeBron and Wade silence their critics with masterful performances. Two titles in three years together and to do it in dramatic fashion this time. The stars come out in Game 7 and the Heat’s biggest stars showed up. Battier was spectacular and the Spurs will be haunted by the final 28 seconds of Games 6 and 7, when their execution failed them.  Great game, great series and a deserved champion has been crowned. Props to the Spurs and Heat for treating us to a series for the ages and finishing the 2012-13 season in style. LeBron’s second straight title and second straight Finals MVP is well deserved.

jh