Editor’s note: This post is a part of a seven piece series that will document and look back at the historic 2013 NBA Finals between the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat.
Game 6 was over, the Spurs and the rest of the basketball world were still in shock. Ray Allen’s corner 3-pointer, perhaps one of the greatest shots in NBA Finals history, had sent the yellow ropes cordoning off the hardwood for a premature celebration back to the bowels of the AmericanAirlines Arena.
But, as great as that shot was, perhaps it was still delaying the inevitable title for San Antonio. For Miami, all it gave them was another chance. Game 7 needed to be played to crown an NBA Champion.
Leading up to the deciding matchup, the Spurs’ ability to focus was questioned. After being less than 30 seconds from a sure title and squandering that opportunity, would there be anything left in the tank to take on Miami? As for the Heat, would they have the energy to play another 48 minutes after the emotional highs of their historic Game 6 comeback? The answer to both questions, unsurprisingly, was “yes.”
That’s not to say it wasn’t a struggle. The game started off sluggishly, as both teams seemed fatigued. High-powered offenses were held in check and the first quarter ended with Miami up, 18-16. Shane Battier made two 3-pointers but LeBron James was held to only 4 points. The Spurs were balanced, if sloppy, with every starter scoring in the first period.
The second quarter was more fast-paced, with Dwyane Wade and James leading the way for Miami. But neither team could pull away as Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker combined for all but 9 points in the period. The Spurs were up, 44-42, as the half expired before a James putback with 39 seconds left tied the game. Following a miss from Danny Green (who went a miserable 1-12 in the game after shooting historically-well in this series), a jumper from Wade gave the Heat a two-point lead at the break.
The game kept the back-and-forth pace in the second half but James seemed to be playing above everyone else that night. The Spurs had dared him to shoot from mid-range for much of the series, rather than allowing him to attack the rim easily. It was a strategy that backfired in Game 7 as James found himself open regularly and hitting five 3-pointers on his way to a game-high 37 points. Battier was 6-8 from downtown (finishing with 18 points) and a consistent boost all night. Still, the Spurs didn’t just go away.
Kawhi Leonard had 19 points for San Antonio, Ginobili had 18 and Parker chipped in 12 (despite going just 3-of-12 from the floor). Duncan, the veteran, had 24 points in the game but couldn’t capitalize in the game’s waning moments. With Miami up, 90-88, with less than a minute to play, Duncan found himself guarded on the baseline by the smaller Battier. Duncan drove to the hoop and put up a 5-foot running, jump-hook shot. While that attempt missed, Duncan was able to tip the rebound over Battier. Again, he missed. Here’s the replay:
Two missed opportunities as the clock expired and the Spurs were unable to score in the final two minutes of the game.
James connected on 19-footer before he and Wade ended the game with free throws and the Heat won, 95-88. For the Spurs, only seconds away from their fifth championship in Game 6, they had come full-circle emotionally. Beaten and demoralized, they walked slowly off the court in a haze as the confetti came down in celebration of Miami’s second-straight title. A franchise best 66 wins in the regular season, a 27-game win streak (the second longest in NBA history) and now, a title.
It was easy to assume these teams would go in opposite directions. Instead, the Spurs used that pain as motivation for this season, had the best record in the league, and managed to incorporate their bench more effectively than ever before to rest the aging Duncan, Ginobili and Parker. Will the outcome result in the retirement of Duncan, this era’s greatest forward? Or will Miami be forced to retool their roster with the possible dissolution of their “Big 3?”
The games have yet to be played, but even as history was made at the end of last season, both Miami and San Antonio are poised to do so again.