NBA Finals, Game 7: The Heart of A Champion
Miami 95, San Antonio 88
Miami wins series, 4-3
Even in defeat. Forever and always.
I was preparing for pure elation; or for heartbreak and agony. I girded myself against the pain or a crushing Game 7 defeat, particularly in light of being so close at the end of Game 7. But a funny thing happened on the way final buzzer: I couldn’t help but swell with joy and pride in this team, in this season, and just how much they accomplished when so many believed it was no longer possible.
The Spurs had their chances. In particular, Duncan’s two point-blank misses down 2 with about a minute left. But Green’s steal on an inbounds and missed 3, which would have been a huge momentum swing. Or so many of Manu’s 4th quarter TOs that stopped any chance at a run. There were several second chance points given up on offensive rebounds to the Heat.
As I’ve said a million times, it’s a game of inches and a game of moments. In a series that was pretty dead even, the Spurs ended up on the wrong side of the ledger for too many of those inches and moments.
The game seemed within reach until the end. The Spurs were the more aggressive team throughout, charging to the rim, pushing the ball, attacking. We weren’t hitting shots, but we were getting FTs, and we were staying close. Miami, meanwhile, was surviving on jump shots. In a Game 7, I’ll take the aggression over the jump shooting, as tired legs and heavy moments will make shots start missing late in games. But LeBron is the best in the world for a reason, and he picked a hell of a time to have his best shooting game of the series.
Wade, too. For 7 games, San Antonio dared both of these players to shoot as many jump shots as they wanted. At first, they were reticent. Then, they started shooting them, but couldn’t convert enough. Finally, at the end, they started making them. And making them. And making them. And on it went. We thought it’d give out, but it didn’t. LeBron was magnificent, as he’s been all series. Add in that jump shot, as in tonight’s game, and he’s unstoppable.
Throw in Battier’s shooting, and the game is over.
In the end, Miami had more players they could trust. Wade and LeBron were there. Chalmers played tough. Battier was huge. Bosh was kind of a mess, but still strong defensively. More importantly, nobody was really a train wreck. With LeBron and Wade, that should be enough. (That’s the conceit this entire team is built around, truthfully.)
San Antonio had Duncan and Leonard. As great as both were, that won’t match LeBron and Wade. Green was bad, Miami’s defense effectively shutting down his shooting, and he was a disaster any time he had to dribble. Splitter got snuffed out of the rotation in the second half. Neal was wound up and didn’t make enough shots.
Manu. Truly, this was the whole Manu experience. So many costly mistakes down the stretch. Yet, without some of his heroics, we’re not in this game. In totality, I think he falls more on the plus than the minus side, but I was not confident in him down the stretch.
But Parker was worse. We don’t know how bad he was ailing, but he was clearly just not there. For years, you could kind of sense when Parker wasn’t checked into a game mentally, and it felt that way tonight. Over the years, he’s really overcome that, and I don’t think that was the case tonight. I think he just didn’t have that quickness he’s used to, and I think he just knew he couldn’t do what he wanted to. Without a dominant Parker nor a reliable Manu, offense became a mixture of comedy and horror, a grinding to a halt of the efficient machine we love.
But you have to go to battle with your best, the players you’ve trusted all year. The only thing I would’ve liked to have seen down the stretch was a bit more Diaw, as I thought he played really poised and added a fluidity to our offense that wasn’t there otherwise. He seemed unafraid of the stage or the moment. But who do you take out? Parker? Manu? You can’t do that, regardless of how they’re playing. The only choice is Green, and in the end Pop went with who he has gone with all year, and you can’t fault him for that choice.
Kawhi is a star, and he is a star now. My favorite part of this entire series was watching him play both ends of the floor, unafraid of the stage, the moment, or the best player in the world. In so many moments and tiny ways, he outplayed LeBron. He was the Spurs most consistent player, Game 1 to 7. I said before the post-season that the Spurs chances might hinge on Leonard taking Manu’s place as our third best player, and that happened in this series. And we almost won.
My heart breaks for Duncan. He was so close. He was inbounding the ball in Game 6 as they were roping off the court for his coronation. He got the ball to Leonard, and then…. That’s the story we’ll replay for years and years to come. But Duncan’s legacy was not hurt by this series. At 37, he played two magnificent games back to back to win a title. He just didn’t have enough to beat the best player in the world. But the Spurs didn’t lose because of him. In fact, they almost won because of him. He’s still magnificent, a true champion, and the bedrock of this team.
So wallow. Replay the end of Game 6 in your head over and over. Think about what might have been. The Spurs had their 5th title in reach, until they didn’t.
But none of that changes how wonderful their season was, how great they were in the playoffs, and how much pride and honor they played with. As fans, we should also be proud and honored.
And I think they’ll be back, but that’s a post for another day.
Never underestimate the heart of a champion.
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