Heat Force Seventh Game After Spurs Squander Late Fourth Quarter Lead"Our world's out of order. All I see is missed opportunity."--Hall & Oates, "Missed Opportunity"
The San Antonio Spurs are renowned for their crisp execution and praised for their championship pedigree but in game six of the NBA Finals they squandered a golden opportunity to win the fifth championship of the Tim Duncan era--and now the Miami Heat are one victory away from claiming the second championship of the Big Three era. The Spurs led 94-89 with :28 left in regulation after Manu Ginobili split a pair of free throws, a time/score situation that simply requires making free throws, not giving the opposing team extra possessions via turnovers/offensive rebounds and not giving up open three pointers; if the Spurs had executed those basic fundamentals for less than 30 seconds then they would have won the 2013 NBA championship. Instead, the Spurs gave up an offensive rebound that led to a LeBron James three pointer, Kawhi Leonard split a pair of free throws, the Spurs gave up an offensive rebound that led to a Ray Allen three pointer and the game went to overtime after Tony Parker missed a tough, low percentage fadeaway jumper as time expired in regulation. The Spurs scored first in overtime and eventually took a three point lead but then they missed three straight shots and suffered a shot clock violation; the Heat finished the game with a 6-0 run and emerged with a 103-100 win. Game to game momentum has been non-existent in this series as the teams have alternated victories but this is a devastating loss for the Spurs and the last time a road team won game seven of the NBA Finals Jimmy Carter was President (Washington 105, Seattle 98 in 1978), so on Thursday the Spurs will face a daunting task.
LeBron James authored yet another Finals performance that will baffle both his critics and his admirers; he scored 14 points on 3-12 field goal shooting in the first three quarters and he seemed to be on pace for one of the worst performances by a reigning MVP in a possible elimination game--but then he took over the game in the fourth quarter, scoring 16 points on 7-11 field goal shooting as the Heat rallied from a 75-65 deficit. James finished with 32 points, 11 assists, 10 rebounds and three steals while shooting 11-26 from the field. He is just the fourth player in NBA Finals history to post a 30-10-10 triple double, joining Jerry West, James Worthy and Charles Barkley. Without James' poor shooting and tentative play in the first three quarters the Heat probably would not have trailed by as many as 13 points but without his forceful, determined and skillful play in the fourth quarter the Heat would not have been able to come back. So what should we make of James? He is a tremendously talented player who has had many great playoff performances, who sometimes becomes passive in the biggest games and who learned last year how to snap out of that passivity to reassert the aggressiveness that makes him unstoppable; no player and no defensive scheme can stop James when he attacks the hoop with force--period. Anyone who thinks that James did not quit versus Dallas during the 2011 NBA Finals and versus Boston in the 2010 NBA playoffs should watch the fourth quarter of game six of the 2013 NBA Finals: that is what LeBron James looks like when he is playing hard, when he is fully engaged mentally, physically and emotionally--and that kind of effort (not necessarily those numbers but that energy level, that kind of relentless determination to attack the defense) should be expected of James all the time, because that is what Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant--the two wing players who led teams to multiple championships in the past 20 years--delivered. If LeBron James wants to be mentioned in the same breath with those players then that is the standard--not statistics, not awards but rather a consistently high effort level that uplifts his teammates and deflates the opposing team. Prior to the game, NBA TV's Greg Anthony said, "Everyone says how well they are defending LeBron. LeBron is defending LeBron." Does anyone really believe that Boris Diaw can stay in front of LeBron James? Does anyone really believe that any of the Spurs' wing players can guard LeBron James in the post? The Spurs' defensive scheme is to concede two point jump shots to James and hope that James either misses those shots or refuses to even take those shots; there is no plan to stop James when he drives to the basket with a full head of steam and looks to score instead of looking to pass: James did that for the whole fourth quarter and there was nothing that the Spurs could do to slow him down. If James does that in game seven then the Heat will win--and if he had done that more often in the first five games then this series would already have been over.
For a half, it looked like Tim Duncan was the player who was going to deliver a legendary performance; in the first 24 minutes he produced 25 points (a personal high for a half in a Finals game) on 11-13 field goal shooting and he grabbed eight rebounds as the Spurs took a 50-44 lead. Could the 37 year old Duncan really produce a 40-20 game to clinch his fifth title? The predictable answer to that question was, "No"; he finished with 30 points and 17 rebounds and did not score after the third quarter--but Anthony correctly noted that a 30-17 stat line is more than the Spurs could have reasonably expected from Duncan and the Spurs needed to receive more production from Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. Parker scored 19 points and passed for eight assists but he shot just 6-23 from the field. Ginobili had nine points, four rebounds, three assists, a career-high eight turnovers and a mind-boggling -21 plus/minus rating, by far the worst of any player in this game.
Miami Coach Erik Spoelstra took a page out of Phil Jackson's book; when Jackson coached the Lakers against the Spurs he preferred to single cover Duncan and blanket San Antonio's perimeter players, figuring that Duncan would not score 40 or 50 points and that the Spurs could not win without getting huge production from their three point shooters. Duncan put up great numbers in game six against single coverage but the Spurs shot just 5-18 from three point range (.278). Danny Green--whose record-setting three point shooting in the first five games generated some Finals MVP consideration--scored three points on 1-7 field goal shooting, including 1-5 from three point range.
Meanwhile, the Heat shot 11-19 from behind the arc (.579), with Mario Chalmers leading the way (20 points, 4-5 three point shooting). Dwyane Wade had a quiet game (14 points on 6-15 field goal shooting, four rebounds, four assists) and he was on the bench when the Heat made their fourth quarter run. Chris Bosh had solid numbers (10 points, 11 rebounds, three steals, two blocked shots) but he had an impact far greater than those statistics suggest; his defensive versatility played a huge role as Miami outscored San Antonio 30-20 in the fourth quarter, he collected the offensive rebound that led to Allen's game-tying three pointer and he blocked Green's three point attempt as time expired in overtime. Allen finished with nine points on 3-8 field goal shooting but he scored seven crucial points late in the game: in addition to the huge three pointer at the end of regulation, he converted a drive to cut San Antonio's lead to 100-99 and he made two clutch free throws to put Miami up 103-100 with 1.9 seconds left in overtime.
The Spurs have to be very careful to make sure that game seven does not get out of hand, because it is easy to picture a scenario in which James runs wild (literally and figuratively), Chalmers hits some three pointers and the Heat cruise to victory; the Heat have played two game sevens in the Big Three era and they won both by double digits (99-76 versus Indiana in 2013, 101-88 versus Boston in 2012). On the other hand, if James plays like he did in the first three quarters of game six and the Spurs execute at their normal efficiency level then the Spurs could put themselves in position to transform their game six collapse from a huge missed opportunity into a historical footnote.
posted by David Friedman @ 6:28 AM