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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

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.

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posted by David Friedman @ 6:28 AM

17 comments

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17 Comments:

At Wednesday, June 19, 2013 4:40:00 PM, Anonymous Stephen said...

This series continues to baffle.

I love basketball but I hate the discussions of legacies. Had SA executed the simple things (FTs, securing rebounds), they win and the entire discussion revolves around how bad LeBron was for 3 quarters and in that last minute (outside of the second chance 3 -- which only happened because of the aforementioned SA miscues).

Legacies are so contingent on things outside of the person's control.

The craziest part about those unsecured rebounds is even if Miami had missed those second chance shots, SA was completely out of position AGAIN; they would've given up another offensive rebound unless they lucked out and the ball bounced their way.

This series is entertaining but I'm not really finding myself enjoying it. It's maddening basketball. SA playing sloppy/undisciplined for long stretches; and the best player in basketball playing passive. And for that we have a Game 7. My only hope is someone actually wins the game rather than someone give it away.

 
At Wednesday, June 19, 2013 7:25:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...



Marcel

Obvisouly ive always believed lebron can win multiple titles. But im a lil disappointed in how he playing davidn he only dominated seven quarters out of 24. I think i would still take jordan or kobe over him in a big game cause his aggression is unknown in the biggest moments where i kno jordan and Kobe got the aggression always. I thought he was over it last year but he showed not good signs this run. He may end up being better than both def all around at least but as a fan wasnt likeing that. Heat gon blow spurs out tommorow

 
At Wednesday, June 19, 2013 11:03:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Stephen:

I agree with you that in many ways this series has been baffling.

To some extent you are right that a person does not control his legacy but I would argue that a great player like LeBron James can assert himself, take over and shape his legacy to a great degree. If the Spurs had won then the story would not merely be that they had grabbed those rebounds but also that James had been passive for too long, coming to life too late to save the game. I consider James' legacy in its totality--good and bad--as opposed to placing too much emphasis on just one game. This game does not dramatically change my view of James; it just reinforces the notion that when he is focused he is the best player in the world but that he has a strange tendency to lose focus much more than Jordan and Bryant.

 
At Wednesday, June 19, 2013 11:08:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Marcel:

James may get his second title tomorrow--or he may never win that second title. It will be interesting to see. Wade is declining and the Heat may trade Bosh, so that whole "7,6,5,4..." business is just fantasy for now.

I don't see how anyone can put James in the same category as Bryant--let alone Jordan--in terms of overall legacy. James is clearly the best player in the game right now but if he retires with a 1-3 Finals record when he clearly had the better team in three of those Finals then he cannot be placed on the same historical level as the game's greatest players. It still seems like James is missing something that the top 10 players of all-time had--but James still has a chance to prove that he has that seemingly missing element.

I hope that the Spurs put up a good fight but, like you, I think that a Heat blowout is a distinct possibility.

 
At Thursday, June 20, 2013 12:30:00 AM, Anonymous JLK1 said...

First off, what a game! Games like that are why we watch.

Wade is such a mystery at this point with his injury. Spoelstra will face the difficult problem of managing his minutes in game 7. The easy way out is to play Wade for 35-40 and take what he gives, but it's clear that in some stretches the team is better off with another shooter. Opposing coaches have told us what they think of Wade in these playoffs by hiding bad defenders on him, and on the other end having their defenders recklessly help off of Wade.

On the other hand, Wade had two pretty big games against San Antonio, so he needs to be out there to see if he's having that kind of night. It's a tough problem and I'm glad I'm not the one that has to solve it.

For LeBron's part, he's a fascinating player and I just try to enjoy him for what he is. We shouldn't lose sight of the fact that winning even a single title as the best player on a team is a major accomplishment. James may yet win more than one ring, but until he does it's premature to compare him to historical greats who won multiple rings. The Jordan vs Lebron debate has been a dead horse for years, and LeBron is only 28 years old.

On a different note, is this the last title run from a player of the Bryant/Duncan/Garnett/Nowitzki generation? I think the East is firmly in the hands of younger teams with the Heat, Bulls, and Pacers. The old guys may linger in the West for another year or two, but a healthy Thunder team should be the favorite.

 
At Thursday, June 20, 2013 2:51:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

JLK1:

Yes, that was a very dramatic game.

Wade has generally been at his best early in the game, so I expect Spoelstra to keep doing the same thing: play Wade his normal first half minutes and then bench him in the second half if/when he starts to struggle.

You are right that what James has already accomplished is significant--but for him to deserve to be ranked among the top 10 players of all-time he has to do more. Bryant's second act--carrying Smush/Kwame to the playoffs twice while setting a slew of scoring records and then leading the Lakers to three straight Finals/two straight titles--is better than James' whole career to this point. This is not about MVPs or "advanced basketball statistics" but rather about a great player's ability to impose his will on the game; Bryant showed that he could singlehandedly carry a horrible team to the playoffs and he proved that he could lead a good (but not great) roster to multiple Finals appearances/two titles--and anyone who thinks that the 2008-10 Lakers had a great roster should take a closer look at what those players did during their careers when they did not play alongside Bryant.

 
At Thursday, June 20, 2013 11:09:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David, how shocked would you be if the Spurs won tonight?

I try to take solace in the fact that the Spurs shot just 5-18 from 3, had no one show up outside of Duncan/Kawhi and still only lost by 3.

But maybe I'm reaching.

Would you say Game 6 is the most devastating loss in NBA history? Or at least top 3?

 
At Thursday, June 20, 2013 3:20:00 PM, Blogger dmills said...

David:

Rick Fox once made the distinction between great players and guys who know how to get great numbers. He seemed to imply that Lebron has only in the last few seasons began to shed that label as a guy who knows how to put up some nice numbers into a great player who can be impactful regardless of the numbers. He said that's the reason that a guy like Lebron (much like Kevin Garnett in his prime years) can put up stat lines of 20+ points 8 assists and 10 rebounds, but at the same time look totally ineffectual and passive during the course of a given game despite what the box score suggests.

I was never able to quite put it into words what nagged me so much about Lebron James as a player but I think Fox hit it right on the head. His stat line at times would betray the eyeball test so to speak. I thought that he had shed that tendency during the championship run last season, but I'm seeing shades of that again in this series.

 
At Thursday, June 20, 2013 3:30:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi David,

This is Vednam.

I agree with Stephen's point. Because the Spurs made some crucial errors (that were completely out of LeBron's control), the story is how LeBron asserted himself, took over and brought the Heat back to an improbable win. If the Spurs had simply made an extra free throw or grabbed a rebound, everyone would be talking about LeBron's turnover near the end of regulation and his play in the first three quarters.

There is so much that is out of the control of any one player, and that's why I hate the "ring counting" approach to assessing a player's legacy. One play completely out of his control may turn out to be the difference between LeBron capturing a second championship and LeBron's team coming up short yet again. Does it make any sense at all for a missed or made free throw by Manu Ginobili or Kawhi Leonard to have such a huge impact on how we compare LeBron to other greats?

 
At Thursday, June 20, 2013 3:57:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is Vednam.

What makes Game 6 really stand out is that all the Spurs had to do was make 1 out of 4 or 5 plays at the end and the outcome would have been different.

Before the series started, I expected the Heat to win because at the highest level of competition, the outcome is decided by the superstars. When close games are up for grabs, it's up to the stars to take over and make the difference. The Heat have an all-time great in his prime, while the Spurs' stars are either over-the-hill (Duncan) or not true superstars to begin with (Parker).

I think it's telling that in Game 6, the Spurs' role players were mostly invisible. When the Heat were making their run in the 4th, who were the Spurs going to turn to? Were Danny Green or Gary Neal going to bail them out? No. They had to turn to their star players. Duncan seemed to be out of gas and Ginobili was erratic. Parker made a few huge plays to put them in the driver's seat near the end of regulation. But in overtime, Parker couldn't do much. Had Duncan been in his prime, the Spurs could have turned to him to consistently generate quality scoring opportunities.

It doesn't look good for the Spurs. Ginobili already had a throwback performance in Game 5. Duncan turned back the clock for much of Game 6. Do either of them have one last great performance left in them? I'd be very surprised if they do. Moreover, Parker seems banged up, and I just don't see San Antonio's role players getting hot and carrying them to the title. I expect the Spurs to put up a decent fight and keep things close for a few quarters, but Miami will blow the game open in the second half as the Spurs' stars wear down and are unable to deliver.

 
At Thursday, June 20, 2013 4:02:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is Vednam.

One last comment: do you think Ginobili was fouled near the end of the overtime period?

 
At Thursday, June 20, 2013 4:17:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

Each game is its own unique entity, so I don't buy much into small sample size numbers (i.e., the three point shooting for one game, Duncan's 30-17 stat line, etc.). The important things are the matchups and the general trends. If the Spurs keep their turnovers low, if they attack the paint to create layups and/or wide open three pointers and if they induce James and Wade to settle for long two point jump shots then the Spurs will maximize their chances to win; if the Heat force live ball turnovers and convert those turnovers into scores, if they contain Parker and Ginobili's drives and if James and Wade--but particularly James--play aggressively then the Heat will maximize their chances to win.

Before game seven of the 1982 Eastern Conference Finals, Bill Russell noted that everyone discounted Philadelphia's chances but that Philadelphia and Boston were in fact evenly matched--as indicated by the 3-3 record after six games. Philadelphia defied expectations/popular opinion and beat Boston in the Boston Garden.

Therefore, I would not be "shocked" if the Spurs win game seven--but I picked the Heat to win this series because the Heat have the best player and they have homecourt advantage, so I will be a bit surprised if the Spurs win.

 
At Thursday, June 20, 2013 4:21:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Dmills:

James is indisputably a great player but there is occasionally a Stephon Marbury-esque aspect to his play--i.e., Marbury could put up a "selfish" 20-10 during which he accumulated numbers but did not really help his team win and James, who is obviously much better than Marbury ever was, sometimes racks up big individual numbers despite not playing in a way that would maximize his team's winning chances.

Antonio Davis recently called James' tendency to play passively/give up the ball "selfish" and I think that he is right; many people say that James is unselfish because he passes the ball so much but any good coach will tell you that if the best player passes the ball to a player who does not have a better shot then the best player is hurting his team, whether or not he is racking up assists. James took over game six in the fourth quarter by relentlessly seeking scoring opportunities, not by passing.

 
At Thursday, June 20, 2013 4:29:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Vednam:

I never evaluate a game based on one play, nor do I evaluate a player's career based on one game. Everything has to be put in proper context. If the Spurs had made one more play and won the championship then it would not be correct to say that James' legacy hinged on one free throw or one rebound; James put the Heat in a precarious situation by playing passively for three quarters--and by playing passively in several other games that the Heat lost. Fortunately for James, the Spurs did not make those late game plays. James deserves criticism for how he played in the first three quarters and he deserves credit for how he played in the final quarter. The only thing that changed about my game story after Ray Allen hit the three and the Heat won the game in overtime is that I had to alter the title and the final statistics; it still remained true that Duncan had a great first half before fading and that James was invisible for three quarters before dominating in the fourth quarter. I cannot be responsible for how other people write about and/or describe what happened.

If James had played at a high level for the whole series while his teammates kept falling short and then everything was decided by one free throw then I would agree with you that it would not be fair to negatively judge James--that is why Jerry West won the 1969 Finals MVP even though his Lakers lost and that is why West is not considered a loser even though his team lost so many championship series: West never quit and he always performed at a high level in the Finals. The same cannot be said of James and that is why it is fair to criticize him.

 
At Thursday, June 20, 2013 4:35:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Vednam:

I have seen the Ginobili play several times and I am still not sure, so I understand why the officials did not call a foul. However, I think that Bosh fouled Green on the final three point attempt--the shooter is supposed to be given an opportunity to return to his position on the court and there clearly was much more contact on that play then there was on the infamous Pippen/Hubert Davis play back in 1994. The NBA later admitted that Pippen should not have been whistled for a foul but I think that Bosh contacted Green's arm when the ball was still in Green's hands and that this contact prevented Green from completing his follow through; I was surprised that Bosh took the risk of going for the block as opposed to just contesting the shot.

 
At Thursday, June 20, 2013 7:19:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I found this on Reddit, thought the superstitious among you would enjoy the read. OP is dmc15... a Kings fan. Very interesting find though.


Last summer, just before the Finals, I started noticing coincidences between the Miami Heat team ('06 - present) and the post-Shaq Laker team. After Miami managed to equalise the series 3-3 last night, I was reminded of these events, and how they have perfectly carried on. There are differences between the teams, and I'm not saying that these mean anything, but they are quite interesting to see:

2002 - Los Angeles Lakers win title with Shaquille O'Neal

2006 - Miami Heat win title with Shaquille O'Neal

2 Years Later

2004 - Shaquille O'Neal leaves the Lakers, Lakers become lottery team

2008 - Shaquille O'Neal leaves the Heat, Miami become lottery team

After that

2006, 2007 - After missing the playoffs, the Lakers have back to back 1st round exits. Their first playoff bout ends in 7, their second in 5. During this time, the team is essentially Kobe Bryant (A top-5 player) and garbage.

2009, 2010 - After missing the playoffs, the Heat have back to back 1st round exits. Their first playoff bout ends in 7, their second in 5. During this time, the team is essentially Dwayne Wade (A top-5 player) and garbage.

2008 - The Lakers' solid offseason/trade deadline allows them to become one of the best teams in the league.

2011 - The Heat's solid offseason/trade deadline allows them to become one of the best teams in the league.

2008 - The Lakers make it all the way to the Finals, without much competition, only to lose in 6 to a defensive minded team full of hungry veterans. Their star player recieves a ton of hate for his poor performance.

2011 - The Heat make it all the way to the Finals, without much competition, only to lose in 6 to a defensive minded team full of hungry veterans. Their star player recieves a ton of hate for his poor performance.

2009 - The Lakers make it back to the Finals, and get matched up against an unexperienced team featuring one of the brightest young stars in the NBA.

2012 - The Heat make it back to the Finals, and get matched up against an unexperienced team featuring one of the brightest young stars in the NBA.

2009 - The Lakers win in 5, proving all the doubters wrong

2012 - The Heat win in 5, proving all the doubters wrong

2010 - The Lakers make it back to the finals, matched up against a former title team with it's core still in tact.

2013 - The Heat make it back to the finals, matched up against a former title team with it's core still in tact.

2010 - The Lakers go down 3-2, but win Game 6 to force Game 7 at home.

2013 - The Heat go down 3-2, but win Game 6 to force Game 7 at home.

2010 - The Lakers manage to win game 7, claiming the NBA title and winning back-to-back.

2013 - The Heat ????

 
At Friday, February 14, 2014 3:09:00 PM, Blogger Jules said...

just discovered this site doing some research about Doctor J. Excited to read through your material. Came to this article about the spurs and could barely read it. As a spurs fan, I still can't revisit game 6 and read about it :/

 

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