NBA Finals Game 7: An imagined oral history - Part 3

USA TODAY Sports

The third part of four. By this point, my interviewees were loosening up, but the subject matter continued to cast a pall over the proceedings.

Well, I finally did it. After putting off watching Game 7 of the 2013 NBA Finals all summer long, making excuse after excuse to skip it, I finally watched it from beginning to end the other day. It was just as bad as I figured it would be. Worse, even. I have no idea how you sick freaks made it through this game live.

In case you missed them, here are Part I and Part II.

[Editor's note: This is a work of fiction. -JRW]

Third Quarter

Gregg Popovich: By halftime, I kind of had a sense of what kind of game it was shaping up to be and I liked that we were competing, I liked how some of our guys were playing, but I knew that to win we were going to have to get more contributions from somebody. Timmy was going to be Timmy, Manu would go on one of his runs, Kawhi would give us some energy plays and Tony was giving what he could, but we needed one or two other guys, whether it was Danny or Boris or Gary, to get over that hump. The worrying things, from a defensive aspect, were that Wade got himself going, which you never like to see, that Battier looked like he was going to be the unknown quantity who shows up for them -- which again, we haven't had yet up to that point -- and LeBron, who it didn't seem like he'd hardly done anything, had 15 points at half. I guess when you're the best player in the world, you can have a quiet 15 in a half. So yes, you would be correct to assume I was concerned.

Tim Duncan: I was pretty pleased with how we came out in the first half. Of course we would've liked to have had a big lead or whatever, but I think we were playing hard, we were communicating on defense and most of our mistakes were on the other end, which is fine. We weren't throwing the ball away too much and giving them easy points, which was the most important thing. I felt that we took their best shot, that they knew they weren't going to run us out of there or whatever, and that if we could get it into the last three, four minutes where it's still tight, then maybe things could go our way.

Tony Parker: Some plays my leg was feeling okay; other plays, I was just limping and dragging it. I could not be in "attack mode" all the time like I wanted to be, and that was pissing me off, but I was trying not to let my teammates see that. Me and Manu were doing a pretty good job of communicating and sharing the responsibility and we had to keep it up, but we knew that we needed our guys in the corners to make some big shots, too - for us to have a chance, because that's what their defense gives you.

Manu Ginobili: It was not a good first half for either team. We had some good plays, they had some good plays, but neither of were sharp. We did not have that "juice" -- it was just adrenaline, I think. Both teams, you could tell, were so tired, physically and mentally too. I think if they played the regular season version of us we would've blown them out and the same thing, if we played the regular season version of them they would've killed us.

The second half started promisingly enough for the visitors. Bosh, who was M.I.A. in the first half, missed a short jumper in the lane, with Leonard scooping up the board, taking it coast to coast, stopping on a dime and sinking a short turnaround jump hook in James' face. Then, following a difficult runner from Chalmers that he somehow got to roll in, Leonard got to iso up Miller on the right baseline, backed him down to the elbow and hit a turnaround pull-up on him, plus the foul (though he missed the free throw.)

Popovich: Those two plays, as much as anything, tell you why we have such high hopes for him going forward. There aren't many people in the world who would have the confidence to grab a rebound in the NBA Finals, take it the length of the floor, and score so easily with LeBron. There are fewer still who could actually pull it off. And he does it with no change in his demeanor whatsoever. Most people today, if they scored on LeBron would act like they just won the lottery with all the yelling and gestures. Kawhi couldn't care less. He's a talented young man.

Leonard: I've worked a lot on my game with the help of Coach Pop and the other coaches on this team the last two years. I can do some things that I haven't had the chance to show every night, but I think that's going change next year.

Miller missed another three on the other end and you had to wonder if Spoelstra's patience with him was running out. Meanwhile, Duncan couldn't score on Bosh, though it looked like the Heat big man got away with a bump, which would've been his fourth foul early in the third period. Parker almost came up with a steal in a baseline scrum, but instead LeBron found himself wide open in the same corner where Allen hit his clutch, game-tying three late in Game 6. James' result was identical - a swish - and it gave the Heat a 51-48 lead.

Parker: We kept fighting and fighting but every time we got close or tied it, something would go against us. We couldn't ever take a lead, even a small four- or five-point one, to put pressure on them. Something unbelievable, some bad bounce or lucky shot, would always happen.

Ginobili took advantage of a Duncan screen on Bosh to get a finger-roll layup from the right side of the floor on the next trip down, and after Chalmers drew a foul on Parker and hit one of two free throws, Leonard tied the game once more on a short push shot from the right elbow on the business end of an impromptu pick-and-roll with Ginobili. Chalmers clanked another three badly off the front of the rim, but Green, stuck in a nightmare he couldn't wake up from ruined an impressive on-the-move rebound and behind-the-back dribble move with a careless pass that Miller easily stole in transition and turned into a fast break dunk for Wade.

Popovich: I'm not blind. I could see how it was going for Danny. It was just not happening for him and it kept snowballing on him. Miami presents unique matchup problems for us because they play small and they're so darn good at it, so all I have on the bench besides the guys I had out there is Gary, and he already subs for Manu and Tony. If I take Danny out, I have a size mismatch or a quickness mismatch. I suppose you wanted me to bring in [Tracy] McGrady?

Duncan airballed an awkward half hook over Bosh that was clumsy from beginning to end, but the impossibly long-limbed Leonard got it right back for the Spurs with a deflection of James' pass, for Parker to corral. This time Duncan managed to score on the gangly Bosh with a turnaround jumper after backing him down in the post. Chalmers, who had gone cold, airballed a corner three with Green heavily contesting, only for the same thing to happen at the other end, with Green bricking a three from the wing with Chalmers bearing down on him. He still hadn't made a shot all game.

Green: They weren't falling, but I was doing what shooters are supposed to do, and that's keep shooting them. I was taking the same shots that I'd been hitting all season long, all playoffs long. Sometimes they go in, sometimes they don't. I've been around Pop long enough to know it's when you don't take ‘em that he gets mad at you and sits you.

Wade dribbled a ball off his leg for a turnover and an alert time-out from Parker prevented Green from travelling on the other end. A superb, late-in-the-shot-clock feed from Ginobili to Duncan is wasted as the Spurs' all-time legend had just a tad too much oomph on his finger roll and saw it carom off the back of the rim.

Duncan: Me missing short ones was a running theme in that game. It was what it was. They're the shots you love to get, that you work for all summer long and in every practice to get, but you still have to make them. I'd love to be able to jump over everybody and dunk everything, but I can't.

Ginobili got away with an open-floor foul on Wade, who eventually missed a short jumper after backing down the feisty Argentine in the post. The Spurs gave it back on the other end with one of their worst possessions of the night, where they did nothing meaningful with the ball at all and had to settle for a long-two by Green - who missed - at the end of the shot clock. Wade, given another chance, hit a runner over Ginobili to give Miami the lead once more. Leonard missed a three from the wing on the other end, but Duncan managed to tap the rebound back to Green, who dribbled to the corner and finally, FINALLY, made one, to give the Spurs a 57-56 lead.

Popovich: That might have been my favorite moment of the game - not just because of the effort Timmy showed to keep the possession alive for us - but the look of relief on Danny's face when he made that one. For a brief second, I thought to myself, "Maybe that was it, maybe that's the one that'll get him going and break open the dam for us..." but it wasn't to be.

The Spurs coach didn't exactly do Green any favors, as he took him out of the game right after he made his first (and what would prove to be only) shot of the game. Even more mystifying, he brought in Neal just when the Heat subbed out Chalmers (who committed another turnover before the move) to go with their point-guard-less lineup, which killed the Spurs in the first half. Wouldn't it have made more sense to give Parker a breather right then? The fatigued, fading Frenchman reciprocated with a turnover of his own, which James turned into his fourth three-pointer of the night, working the pick-and-pop on the wing with Allen. Parker missed a pull-up jumper from behind the free throw line way short, and following a fortuitous offensive board by Neal, had his layup attempt swatted away by Bosh, leading to James' fifth three, from almost the same spot, after Leonard dared him to shoot. All of a sudden the Heat led by five, 62-57.

Parker: Are you trying to start some kind of controversy or something? I never second-guess Pop's decisions. It was a big game, obviously, and I wanted to play. It's Game 7 of the NBA Finals, of course I wanted to play. I was not at my best, I did not have my usual lift or burst, but I was still good enough to play so that is not an excuse. I did not make the shots I usually make and we lost an unbelievable opportunity. We have to try again next year.

The game wasn't lost yet, however -- especially after a gorgeous drive and reverse layup by Leonard, punctuated by a foul on Allen that earned him an emphatic scolding from James for his porous defense. The second-year small forward made his free throw to draw the Spurs within two, giving him nine points in the quarter. James bullied Leonard on the other end, driving right through him to earn two free throws, making both, before Ginobili found Diaw wide open on the wing for a three to make it 64-63, Heat.

Diaw: Pop, Tony, everybody always tells me "Shoot the ball, Boris, shoot the ball." It's not that simple, sometimes you feel good and that you're going to make it, other times you don't. Why would I shoot a shot I don't feel comfortable with when I could pass it to somebody who is more comfortable and maybe has an easier shot?

James finally missed a three -barely-from the wing and Neal hustled the ball up the floor to Diaw, who alertly noticed that Duncan had sealed off Andersen in the post and quickly darted a pass to him for a layup before James could recover. The Spurs led 65-64 with 2:37 to go in the quarter and a frustrated Spoelstra called time.

Duncan: Boris gave us a little spark there for a stretch and we were playing well. No matter what they threw at us we answered back. We were trading punches, staying patient, trusting the system, pounding the rock, all those things. We kept searching for that one uppercut that would put ‘em away though and we couldn't find it for whatever reason.

Chalmers, who was threatening to be the goat of the game for Miami, had his pocket picked the instant he reentered the game and Ginobili drove it right past him in transition, forcing "Birdman" to foul him. Manu would make both freebies to extend the Spurs lead to three, but it would grow no more the rest of the game. James, whom the Spurs kept encouraging to shoot, drilled one from the top of the key on the next possession, and Neal missed a running banker on the other end. An ice-cold Allen missed a three from the wing that would've given the Heat the lead, but Neal helped him out by taking a quick deep three that brick and left Pop mumbling to himself. James took another jumper from the top that Duncan was quicker to get out on, and it forced a miss. Ginobili dished it to Leonard on the move but his runner was too strong, but a Diaw offensive board gave Neal another chance, which he capitalized on with a running half-scoop/half-hook over Andersen that somehow went in.

Neal: Why was I taking so many shots then? Because that's what I do. I'm a scorer off the bench. That was my role on the team and if I didn't do that, I wouldn't have played. My shot was feeling good and we didn't have Tony on the floor then, so there was more freedom for me to shoot.

The Heat tied the game up with some sharp ball movement, working it around to get Battier a wide open look from the right wing for his fourth three of the night. Ginobili hit a running scoop banker with his trademark drive down the left side of the key, and though it looked like it would give the Spurs an encouraging two-point lead going into the final quarter, those hopes were squashed by Chalmers banking in a 30-footer at the buzzer over Diaw. The Heat led 72-71 with 12 minutes to go for all the marbles.

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