NBA Finals Game 7: An imagined oral history - Part 4

USA TODAY Sports

There, it's over. Okay? It's over.

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.

This is the conclusion of my four-part series. In case you missed them, here are the links to the past entries: Part 1. Part 2. Part 3.

Tony Parker: We were feeling good about ourselves, thinking we were going to be up going into the fourth quarter and then Chalmers makes that unbelievable shot from almost half court. That was big for them. You want to be positive and keep believing, but it was hard after that. They just got so many lucky plays the last two games, like that bank three Battier hit in Game 6. I think once Chalmers made that shot their team thought to themselves, "Okay, it's meant to be, there is no way we're going to lose," and it gave them more confidence and really hurt us.

Gregg Popovich: Absolutely it was deflating. We felt we played a pretty good third quarter and didn't have a whole lot to show for it. As for whether it was more deflating or less deflating than the shot Durant made at the halftime buzzer in Game 6, that's one of those questions you guys ask that I have no idea how the hell to answer. That was a million years ago.

Manu Ginobili: It definitely gave them some juice for sure, and I think Pop thought so too, because he brought in Tim right away for the fourth quarter - he didn't want to rest them and let Miami get on a run, like it happened in Game 6.

Indeed the Spurs coach did bring in Duncan just 34 seconds into the final quarter of the season, but not before Leonard missed another push shot from the elbow from a pick-and-roll with Ginobili and Battier's fifth three of the night, from the corner, to extend the Heat's lead to five. Duncan got to check in after Wade swatted a baseline drive from Green out of bounds, but Ginobili inexplicably launched a quick, awry two to waste that possession. Manu had a great defensive sequence on the other end, playing James straight up and putting a hand in his face on a bricked three, but he missed one of his own on the other end, with Leonard salvaging the board and laying it in quickly.

Popovich: I didn't like how we began the fourth at all. Maybe it was a nervous response to Chalmers' shot, where our guys felt like they had to get the lead back right away to steal momentum, but once Battier hit his, I sensed that there was some real teetering there for us. I put Timmy back in, hoping to slow things down, stabilize us somewhat, but still everything was happening way too fast on both ends and we were playing like there were a few seconds left instead of a whole quarter, basically.

Chalmers missed an open jumper at the top of the key, but Andersen beat Duncan to the rebound, forcing a foul and converted one of two free throws. Pop subbed in Parker for Neal, going with his optimum small-ball lineup that he had for most of the series. Ginobili, being guarded by Chalmers and working the high-screen with Duncan, attempted to split the double-team but the spacing was too constricted and he wound up slamming into a sliding Andersen and got called for a 50/50 offensive foul. It would be the first of four fourth quarter turnovers for the Argentine.

Ginobili: I took too long and was too indecisive. I should've passed it to Tim quickly and he would have probably given it to "Y" in the corner. Andersen closed on me faster than I expected.

Wade missed one jumper and had a dunk attempt blocked by Duncan, but James got to clean up on that board when Duncan contested the shot, with Leonard having no choice but to foul him. He only got a point out of it, thanks to a lane violation on the second attempt by Birdman. Neal, in for Ginobili, and Parker both kicked the ball around on the next series, before eventually losing it to Miami on a jump ball, but Battier finally missed a three, this time from the top of the key, and Duncan wound up with a layup on the ensuing break when he caught Parker's airball and guided it toward the basket in one motion.

Parker: I did not have my best game, but that was definitely a pass. I was going to shoot at the beginning, but then Andersen took away my angle and I saw Timmy out of the corner of my eye and threw it to him. I am a point guard, you know.

Parker and Duncan didn't read each other's minds nearly so well after the timeout, allowing an uncontested layup to Chalmers to push Miami's lead back to four. Green shot a quick three from well behind the line on the other end and missed short, but Chalmers airballed a corner three on the other end in the ambitious attempt of trying to draw a foul. Green allowed himself to get trapped by Bosh and Battier on the next possession, forcing Neal to foul James at midcourt. Pop checked Manu back into the game, but Wade connected on another jumper from the left wing over a lunging Duncan to push the margin to six. Ginobili already anticipating his drive, took his eyes off an incoming pass from Parker and the ball rolled out-of-bounds to the crowd's delight. Miami led 81-75, with the ball, and seven minutes exactly to go.

Popovich: The look on my face there says it all. It's not like we ever had a full complement of guys who were playing well that night. For most of the game, it was just three, and then, for a few minutes in the fourth, it dawned on me it was just two, and that's not going to get it done against LeBron and Dwyane and Bosh and the rest. I will say though, that after a start where he didn't play particularly well, I thought that Manu really carried us in a sense with his playmaking and his control of the flow and the pace, knowing when to push it, when to slow it down, during those second and third quarters. There were a few times where it could've gotten away from us, and he, along with Timmy and Kawhi, kept us in the game. He had to play the point a lot with Tony compromised, and I thought he did an admirable job of that against that defense for the majority of the game.

Ginobili, as is his wont, immediately got the ball back for the Spurs, drawing a moving screen call on Bosh (with a little, subtle help from a Duncan nudge) that had James screaming at the former Raptor. Ginobili then tortured Bosh some more on the other end, with a driving layup over him to cut it to four. Following another Bosh brick -he wouldn't score all night-Ginobili turned it over for a third time on a quick, awry pass intended for Neal that looked for all the world like it was deflected by Wade out of bounds. James made the miscue sting worse with a baseline jumper.

Ginobili: It was a bad pass but he touched it. I know he touched it and he knows he touched it. But referees are human and they make mistakes too. Like Pop says it's a game of mistakes and both teams made many of them, maybe a hundred of them, like they always do.

Duncan couldn't score over Bosh, but the Heat's de-facto center reciprocated with a wild three-point miss from the corner which earned the Spurs a fast break and two free throws from Duncan to cut it to four after Parker found him from underneath the basket. James sank a killer long two -exactly the kind of shot the Spurs want him to take-over Duncan in isolation to push it back to six, but Ginobili coolly stroked in a rafters-scraping three over Chalmers to cut it to three, 85-82 with 4:21 to go.

Ginobili: We needed that one, and me, personally, needed that one after I turned it over so many times earlier. We were running out of time. We needed to get some stops and get quick run-outs and easy baskets on them because in the half court we just had no chance.

Green stole the inbounds pass and immediately dished it to Ginobili... who passed it back to Green in the corner for another three that was way off. "The Tarheel" just didn't have it on this night.

Ginobili: (shakes his head). I should've shot that one quickly or pulled it back out and waited to set something up. Maybe if I shot quickly I could've drawn the foul from D-Wade.

James just rimmed out a three-pointer, but the Spurs wasted a chance to get closer when Parker's trademark floater was well off the mark -he had no lift at all-and Duncan threw the offensive rebound right to Chalmers. James found Battier wide open in the corner on the break and he swished his sixth three of the game, a dagger to make it a six-point deficit once more, with just 3:19 to go.

Popovich: Even that one didn't finish us off. I thought if anything would break our backs it would've been that shot, but my guys kept fighting. I couldn't be prouder of them.

Duncan immediately got the ball down low on the left block and got a fadeaway one-handed banker to drop, with a phantom foul on Bosh to boot, to again halve the margin to three. Following a timeout, Wade shook Ginobili off of him around a screen from James and got a perfectly-timed pass from Bosh to push it back to five. Duncan threw up a prayer off the backboard but James clanked what could've been a killer jumper that would've given Miami a seven-point lead. Instead, it shrunk down to two after Ginobili found Leonard on the wing for a three. 90-88 Heat with 2:00 to go. For the championship.

Kawhi Leonard: It felt good leaving my hand. I felt good all night. I don't know why more didn't go in because for the most part we got the shots against them that we wanted. That's basketball.

Green, a goat all game, committed an awful reach-in foul on a driving Chalmers, but the Spurs seemed to have caught an overdue championship break when he missed both. Leonard, working the pick-and-pop with Parker, found himself alone on the opposite wing for a chance at another three and a potential lead, but he rushed it with Battier closing in on him and missed it short.

Leonard: Should have pump-faked and drove that one, Tim had the whole baseline sealed for me and maybe I could've gotten an "and-1."

The Heat missed two chances to basically put the game away, first with Wade bricking a baseline jumper over Duncan and then, following a board by James, with Battier launching his three from the top of the key a bit long, allowing Ginobili to come up with the board following a scrum. His outlet was almost intercepted by James, but it had just enough on it to get to Green, who almost turned it over before giving it Ginobili on the wing, who instantly noticed the mismatch with Duncan in the low post and only Battier on his back.

Ginobili: When I made the pass, I was thinking, "Tie game," or maybe that Timmy would get an "and-1." The worst-case was that the Heat would close on him very quickly and he'd pass it to a wide open "Y" in the corner or to Tony for a three.

Popovich: He wouldn't be one of the all-time greats if he missed many of those, but I think he's had a pretty okay career. He's the only reason you're talking to me right now or that anybody knows I'm alive.

Parker: I think we would give it to Timmy in that spot 100 times out of 100 and he would make 99.

Duncan: I just... rushed it. I had more time. It is what it is. I wish I could have the chance to do it over again but I can't. You just move on and go to the next play, the next game, the next season, whatever the case may be.

Indeed, Duncan did miss a bunny over Battier, and the tip rebound after, slamming his palm down on the court on the other end before the Heat called time. One more LeBron jumper over a sagging Spurs defense, one more Ginobili turnover after he was caught in the air with no one to pass it to, three more Heat free throws and it was all over but the crying. And there was crying.

Popovich: We had a hell of a season. A hell of a season. We came as close to winning a championship as one can possibly come without winning it, and I'm sick over it for Timmy and Manu and Tony and all of them really, but I'm not any less proud of this group than I was with those teams I had that did win. And in many respects I'm more proud of this team. They gave it everything they had. It just makes you sick when you realize that, as successful as this franchise has been, no Spurs team has ever come closer, in terms of wins-needed, to win successive championships, and we won neither.

Tim Duncan: I'm going to remember this game, and that last shot, for the rest of my life, but I don't think it will haunt me or whatever. I've been fortunate enough to win four championships, and there are a lot of great players who don't haven't been that lucky. We're going to come back next year, work hard, play and maybe get another shot to win one against those guys.

Parker: Me, I'm excited about next year, why shouldn't I be? I'm on a great team, we keep improving and even we weren't fully healthy we almost won it. I think we'll have a better chance next year.

Ginobili: I definitely think we have a chance, especially with the way Kawhi is developing. We just have to use these Finals as fuel, as motivation to get back and to win it this time. I can already hear Pop yelling at us to "not skip steps," and to "keep pounding the rock," though, because we can't just assume we are going to show up and be back in the Finals. Just to get there takes a lot of work and a lot of luck. It's not easy to be one of the last two teams standing.

Danny Green: Last year I shot it well all year until I slumped in the last few games against Oklahoma City. This year I shot it well all year until the last two games at Miami. So next year I should be all set, that's how I've got to look at it, right?

Leonard: I rested during the summer, I got my knee right and I worked on my game. I'm going to be better next year. If Tim, Tony and Manu can stay healthy, I think we have a good chance.

DeJuan Blair: We would've won if Pop played me. I feel that I would've made a difference and I'm going to show him that in Dallas.

Ginobili: DB said that?

Parker: (laughter) Unbelievable.

Duncan: (deliberate pause). Okay.

Popovich: (exaggerated eye-roll) He's probably right. What the hell do I know? (smirk)

................................................................................

I know this little series wasn't exactly the most popular thing I've ever done at PtR, especially the late timing of it, but I just wanted to put the 2013 season to bed at last, my way, and to do it with an attempt at creativity, so thanks to the couple of you who've read them for indulging me on this. I probably dragged it on way too long and I know I took way too long to do it, but I just couldn't bring myself to watch Game 7 until this past weekend.

Now that I have? I feel so, so, stupid. Though writing about it was still cathartic for me, I didn't find actually watching the game nearly as traumatic as I thought I would be -- even Manu's turnovers or Duncan's late miss. I was oddly free of emotion, though I don't know if that's a good or bad thing. Rather, I was surprised by how clinically, how detached I was viewing it, and I think it helped me notice way more details than I would normally. I was struck by how poorly so many guys played in the game, especially Green and Neal for us and Chalmers and Allen for them. I mean, I always had my suspicions just from looking at the box score and the play-by-play, but really watching the game closely drove home for me just how idiotic the posters at a certain message board are for incessantly hammering Ginobili for this game when they would've lost by 25 if he was half as bad as they suggest. You could park Jupiter in the gulf between the Spurs third- and fourth-best players in that game, for what it's worth.

Mainly though, the biggest point that was driven home for me, even while watching the worst loss in Spurs history, was that I LOVE watching this team play basketball. I texted J.R. Wilco the other night saying how jealous I was that he got to watch the preseason game versus the Hawks while I was stuck having to make do with a playoff baseball game, and I was dead serious.

It took me a few more months than the rest of you, but now I can finally say I've put the 2013 season in the rear view. October 30 can't come soon enough for me.

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