Of Gods and Men and the Fine Line In Between

USA TODAY Sports

I mean, THAT could've happened in Game 7, right? (But seriously, don't end Game 7 like that or I'll end it all.)

Bill Buckner thought that was a messed up ending. Felix Rodriguez can't believe the Spurs couldn't pull down either of those fateful rebounds that would've won the title. Nelson Cruz shakes his head at the missed free throws from Manu and Kawhi.

Ugh. This hurts. Last night might have been the worst of my life. The emotions swung from early frustration of Ginobili's play to elation and pride for how Duncan was playing like the legend he is to bitter disappointment for how quickly they blew the lead in the fourth quarter to ecstasy for Parker's closing burst and the terrific defensive stand the team made at the end to steal it, to crushing, mortifying despair. I had zero faith in overtime. None. You just don't come back from an ending like that.

Yet the Spurs, these resilient, fearless, unrelenting, prideful Spurs wouldn't quit. Hell, they had a three-point lead at one point in overtime. And even when that turned and it looked bleak, when the Heat were one more basket from putting Game 6 to bed, the Spurs didn't quit. Danny Green turned over mighty LeBron James, a bull charging at him with a full head of steam. The next trip down the Spurs forced a miss from Dwyane Wade, whose back-tap of a rebound -- THE REBOUND -- to James with less than 25 seconds to go was his only positive contribution during the final 17 minutes of the game. The Spurs had the ball, down one, with less than 10 seconds to go, in Ginobili's hands as he sprinted (as much as a 35-going-on-65-year-old can sprint after a hard 35 minutes of game time) down the court, eschewing the time out.

You saw what happened. He got by Wade, got into the paint and was seemingly fouled by Ray Allen, the same vile Allen who hit that god awful game-tying three in the corner with less than six seconds to go after another Heat offensive board. The refs swallowed their whistles. Honestly I don't even blame them. It's asking a lot to make that call with 1.5 seconds left in a Game 6, especially when it wasn't a clear, 100 percent no-doubt-about-it foul. Also, it's tough in that spot to give Ginobili the benefit of the doubt when he spent the better part of the game playing Oprah to the Heat's studio audience i.e. "and you get a turnover and YOU get a turnover and YOU get a turnover."

Honestly I can't think of a worse way to lose a basketball game than how it went down, in that situation, to that team, with our guy playing like total crap. It's worse than a gut punch. It was God twisting the knife to our collective kidneys. Or to be less morbid, less life-and-death about it, it was like The Flying Spaghetti Monster pulling off The Birdman's pet defensive move and pulling the chair out from underneath us. Or perhaps a Shane Battier, ducking in underneath us while we're flying in the air, glory in sight, just to draw a BS charge.

I feel bad for me, sure, obviously. I feel bad for all of you and all the Spurs fans out there, even the thousands of scuzzy ones who don't deserve this. But I feel the worst for the players, for Manu who again had a tragic game on the big stage, for Green who went cold at the worst time, for Parker, whose shooting touch has abandoned him in these Finals, and most of all for Timmy, who went into God Mode for the better part of three quarters and whose effort was wasted by a bunch of teammates who just couldn't rise to the occasion with him and by a coach who made a couple of costly blunders down the stretch. Dammit Duncan deserved better. It's sick how close I was to not only predicting the winner of all six games quickly, but for how the final one would unfold:

My gut tells me that if the Spurs win tonight it will be on the back of Tim Duncan, the best basketball player since Michael Jordan. I think he's going to leave it all out there, every last drop in his tank and pull out one last vintage performance, something like 28-17-5-5, repeatedly punishing the Heat for going small against him and not doubling quickly. I think he'll be the difference maker on both ends of the floor and that he might just snatch the series MVP from Parker and Green with his play tonight, to give him Finals MVPs 14 years apart.

Just sick. Cruel, even.

History tells us that the Spurs have no chance on Thursday. Nobody has won a road Game 7 in the Finals since 1978 and no one has won one, period, in this 2-3-2 format. Like I predicted in my last post, the Spurs gave everything they had in Game 6, not saving an ounce of energy for the swim back. Duncan certainly looked tapped by the end, as did Parker, and it seemed that Ginobili didn't even have any energy for Game 6 let alone Game 7. How can we expect anything of them after the Shakespearean way this one ended?

They're better than us, that's why.

And I don't mean in the obvious sense that they're better athletes and basketball players. No. They're better men, period. Whereas we would hang our heads, give up and admit defeat after a game like this, they won't. They'll just shake it off, turn the page and keep pounding that rock. Call it hubris, stubbornness or arrogance if you want. I call it will. They have more will than us commonfolk. As much as we think we want it, they want it a thousand times more. The overtime period was a microcosm of how Game 7 will play out, I think. No matter how bleak it looks, no matter how many reasons the basketball gods will give them to just throw up their hands and say "it's not in the cards for us," no matter how many pundits read them their last rites, the Spurs will keep fighting to the bitter end.

Will they win? I have no idea. But they will bring whatever they have left and more, they will make the Heat beat them instead of just handing them the trophy, and they will make us proud of their effort. They'll take all the haymakers history throws at them, like Rocky vs. Drago, and just smile back, replying, "Thank you sir, may I have another?"

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Not to go too soft liberal philosopher on you, and I realize this sounds a lot like something Pop would say, but really after six games and the way that last one ended, with a 50/50 ball being battled for in midair between Leonard and Wade, with a 55/45 foul/turnover between Ginobili and Allen, doesn't all of this seem silly, pointless, and even trivial on the macro level?

This might be the most evenly-matched NBA Finals of all time. No matter what happens in Game 7, it won't really mean that one team is superior to the other. It will just be the beneficiary of a couple of lucky bounces. We're no better than them and they're no better than us. Both teams are so worn down to a nub at this point that we're not seeing anything close to their best basketball. They're just doing it on desire and guts and experience out there, with the rotations being pared down to the bare minimum.

You'll notice that Udonis Haslem, a personal favorite of Erik Spoelstra, got no run last night. Neither did Norris Cole, after the way he was torched by Ginobili and Parker in Game 5. The only reason Mike Miller plays is because he can shoot and stretch the floor for James and Wade. Our rotation is down to seven guys, basically, with Tiago Splitter, our starting center all season, once again becoming a nonentity by the end, just like last season.

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Game 6 might have been the hardest-played game I've ever seen. It was the type of game that both Spoelstra and Popovich will watch over and over in the off-season, beaming with pride at how hard their guys competed. It's a testament to the collective offensive talent of both teams that it was a 95-95 game after regulation because neither defense could've played any better. If this were Indiana vs. Chicago it would've been 62-62.

In that vein, I suppose this is as good a time as any to offer a tip of the cap to LeBron James, who simply isn't human. Lord knows I dislike a thousand different things about him, but damn if he didn't give everything to pull this game out. 50 minutes, bulling his way down a clogged paint time and again in the fourth quarter and guarding Parker all game on the other end. I really have no idea how anyone can have that kind of endurance. He's just not human. What happened to the guy who had crippling leg cramps in Game 5 of the Finals last year? Aren't we overdue for those?

It's just the Spurs luck to draw the 2013 Heat when they made the Finals again at long last. If they played the 2011 Heat they'd have won Game 6 going away. Those guys would've folded. This time James didn't fold.

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The casual fan's view of the Spurs is that they're just four guys: Tim, Tony, Manu and Pop. Well, the other three failed Duncan in Game 6, in different ways.

Parker threw up a 6-for-23, and while he had a couple of huge, almost-championship-winning buckets late in the fourth quarter, he missed way too many open shots throughout the game and had no lift at all on his jumper.

Ginobili was a complete trainwreck from beginning to end. This was, unquestionably, the worst game of his career and he's had some doozies. Eight turnovers is bad enough, but the really mystifying part was the he only managed five shot attempts in 35 minutes. It's not like Green, Leonard and Neal were lighting it up from outside, and Parker certainly didn't have it going. How could Ginobili play so long and shoot so little? Why was he always looking to pass when hands and arms were all over the passing lanes?

The biggest slice of the blame pie has to go to Pop. His play-calls were stale and predictable. The Spurs had so much success iso-ing the Heat in Game 5 and they got away from that in Game 6, never taking on Allen or Miller one-on-one. The only mismatch they ever exploited was with Tim inside. How Pop kept repeatedly calling pick-and-rolls with Ginobili, when it was clear that they were never going to end in anything other than disaster, was mystifying. You have to let him iso or play off the ball, that's it. You can't pick-and-roll these guys.

Pop's biggest blunder though was leaving Ginobili out there naked for the first 2:37 of the fourth quarter, when everyone knew the Heat, down 10, would be desperate to make one final push. How was that lineup of Splitter-Diaw-Green-Neal-Ginobili supposed to score? Oh right, the pick-and-roll. Gotcha.

Taking out Duncan at the end was beyond dumb too. You'd think that Pop would've learned from Frank Vogel's boner that cost the Pacers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals. It was even more egregious in this case up five the first time and then three the second time. So what the Heat had a lineup of James-Miller-Allen-Chalmers-Wade out there? Wade hasn't shot a three-pointer all series. I'd have put Duncan on him, sagged back and dared him to be the one to fire away. You know he'd have hot-potatoed that ball. The second time, up three, Bosh was on the court. I can't even remember the last time he made a three in this series. I think he quit taking them midway through. His job on the court was to do exactly what he wound up doing, grabbing an offensive rebound and passing to a shooter for another chance.

I don't understand the wisdom of putting in Diaw for Duncan at all there. Maybe Diaw is like five percent more mobile than Duncan but Tim is four times the rebounder that Diaw is. That decision probably cost them the game. At least in Vogel's spot the Pacers were only up one and any basket beats them, and there was way less time on the clock so the Heat only had time for one shot. Here, though, there was plenty of time for multiple looks (meaning rebound opportunities), the Heat had to take a three and they had guys on the floor you knew weren't going to shoot them. Just terrible coaching there.

Bottom line, the Heat outscored the Spurs by 19 points in the 9 minutes Duncan didn't play. I think he's kinda, sorta a big deal and should've been on the court for the most important possession of the game.

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One guy who is blameless though is Kawhi Leonard, who was an absolute beast on both ends of the floor last night. I couldn't be more proud of him. To call him a "role player" is to grossly belittle him. He's already a full-fledged star in my mind and I'd be pretty surprised if he's not on the All-Star team next season and many more years after that. I don't care that he missed a free throw or that he couldn't come down with that late rebound. He did more than enough to win that championship.

Diaw was another guy who showed up and did the best he could. I wish he, Tim and Leonard had more help. It's insane how close the Spurs came to winning it all getting so little from everyone else.

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So, the $64,000 question: How do the Spurs rebound from this, pull themselves off the mat and shock the world on Thursday?

Well, first of all, they have to send a limo for Wade to make sure he shows up to the arena. James was 6-of-9 when Wade was off the court and 5-of-17 when he was on. That's no accident. The Spurs are able to clog up the paint a lot more when Wade's out there because they don't fear his shooting at all.

During his presser on Monday James noted how much better the team played in the fourth quarter with Wade on the bench, saying, "The lineup with myself, Rio (Mario Chalmers), Bird (Andersen), Ray and Mike, it creates some space."

Beyond that though they just have to hope and pray that somehow Wade continues to be gimpy, that James doesn't quite have the spring and the burst in his legs for one more game, and that Chalmers, Allen and Miller don't all shoot the lights out. Take out James and the rest of the Heat shot 10-of-14 from downtown in Game 6. Hopefully that isn't sustainable.

Defensively I'm not too worried about them though. It's the other end of the floor where they have to be much better.

The ball movement was awful last night. Without a doubt the worst part of their performance. 13 assists in a 53-minute game. Pretty much the only offense came from Duncan down low and Leonard doing what he does. Green hardly got any open looks at all, Ginobili created nothing but Heat odd-man rushes down the ice, and Parker was too occupied building a house the big bad wolf couldn't blow down. Hopefully the Heat will be just a little bit more worn out from this game, a little slower and lazier in their rotations, and the Spurs will get more good looks. It takes less energy to pass than to run, right? Of course you need your legs to hit threes... hell I don't know.

Mainly I think they need Ginobili and Parker to show up to the party and to play angry. They need Green to hit a few bombs to silence that front-running crowd. They need to help Duncan get some easy stuff early because I don't know if he has anything left to make any of the hard ones. Basically they need to bring their offense from Games 3 and 5 and their defense from Games 1 and 6. They need a miracle.

I think the Spurs can make history and pull off the impossible on Thursday, only because they're constituted of much tougher stuff than you or I. They're not going to do this for us, for the casual fans who just want a classic ending or for the "game of basketball." They're going to do it for only each other. And that's fine. That's more than fine.

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