After the Game 6 loss, like many of you, I couldn't sleep. Simmons' "Levels of Losing" came to mind and I read through them. It was cathartic for me to read about other Sports fans that experienced the same agonizing pain that I was going through at that moment. (I assume this is why group therapy works.) As it turns out, last night's loss to the Miami Heat qualified me for nine of Bill Simmon's 16 levels of losing. Most of the ones I didn't qualify for were specific to baseball, football or hockey. What follows are my current levels of losing, with Simmons' descriptions, followed by my thoughts concerning last night's terrible, terrible loss. (Simmons' quotes are in italics, and his 16 Levels of Losing can be read here.)
Level XVI: The Princeton Principle
Definition: When a Cinderella team hangs tough against a heavy favorite, but the favorite somehow prevails in the end (like Princeton almost toppling Georgetown in the '89 NCAAs). ... This one stings because you had low expectations, but those gritty underdogs raised your hopes. ... Also works for boxing, especially in situations like Balboa-Creed I ("He doesn't know it's a damn show! He thinks it's a damn fight!"). ... The moment that always sucks you in: in college hoops, when they show shots of the bench scrubs leaping up and down and hugging each other during the "These guys won't go away!" portion of the game, before the collapse at the end.
Miami began this series as the heavy favorite. The Spurs were only favored in Game 3. The Spurs obviously aren't a Cinderella team, but I think a lot of this level applies. I thought the Spurs would win in 5. There was no history to go off of since both times the teams played in the regular season the star players sat. After watching the first game, I decided I didn't have any idea what was going to transpire moving forward. Normally I have some kind of feel for games, but with Miami, their ceiling is so high and floor so low, it's just impossible to know what to expect. So at that point, even up 1-0, I just started looking at the Vegas lines. Vegas heavily favored the Heat, so I went into most games scared.
The Spurs spent most of Game 6 in control. Gritty Duncan at 37 put in an incredible first half. I was sucked in. I thought the Spurs had it. I think we all thought the Spurs had it. And then they collapsed at the end.
Level XV: The Achilles' Heel
Definition: This defeat transcends the actual game, because it revealed something larger about your team, a fatal flaw exposed for everyone to see. ... Flare guns are fired, red flags are raised, doubt seeps into your team. ... Usually the beginning of the end. (You don't fully comprehend this until you're reflecting back on it.)
The fatal flaw that was exposed is one that we are all acutely aware of. The Spurs Big 3 are old and can't play heavy minutes without running out of gas. The minutes that Tiago played absolutely killed us, but there's nothing the Spurs could do. Tiago was a +/- of -13 and Tim was +16. Tim can't play 50 minutes like Lebron, so we have to survive minutes without him on the floor, and it killed us.
Tony Parker ran out of gas in the fourth quarter. He stopped running the floor and hid. Danny Green got abused by Lebron and had the ball taken from him twice. It was like watching an older brother play one on one with his younger brother. It was embarrassing for Danny. Kawhi Leonard can't create off the dribble at this point in his career. Tim seemed tired and was limping after Chris Bosh rolled into his knee. It was left to Manu and we can debate the blame, I blame the refs, but either way the Spurs were in that position because everyone else was on dead legs. Manu just didn't have it that night and it was upsetting to watch. Fatal flaw exposed, and I don't even want to think about how the heavy minutes they played will affect their performance in Game 7.
Level XIV: The Alpha Dog
Definition: It might have been a devastating loss, but at least you could take solace that a superior player made the difference in the end. ... Unfortunately, he wasn't playing for your team. ... You feel more helpless here than anything. ... For further reference, see any of MJ's games in the NBA Finals against Utah ('97 and '98).
Lebron took over and made every play in the fourth. He scored 16 points. He hit the first three that set up Ray Allen. He finished with 32, 10 and 11, after a very slow start. The superior player made the difference in the end. It was a helpless feeling.
Level XIII: The Rabbit's Foot
Definition: Now we're starting to get into "Outright Painful" territory. ... This applies to those frustrating games and/or series in which every single break seemingly goes against your team. ... Unbelievably frustrating. ... You know that sinking, "Oh, God, I've been here before" feeling when something unfortunate happens, when your guard immediately goes shooting up? ... Yeah, I'm wincing just writing about it.
This was Game 6 to me. Outright painful. Up 5 with 30 to play in regulation, it felt over. I tried to stop myself, but I did the math, and couldn't prevent the wave of joy from sweeping over my body. Up 5 with 30, you win that 99% of the time, right? I haven't seen the stat, but it has to be close to 99%. (Apparently, it's 98.6%. I was pretty close!)
How many things had to go perfectly for the Heat to tie it? 1.) Manu missed the free throw. 2.) Pop took Duncan out of the game. 3.) Lebron missed his first 3-point attempt terribly and the ball bounced right to Mike Miller, of all people. 4.) He kicked it back out to Lebron for 3, hit. Heat foul. 5.) Kawhi missed a free throw. 6.) Pop again took Duncan out. 7.) Lebron missed another 3-pointer and another bad bounce ended up in Chris Bosh's hands. 8.) He kicked it to Ray Allen, hit. Tied.
9.) Now, there's 5 seconds left and it looked like the Spurs had a fast break opportunity. The officials stopped the game. They wanted to review Allen's shot, which replay shows was clearly a three. I would argue this was terrible for the Spurs. Pop apparently agreed because he went nuts yelling at Joey Crawford, "You can't stop the game there!"
10.) It allowed Miami to set their defense. Tony drove, there was contact, no call. Overtime. That's 10 things that had to go perfectly for Miami to tie it. I'm wincing.
Level XI: Dead Man Walking
Definition: Applies to any playoff series in which your team remains "alive," but they just suffered a loss so catastrophic and so harrowing that there's no possible way they can bounce back. ... Especially disheartening because you wave the white flag mentally, but there's a tiny part of you still holding out hope for a miraculous momentum change. ... So you've given up, but you're still getting hurt, if that makes sense. ... Just for the record, the 2002 Nets and 2005 Astros proved that you can fight off The Dead Man Walking Game, but it doesn't happen often.
The loss was catastrophic and harrowing. I don't think that's debatable. I'm sure there are Spurs fans that have waved the white flag, but I'm not there. There's still hope.
Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Danny Green, Gary Neal, and Boris Diaw combined to shoot 27% from the field, 13 of 48. Yet, the Spurs should have won the game. That's a good sign. You have to expect that they respond with better shooting performances.
While the Spurs played heavy minutes and seemed exhausted, so did the Heat. Remember, Ray Allen is 37, Battier is 34, Mike Miller is 33 but his body is 45, and Dwyane Wade is playing on a bum knee. Lebron played 50 minutes. They're going to feel the heavy minutes, too.
Also, Miami's inconsistent supporting cast played exceptionally well and the Heat shot 58% from distance. This series has been consistently inconsistent from game to game. If that trend continues, the Spurs' shooters should have a good Game 7 and Miami's should have a poor one.
Level X: The Monkey Wrench
Definition: Any situation in which either (A) the manager/coach of your team made an idiotic game decision or (B) a referee/umpire robbed your team of impending victory. ... The Monkey Wrench Game gains steam as the days and months roll along. ... The Patriots and Raiders deserve special mention here because they played two Monkey Wrench games 26 years apart -- the '76 playoff game (when Ben Dreith's dubious "roughing the passer" call on "Sugar Bear" Hamilton gave the Raiders second life), and the infamous Snow Game (the Brady fumble/nonfumble). ... Funny how life works out.
We experienced both A and B last night. Pop's coaching decision to sit Tim Duncan twice completely backfired as the Heat were able to grab offensive rebounds both times that they then converted into 3-pointers, which sent the game into overtime. I am not as furious about this as others, but I can understand the rage. I think it's something that we could describe as an idiotic game decision by Popovich. Especially the second time he sat Tim.
Now, I am furious about the two blown calls. First, and most obviously, I still can't believe the NBA assigned Joey Crawford to this game. At best, he's a crazy person that loves to make the game about him instead of basketball. He broke his finger calling a technical. He's had to go to anger management sessions. He's just an awful human being. That's the best version of him. At worst, he hates the Spurs.
So the NBA gave us Joey Crawford, even after this happened.
It's unbelievable to me that we have video evidence that he clearly hates the Spurs and Tim Duncan, yet he's allowed to officiate the biggest game of the year for the Spurs. The NBA had to suspend him for a season because he's so nuts. This is the same NBA that fines anyone who mentions that the officials are doing a bad job WHEN THEY ARE DOING A BAD JOB. Take a second to understand how awful you have to be to get suspended in a league that does everything to protect its officials. Yet, there he was, the biased man that the NBA put between the Spurs and the championship.
Down one point in OT with eight seconds remaining, Manu was fouled and the Joey Crawford led officiating crew didn't call it.
The Spurs were forced to foul and Ray Allen made both free throws. Now down three, Pop drew up a great fade play for Danny Green. He caught the ball, went up to shoot, and Bosh ran him over. Watch the replay. It's also a foul that should be called 100% of the time. No call. Our defenders barely bump Ray Allen and it's a foul. How is Bosh allowed to run through Danny Green? Bosh landed one foot behind where Green would have landed. Green was thrown out of bounds.
That's two in the last eight seconds of a deciding Finals game. It has to be the first time in NBA history that a officiating crew missed two obvious calls in a row that decided the game. The Spurs never even got a shot off, the Heat mauled them so badly. So, big time Monkey Wrench. The fact that it was Joey Crawford makes it even worse.
Level VI: The Broken Axle
Definition: When the wheels come flying off in a big game, leading to a complete collapse down the stretch. ... This one works best for basketball, like Game 3 of the Celtics-Nets series in 2002, or Game 7 of the Blazers-Lakers series in 2000. ... You know when it's happening because (A) the home crowd pushes their team to another level, and (B) the team that's collapsing becomes afflicted with Deer-In-The-Headlitis. ... It's always fascinating to see how teams bounce back from The Broken Axle Game. ... By the way, nobody has been involved in more Broken Axle Games than Rick Adelman.
I already described it, but yes, this was a classic Broken Axle over the last 30 seconds of the game. I didn't want to believe it was possible as it was happening, yet I knew what was going to happen before Ray hit that three. The axle had broken and the wheels came flying off. Missed free throws, offensive rebounds, contested 3-pointers. It all went Miami's way in those last 30 seconds.
Level IV: The Guillotine
Definition: This one combines the devastation of The Broken Axle Game with sweeping bitterness and hostility. ... Your team's hanging tough (hell, they might even be winning), but you can feel the inevitable breakdown coming, and you keep waiting for the guillotine to drop, and you just know it's coming -- you know it -- and when it finally comes, you're angry that it happened and you're angry at yourself for contributing to the debilitating karma. ... These are the games when people end up whipping their remote controls against a wall or breaking their hands while pounding a coffee table. ... Too many of these and you'll end up in prison.
An even better description of what I felt last night. For a second, I was mad at myself for feeling joy before the buzzer. I contributed to the debilitating karma. I felt like I jinxed the team. Sweeping bitterness and hostility is about where I currently reside.
Level III: The Stomach Punch
Definition: Now we've moved into rarefied territory, any roller-coaster game that ends with (A) an opponent making a pivotal (sometimes improbable) play or (B) one of your guys failing in the clutch. ... Usually ends with fans filing out after the game in stunned disbelief, if they can even move at all. ... Always haunting, sometimes scarring. ... There are degrees to The Stomach Punch Game, depending on the situation. ... For instance, it's hard to top Cleveland's Earnest Byner fumbling against Denver when he was about two yards and 0.2 seconds away from sending the Browns to the Super Bowl.
In summary, I think we experienced a Princetonian Achilles' Heel Alpha Dog Dead-Man-Walking Rabbit Foot with a Broken Axle Monkey Wrench Stomach Punch that Guillotined us. Others have experienced similar pain, but at this moment, it's difficult for me to accept that. This was Tim Duncan's legacy. It was beating the hated Heat. It was maybe ending Miami's dynasty before it got going. It was modesty beating vanity. It was good triumphing over evil.
Up five, 30 seconds remaining, the heroes faltered. So many things went Miami's way. 98.6% of teams in the Spurs' position win that game. Yet, the Spurs lost. And just to rub it in, the game was closed by Joey Crawford in the most soul-sucking way possible. I can't imagine anything worse. We were stomach punched and guillotined last night. We need the Spurs to win tonight. Come on, Spurs, make this Game 6 a memory that doesn't last.
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