Below is a "sneak preview" of the game recap I wrote for another blog, but have yet to publish. Hope it reads alright. Thanks for a great postseason, Pounders!
I apologize in advance if the heaviness in my heart manifests itself in my recap of this game. This is probably the most difficult piece of writing I've ever attempted to do. The cruel two-edged sword of athletic competition is that with every elated winner, there is a vanquished, valiant loser. For every Muhammad Ali, a Sonny Liston. For every St. Louis Ram, a Tennessee Titan. A Serbian Milorad Cavic tasting defeat literally by a whisker for every American Michael Phelps' .01 second win. Throwing one's emotional lot in with a group of individuals who aren't even aware of your existence is a risky proposition, at best. Perhaps even downright foolhardy. But that risk that we sports fans take leads us on one of the unique jouneys in the human experience. And as such, even through the highs and lows of the wins and losses, the last-second victories and the crushing defeats, we can still come away from every event enriched and inspired.
The popular refrain in the aftermath of any playoff battle is that the better team always wins in a best of seven format. I'll not show sour grapes by disagreeing with that statement. The better team did indeed win, but in basketball terms, the margin between the 2013 Spurs and 2013 Heat was so infinitesimal that one errant bounce of a ball or the slimmest misstep could have ultimately been the difference. Simply put, one could make the argument that this was one of (if not THE) most evenly matched NBA Finals in the history of the Association, and we were all so very lucky to be able to witness such a stirring display of basketball on the sport's biggest stage.
LeBron James cemented his legacy as one of the all time great NBA players with this win. More pressure was on him to deliver this win for Miami than perhaps has ever been on any NBA player in the history of the game (to include Michael Jordan). Faced with the same defensive tactics that had largely flummoxed him the majority of the series, James took what the Spurs gave him and made them pay time and again with his midrange jumper. When dared to shoot the three, he made it and called for the ball again. When posted up, he made fadeaways and hook shots over the top. When in trouble, he made the correct pass nearly every time. Quite frankly, the erstwhile best player on the planet absolutely answered all questions regarding his will to win and ability to thrive in the clutch. It was a near-perfect display of mastery that his team had to have in the worst way, and LeBron rose to the occasion, slaying personal demons along with the Spurs' best defensive efforts.
Of course, even the (two-time) King couldn't have done it alone. Dwayne Wade poured in 23 difficult points, again mostly on midrange jump shots, showing courage, heart, and skill even while he was sometimes too injured to run back down the court. Mario Chalmers shook off a mid-series scoring slump to score 14 critical points for the Heat. But on a night when stalwarts Ray Allen and Chris Bosh struggled mightily from the field (neither scoring a point after coming up huge in the preceding games), an unexpected scoring explosion from NBA veteran Shane Battier gave Miami the boost it needed to put away the Spurs for good. The league journeyman made 6 of his 8 three point attempts (including his first five consecutive shots) to pump in 18 points after being a non-factor for the majority of the series. This game will be remembered for James' offensive prowess and coolness in the clutch, but as usual, key contributions from his less-heralded teammates are the real reason the Larry O'Brien Trophy remains in South Beach.
As for the visiting Spurs...........MY Spurs..........there's nothing more for them to say or to prove in my humble opinion. This team that was supposed to be too old, too slow, too washed up to hang any longer with the younger, hungrier teams in this league not only defied all prognostications by dismantling the toughest Western Conference in years on their way to earning a Finals berth, but came 5.8 seconds away from knocking off the best player and most formidable team in the land in their own house. Yes, Tim Duncan's miss of a point-blank shot to tie the game will haunt Spurs fans as long as basketball is played along the Riverwalk, but it can hardly diminish what the stoic power forward and his silver-and-black-clad compadres accomplished in 2013. With every reason to hang his head after his team wasted his legendary 30-point magnum opus in game 6, Duncan instead led by example and submitted another sterling performance. He led San Antonio once again with 24 points, almost willing his squad to the threshold of a fifth franchise title. His imprints were all over the game tonight, and though he couldn't get the two points he wanted most, this loss cannot be laid at his feet.
Quiet warrior Kawhi Leonard is no longer San Antonio's rising star. This postseason he grew before our eyes to become a full-fledged force in San Antonio. The 21 year old young man once again spearheaded the Spurs' defensive attack on James, marking the seventh straight game the second year player made James work for the majority of his points. He outrebounded Tim Duncan, of all people, ripping 16 rebounds out of the sky with his freakishly large paws. And for all the ballyhoo about his missed free throw down the stretch of game 6, he responded with clutch scoring throughout the game, including a garantuan three pointer late in the game to keep the Spurs within striking distance. His 19 points tonight solidified him as yet another "diamond in the rough" for the Spurs, coming up huge in his first-ever Finals appearance. I'm sure he'll reach this stage yet again before his promising career concludes.
The rest of the Spurs did just enough to stay in the game and hope for a miracle at the end. Not a terrible situation to be in, all things considered. After all, Miami won game 6 by playing along similar lines. But whether it was fatigue, referee calls, or simple dumb luck, it just wasn't in the cards for another riverboat parade in San Antonio this June. As much as this loss hurts me as a lifelong Spurs fan, I can honestly say I've never been prouder of these Spurs or this franchise than I am right at this moment. In a world full of personal setbacks, life-changing events, and often general cynicism on my part since the Spurs' last title run in 2007, this season gave me one last chance to get caught up in the wonder of the moment and scream loud and long for my only professional sports passion. If that was indeed the last game I'll witness my childhood heroes in Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili play together in the NBA Finals, I cannot thank them enough for giving this young overexciteable young kid a reason to believe in greatness through the years, and for doing my old hometown proud even to the very bitter end.
"Benediction," is a word meaning "to utter or bestow a blessing, usually at the end of a religious service." And while sports fandom is something WELL short of one's personal relationship with a deity, I still feel that it is an appropriate sentiment to hold as a Spurs fan at this moment. I'm so blessed and thankful to have had the privilege of growing from a boy to a man while watching this franchise become the paradigm of classy success that it is today. True, it's only a game--but to those who've seen the way this particular NBA franchise has both galvanized a diverse community and shown how players and personalities from around the world can cast aside differences to become integral parts of something so special, it's quite a bit more than that. Despite the hoopla perpetually surrounding individuals that play this game, the Spurs once again proved that team really is everything. The legacy of the 2013 Spurs is one of heart, determination, togetherness, and a never-say-die attitude when all about them said their time was long since done. And that legacy endures even in defeat.
And so, while there is only one gold trophy, and one set of championship rings, hats, and t-shirts being given out on this night, I posit that we, the viewers, Spurs, Heat, and casual fans alike, are the true winners at the end of the 2013 season. Here's to many more years of high quality basketball and sportsmanship being played and displayed from South Beach to the Alamo City and everywhere else a round leather ball is dribbled!