I attended Game 1 of the Finals, but didn't write about it because the timing belt in my car broke shortly after I left my house on the way to the AT&T Center. And I made some poor decisions in response to that (by basing my decisions on the premise that going to Game 1 was more important than staying with my car) which robbed me of a significant amount of time and money and pretty much prevented me from going to Game 2 as well.
Live and learn.
But with a new timing belt in my trusty Camry, I headed down the tollway from Austin to Seguin, took a right turn on I-10 and through the mid-90's heat of a partly-cloudy Texas Sunday afternoon in June. Arriving at the arena is routine during the regular season, but everything changes when hundreds of members of the media have to be accommodated. As a result, instead of parking right next to the arena, it's about half mile hike from the area designated for media vehicles. Yeah, I drive a media vehicle now. Who knew?
As I parked, I noticed that someone had written "Uno mas" in white on the backseat window of their car. A man and his wife walked by as I got my laptop bag. He had that "ok, let's do this" shoulder shrug and he did that thing where you execute a snap with both hands consecutively before smacking an open palm over a closed fist. I walked through the people making their way toward the center, I'm a fast walker, and everyone seemed in confidently high spirits. Just as I had been all day.
Got through security. Credentials scanned. Into the arena where the sense of anticipation was palpable. Took a short cut to avoid the elevator and got down onto the floor where I ran an errand for Mrs. Wilco -- seeing to it that this drawing was delivered to Kawhi's mom.
I dropped off my laptop bag in the print media area and went to the pre-game press conference where silly questions were asked of Erik Spoelstra, like "How much pressure is on you?" The only fun part was watching him refuse to answer the lineup question.
Next on my list was the locker room, because I wanted to see the "1" on the dry-erase board, the number that started as 16 before the Mavericks series and has been counting down the wins ever since. Turns out that it hadn't been updated after two games in Miami and still read "3". On the big screen that dominates the only wall of the locker room that's not made up of lockers, a video of Game 4 was running and cameramen were taking pictures of everybody's jersey's and shoes before being told to stop by a Spurs media guy. The TV had gone on sleep mode and Manu walked over to get it going again as I left to go watch the teams warm up.
Intently watching everything the Spurs do when they do their pre-game shootaround is one of my favorite things about attending games. But this time I just let it wash over me. After posting a Vine of Manu making a shot, I hung out with Travis Hale and we talked about the little details that stood out to us, like how weird it is that Jeff Ayres has such a crazy amount of rotation on his shot. Marco Belinelli shot a three-pointer that hit the rim and bounced up very high, just about to the level of the shot clock. The it hit the rim and did the same thing again. I watched it wondering whether it would keep on bouncing like a kid on a trampoline or finally drop in. It did neither, skidding off the rim and falling to the court.
As Travis and I made our way to get the dinner provided for the media I noticed that there were so many media people scattered over the court that warming up for the long range shooters must be kind of cramped when they practiced their corner threes.
After we ate (chicken, rice and some my favorite soup that the AT&T Center makes ... and, yes, churros, although I didn't have any) I went to pick up my laptop, but it wasn't there. I looked around for a good five minutes deciding that I wouldn't let myself get upset. It was here. It had to be. No one was stealing a computer at the Finals. I annoyed several guys as they were trying to get their pre-game writing done as I looked around their chairs and legs, searching for my laptop bag. Eventually, I stopped looking for it where I usually put it, and found it sitting exactly where I'd left it on the other side of the room. Ugh.
There's no elegant way to make it from the court level up to the balcony level where press row is set up just to the side of the HEB Fan Zone, it's either a service elevator or a massive freight elevator and stops on every floor. I found my seat next to Travis and Matthew Tynan with just enough time to set up my laptop and phone before the performance of the national anthem -- which was rendered as a touching ballad/love song. A bit of an odd choice that Travis said he liked.
After being optimistic all day, once I took my seat on press row, I got a bad feeling before the game, and the first few possessions didn't help. Miami jumped out to the quick lead and it felt very weird after watching the Spurs get anything they wanted for two straight games in Miami.
Here are my unedited notes from the game, feel free to skip them. I'll set them off with asterisks before and after so you know when I get back to non-game stuff.
4-0 -- ugly possessions - 6-0 weird possession, batted ball, tony misses wide open jumper at the elbow - jump ball - 8-0 - time out - MIA has their first fast start of the series
Manu comes in and the play out of the timeout yields Duncan a pair of FT - 13-2 before the KL 3 to make it 13-5 - 19-5 a James FB and one, and 22-6 after a Ray Allen 3
Manu drives for an and1 to make it 22-9 - Battier fouls Manu, crowd goes nuts - Manu hits 3, pumps fist, MIA calls TO, and Manu still looks angry as he walks back to the bench - just the wakeup call the team needed? Why would they need one? Just playing flat, shots not falling. Out of sync. Either way (Don't make me angry. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry.)
ATO, Allen misses a three, back the other way Kawhi hits one. Now within 7. Every Spurs rebound the crowd goes wild. Wait, Patty's 3 bounces around and finally drops. I was wrong. NOW they're going crazy. It just seemed like it before. Spurs pull within 4.
Patty misses a corner three and James hits a, what ... 30 footer? Falling away? James FT's make it 8. KL's drive and assist to Tiago, what a play from him. End of the 2nd quarter, Battier fouls KL on a jumper and the crowd chants M-V-P as he shoots his first freebie. First quarter ends 29-22
Kawhi gets an alley oop and then hits a jumper over James before Wade gets a bucket. But the Spurs have the first good looking possession of the game that gets an open look for Green in the corner - doesn't fall. Bosh hits a jumper to put the Heat back up 7.
LeBron has a mismatch, guarded by Duncan, but he doesn't press the advantage and tries a skip pass that's intercepted by Boris who starts a fastbreak that Tony finishes. 33-26
Tony has been off, ATO, Kawhi handles the ball on the hammer play but Andersen sniffs it out and gets a steal. Four down, Tim spins right and gets the banker to go. Spurs within 5. Wade with 2 FT. Tim on the other side posting again, gets it blocked, throws up a prayer at the end of the shot clock. Boris rebounds and gets it to Marco who's run off the 3pt line but cans the jumper. Then Tim posts again and gets across the lane for a runner that makes it 35-33. Heat timeout.
Tim is fouled making a basket but can't make the 3pt play. James shoots, misses. Kawhi pulls up from 3 on the break. Nails the 3. Spurs take the lead. Loudest arena I've ever been in. Spurs get back on D. It gets louder. Spurs play defense. Louder still. I can't believe the noise. Louder than in OKC in 2012. Spurs get the ball somehow and the crowd takes a breath. Patty gets a three that won't drop. The loudest "Awww!" I've ever heard.
Then Manu goes nuts -- a layup, a dunk in transition over Bosh and a step back three to put the Spurs up 45-37. Lebron FT, Spurs run the weave play and Boris traipses thru the lane holding the ball aloft before shooting. It doesn't fall. Next possession is almost the exact same thing only the layup is tougher, but Boris gets it to go.
James misses and the Spurs have a long possession that's extended by multiple offensive rebounds. They get no points from it but they run out the last 44 seconds of the half. They make a 23 point turnaround, going from down 16 to up 7, 47-40, holding MIA to 11 in the second quarter.
James has 20 in the 1st half, but only 3 in the 2nd quarter. Manu went for 4 straight scores over 90 seconds, getting points on 4 straight possessions and getting 8 points.
Guy on press row asleep. With his feet in the way. Had to wake him up in order to get to my seat.
3rd quarter, Manu starts but there's no scoring thru the first 3 minutes of the 3rd quarter until Manu hits 2 FT's with 8:50 left.
Kawhi gets a steal and is fouled by Wade. Goes to the line to more chants of M-V-P. Spurs up 10, 50-40. After a Bosh drive for two, Kawhi passes to Tim, gets the handoff and makes a pretty drive for two points.
It starts to feel a bit surreal with 6:35 left in the 3rd with the Spurs up 14. Patty Mills just drove to the basket on the baseline from the corner three point line with James trailing him. Spo calls timeout and LeBron goes back to the Heat bench taking the blame for the easy score. Is this really happening?
Then more craziness as Tiago gets a monster block on Wade and Mills hits a three. Bosh scores at the rim and Patty hits a three. LeBron misses and Manu hits a three. The lead balloons to 21 and every score of the San Antonio run is met with another ratcheting up of the volume. It's a reverse cascade of sound.
The Heat make a couple of baskets, Pop calls a timeout and Kawhi makes another midrange jumper that pushes the lead to 21. The entire crowd takes a Spurs possession to mock Miami with the Seven Nations Army chant, and Tony still hasn't scored, missing from another of his favorite spots.
Patty and Green play catch before Mills hits another three. LeBron steps into a three, making it look like a layup. Tony misses a layup of his own before finally getting a free throw line jumper to go. Tony is on the board. LeBron hits 2 FT's and the Spurs lead is 77-58. They outscored the Heat in the period, 30-18. LeBron has 27, 9 and 3. Kawhi has 20, 9 and 3.
All series long the Spurs have owned the 1st and the Heat the 3rd. Tonight it's flip-flopped.
The Spurs force a shot clock violation on the Heat's first possession. After a Spurs turnover, Beasley gets a bucket plus one. Spurs turn it over and Chalmers gets his own three point play. KL gets two FT's accompanied by more chants. Then Parker fouls James to get Green in the game to rest Kawhi and James blows by Boris for a dunk, pulls up on the rim, raises his feet up close to Duncan and then finally just hangs from the rim, triggering a chorus of boos. Duncan gets a bucket and a FT but misses it. Parker cans a jumper from the elbow that makes it 83-65 with 9:05 left. At this point, every Spurs basket or rebound is followed by a wave of sound. I don't even know if I can identify it any more. My eardrums are mush.
Heat call a time out. The Coyote comes out with his t-shirt machine gun. It feels like it's happening. Can't let myself think about it yet as there are still nine minutes left. They show a video of David Robinson saying "Go, Spurs, go." And the crowd loses its collective mind.
After the time out, the Spurs guard the inbounds play so well Miami is called for a five second violation. There's some offensive futility on both ends, followed by a minute and a half of offensive excellence by both squads. A Beasley rebound and dunk is followed by a Diaw 3 which is followed by a Wade 3. Then two Parker 7-foot jumpers sandwich a midrange shot by James. There's an extended timeout at 6:30 and as R-O-C-K in the U-S-A blares from the arena's speakers and I finally allow myself to imagine the Spurs winning the championship.
Wade is fouled and misses both FT badly. Parker must have saved up all his makes for this run because he's now unconscious. What looked like it could be an oh-fer for him has turned into a 14 point night. Spurs by 18.
Literally every single Spurs-related event is now greeted with a standing ovation. Green out and Leonard in? An excuse to cheer. Spurs rebound a Miami miss? Full-throated roar. A timeout gives a moment for the big screen to show a Spurs video featuring Duncan standing in front of the 4 championship banners. Pandemonium.
They bring the Spurs flag out, the one that covers nearly the entire court. I take a video of it from my seat on press row. Pop takes Duncan out of the game. Parker leaves the game. Manu is invited to the bench. Everybody is cheering like crazy. Boris comes out.
Jeff Ayres hits a 20 foot jumper. It's nothing but net. With all that crazy spin his shot has. Ten seconds left on the clock. The crowd counts down. The ball goes out of bounds. They have to inbounds it before it's all zeroes.
The Spurs are the champs.
Trophy ceremony. Kawhi MVP. Another banner will be going up in the rafters.
I grabbed a different elevator than the one I used before the game, and it didn't go to the court level. So I had to walk down through the crowd. It was both thrilling and annoying. I wanted to get to the interview area as soon as possible, but it was really fun to be that close to the court, that soon after the game in the middle all those happy Spurs fans. Euphoria is sometimes a tangible thing, and it was hanging in the air.
Such a different feeling in the makeshift media area where Coach Spoelstra was answering questions about the loss. About the last thing he said was, "Everything seemed to click at the right time for the Spurs." Sound about right.
I was pleased that both LeBron and Bosh called this Spurs team the best they've ever played against. What a gratifying thing to hear from the two time champs.
The rest of the interviews kind of run together. The Finals MVP trophy looked tiny in Kawhi's hands. Manu said that he truly never felt, at any point of his time in San Antonio, that they had taken their last shot. Even after last year he always thought they had another chance to win it all.
Tim with his kids. Daughter next to him. Son on his lap. They shared little whispers. His son took the championship cap off and putting it on Tim. Cameras went off like crazy around me. First he put it on backward, then turned it around with Tim answering questions the whole time. Duncan, talking about Kawhi, said, "I'm honored to be on his team right now." And about this year's squad, "This will be a very easy team to remember." Tim's daughter said he did awesome and "tried his best."
And as it was Fathers' Day, Mrs. Wilco texted me that she and my son were trying to find me in the quick shots they did of the media asking questions. I actually made it, or most of my head did anyway, during Manu's interview -- just to the side and in front of the guy who wanted to know about how he felt or something.
When the interviews concluded, Travis was walking out and I suggested that we leave by way of the court. It was a subdued yet manic atmosphere as the Silver Dancers scooped up big piles of silver, black and white confetti to take pictures with. Travis was taking pics and I helped clear people off of the "NBA FINALS" logo so he could get his shot. The only memento I wanted was a single rectangle of silver confetti, which I decided I would tape to my media credential.
As Travis and I exited the arena, talking about the game and the series, I looked up to see the moon just peeking over the trees on the horizon. Travis went to write his article, and I drove downtown to see the fans celebrating. Stacked up traffic, people screaming and honking and spinning their tires. Celebrating the win in true San Antonio style.
The whole time, it felt strange to me. See, I didn't watch the game the way I usually do at home. Cheering and celebrating are discouraged on press row. When I attend the game, I usually do more watching than note taking. But this was the Finals. This was an elimination game. I wanted to remember as much of this as I could. As a result, I didn't feel like I really experienced it. I was there and it was terrific, but I felt kind of empty and distracted, through it all. I couldn't high-five Travis like I wanted to. There were no shared looks of joy and elation, it wasn't a fan environment at all. It's not meant to be, of course, but it still felt odd. The Spurs were the champs. Shouldn't I be more excited?
Then as I was driving back home to Austin, just outside of New Braunfels, it hit me as I looked at Chris Itz's Final Score. He wrote "Revenge tour complete!" And I couldn't stop smiling. They did it. And I remembered the promise that Tony made to Tim after the loss to the Thunder in 2012.
Tony Parker's promise, 60 seconds into the below clip.
They made it past the Mavericks: their regional rival who had spoiled their chance at a repeat in 2006. They beat the Trail Blazers: the only team that's owned them during the regular season over the past several years -- owned them to the point that until the playoffs, Portland was the only team in the league who had a all-time winning record against the Spurs. They beat the Thunder: the team that knocked them out two years ago in four straight games after they'd been on that 20-game win streak. And then they finished off the Heat: the team that stole last year's ring from them.
And I drove though the night, on my way home, smiling.