Like every other epic loss in sports history, a certain mythology has sprung up around the end of Game 6 of the Finals between the Spurs and the Heat. It's understandable for the loss to be a sore spot for every Spurs fan, and each person deals with the loss in their own way. But over the past few weeks a few camps have sprung up in Spurs nation, blaming certain parties for the championship that wasn't; some implicate Pop's late-game decisions, others denounce Manu's turnovers, some indite Green for disappearing, and the rest are split between dogging Splitter and Parker.
As the off-season progresses, we're focusing on the details of the loss to determine whether any of these cases have merit, or whether they're just things that fans remember even though they have little basis in fact. So it's time to exhume the casket of the 2012/13 Spurs to see what exactly happened, and find out whether or not the mistakes of the past are destined to be repeated.
In this installment, we take a look at the Big Three's struggles.
The Big Three is not what it used to be. At one point or another, Duncan, Parker and Ginobili struggled and you can't win if your stars don't perform well. Duncan was too tired, Parker couldn't hit shots and Ginobili turned it over too much.
Let's look at each member of the Big Three individually.
Tim Duncan was too tired at the end of games
Duncan led the Spurs in fourth quarter points and field goal attempts (not counting Blair, who was not afraid to chuck it in garbage time) in the finals but he shot a woeful 38% from the field. The worst part is most of those shots were at the rim. In the last couple of games, Duncan went 2-10 in the fourth quarter, 0-4 in game six.
It does seem like the Spurs were going to Duncan a bit too much at the end of games, especially game six, which might have not been a good idea after he had played so many minutes. The Heat also did a fantastic job of providing help defense. Duncan was blocked on two attempts, once by Miller and once by Lebron. Bosh also did a great job of defending him in the post. In re-watching Duncan's touches, it looks like a couple of those shots would have been buckets had Duncan been rested. The same happened in game seven, with that shot and tip-in attempt against Battier with 30 seconds left being the most memorable.
Exhaustion seemed to play a part of Duncan's late game struggles. Playing Splitter a little more would have helped Tim's energy level in the fourth. With the right players next to Tiago (Parker and Leonard, but not Diaw), it's possible Splitter could have done a better job. Duncan still battled, but the Heat were able to contain him.
Ginobili's late game turnovers cost the Spurs the game
In general, the Spurs did better with Ginobili off the court against the Heat. It was not a good series by Manu; that much is clear. He turned it over too much, obviously, but the biggest problem was how those turnovers came about.
A few of those were the typical Manu trying something a little too risky, but I can live with that. But a lot of others came from him trying to make easy passes off the pick and roll against a team that feeds off those. You cannot make the obvious pass against the Heat because they expect it and will get the steal all to often.
But Ginobili seemingly refused to look for his own shot in game six after a great game five, and his being in distributor mode helped the Heat, who didn't have to worry about him attacking. The result was eight turnovers (that only resulted in four Heat points) and basically wasted possessions. At least when someone puts a shot up there's a chance for an offensive rebound. Ginobili only had one TO in the fourth quarter and six points to offset it. But he turned it over twice in overtime, when possessions are precious. One of those came when Ray Allen swiped at the ball in a penetration with 2.4 seconds to go in overtime.
In game seven, Ginobili had no turnovers until the fourth quarter, when he had four. The Heat couldn't run off three of those because they came from an offensive foul, Manu not being able to catch a pass that sailed out of bounds and an erratic pass that went out of bounds. Then came the fourth turnover with 23.8 second to go. The Spurs run a play in which Ginobili was going to either penetrate and finish or in theory find Duncan under the rim. The defense played it well and Ginobili had to throw a desperation pass to Duncan that was easily intercepted by James, who was immediately fouled.
The turnovers definitely hurt the Spurs, of course, but that's not the full story. In game six Manu was just too passive looking for his own shot and telegraphed his passes against a team that feasts on lazy ball movement. In game seven the box score certainly reads: Turnovers, 4th quarter, Ginobili, M. 4 -- but he wasn't exactly spraying the ball around the court. He certainly played a part in the offensive foul and not being able to corral the wayward pass, but it wasn't a case of him being continually reckless, or hapless, with the ball.
Parker lack of scoring was too much to overcome
Tony Parker was the Spurs' best player throughout the season but struggled from the field against the Heat, especially late in the series. Tony's totals in the fourth quarter were great, with him leading all Spurs in scoring with 24 fourth quarter points on a solid 50.8 TS%. But in the last two games he went 2-6 from the field, including his miracle three pointer in game six.
Overall, Parker just didn't have a particularly great series. 15.7 points on 47.2 TS% and 6.4 assists to 2.1 turnovers are good numbers, but the Spurs needed more from their superstar. A good deal of that can be explained by his hamstring injury, while the rest is down to James guarding him. But perhaps his terrible mid range shooting is to blame the most. His average field goal percentage from mid range in the playoffs was 41.6% and against the Heat it was 25.7%. For comparison, his field goal percentage from mid-range against the Grizzlies was 54.5%. Tony needs that jumper to fall to set up the rest of his scoring game and at less than 100% health, against the Heat it didn't.
Parker couldn't carry the Spurs in the finals for a number of reasons. He was obviously still one of their best players on the court, but his body started to fail him. He still contributed with his command of the floor and his playmaking but he couldn't score as efficiently as he had in the past, in large part because his mid-range jumper abandoned him.
In the next installment, it's Pop's turn.
All stats courtesy of NBA.com/Stats