Every virtuoso works toward mastery of their craft by pursuing perfection in one form of another. Whether it be a painting that captures an old scene in a beautifully refreshing way, a concerto that moves an audience to tears, or a flawless athletic performance - perfection is elusive. If attained, the moment is ephemeral. Otherwise, it's an ever-haunting goal, always out of reach.
A perfect basketball game has never been played. It's an impossible accomplishment even between teams of drastically different skill levels. But that reality shouldn't deter the aspiration. A team can pursue perfection, even if it means they always fall short on the court. Even so, what would a nearly unblemished perf
I submit for your approval: the final quarter of Game 1 of the 2014 NBA Finals.
The first three quarters of the game were closely contested, but far from perfect -- what with the Spurs' patented style of hot-potato basketball turned turnover-happy. Fortunately, Parker's ankle didn't seem to be holding him back, and Ginobili and Duncan were playing like they just drank directly from Ponce de Leon's fountain of youth. But still, Green couldn't make a shot, Leonard was limited with early fouls, and the Spurs squandered a half-time lead to start the fourth down by four, 78 - 74. Advantage Miami.
The quarter began with Ray Allen dishing to Chris Bosh for a jumper but Tiago Splitter replied with back-to-back layups, drawing a foul on the second. Splitter's five point spurt cut the lead to a single point.
Bosh countered Splitter with a six point run of his own, including a four point play to push Miami to a seven point lead with 9:37 to go. But Parker and Duncan both converted shots to chip away at Miami's lead. When the Spurs pulled to 86 to 84, the Heat called a timeout of their own to regroup and make substitutions.
This is where the Spurs run began in earnest. First, Diaw dished to Green for a corner three. Swish. Then again, a horseshoe pass from Diaw found Green beyond the arc. Swish. Chris Anderson added two for the Heat. Duncan finished a layup before snagging a rebound off a Wade miss which created a fast break ending in an emphatic slam by Green. Spurs up 4. Heat call for time.
During the timeout the Coyote stood in the middle of court and, as customary, tried to organize a cheer. But just before the Coyote stomped on the first "S" in Spurs (presumably, to organize an S-P-U-R-S cheer before a chorus of GO SPURS GO) the crowd took over with a cheer of their own: Beat the Heat! Beat the Heat!
LeBron entered the game and quickly silenced the AT&T Center with a driving layup of his own. With 4:09 remaining the Spurs were only up by two. It was still anybody's game. But that's when LeBron's cramping became so severe that he couldn't continue. And that's when Green converted his third three to give the Spurs a five point lead with 3:49 remaining and the crowd erupted with another spontaneous chorus of "Beat the Heat!"
To this point in the quarter, the Spurs had converted every field goal they attempted but one -- a Ginobili two-pointer shortly after the first Heat timeout. The second miss came after Diaw's only bucket of the game, which was followed by a Mario Chalmers corner three. Parker missed a layup with 1:49 remaining and the Spurs up four.
In the final two minutes of the game, while the Heat struggled to score, the Spurs orchestrated a sublime explosion of offensive production, closing with an 11 - 0 run. Kawhi made two three-pointers, Tony added five points (including a very poised corner three, his second of the game), and the Spurs roared to a fifteen point victory, the largest lead of the game.
In the fourth the Spurs approached what must be the Platonic ideal of perfect basketball with the best offensive quarter in NBA Finals history. Fourteen out of their sixteen shoots dropped for a shooting percentage of 87.5%. The Spurs' marksmen shot 100% from three-point territory, draining all six of their attempts. Defensively, the Spurs contained the Heat to 17 points.
If you examine the fourth quarter on a micro level, the Spurs played something close to perfect basketball. The Spurs won the quarter 36 to 17 playing as a cohesive unit by making passes and finding the open man. On a macro level -- Tim Duncan has now tallied 156 playoff double-doubles, which is two away from surpassing Magic Johnson's 18 year-old record. Meanwhile, the team is making history with its eighth consecutive home playoff game won by a margin of at least fifteen points.
None of these accomplishments are things the Spurs pursue, and achieving them is only possible in the pursuit of something greater. The next step the the journey of is tonight, when the Spurs have another shot at perfection: agoal that can lead to basketball nirvana even though it's never reached.