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Game Six, and the Redemption Finals

Today may be the anniversary of the worst moment in franchise history, but it led to the best.

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Today is the eighth anniversary of Ray Allen’s three-pointer in Game Six of the 2013 NBA Finals. If not for the 2014 Redemption Finals, June 18, 2013 would be a Day of Mourning, The Day That Will Not Be Mentioned, a Day That Will Live in Infamy. After that game, I had to take a walk around my neighborhood, just to be alone. In my recap of Game Six, I wrote:

“L.A. playground hoops legend and all-around good guy Mike Ross was nice enough to email me this afternoon asking if I was OK after last night’s ending. My response:

‘Took a walk last night, looked at the stars, wondered why we care so much about a bunch of strangers 3000 miles away playing a game that doesn’t affect our lives in the slightest.

‘Then had trouble sleeping.’ “

Everything about Game Six is seared into my memory banks. Especially the last minute. The missed free throws. LeBron James shooting bricks from three that turned into scrambling offensive rebounds — and then into made threes, first by LeBron, then Allen. And after Allen’s three, the Spurs were going to run it up the Heats’ backs to score, and to win anyway — until the referees stopped the action to see if Allen’s shot was a two or a three. When do they ever do that? Hoo boy, Pop was righteously angry about that.

Then there was the unfair post-game criticism of Pop for not having the Great Tim Duncan on the floor for the Heat’s last shots. People didn’t recognize that the Spurs had subbed Duncan out on that type of play all season (it worked all year), AND he would have been 20 feet from the hoop when those bricks hit the rim because his man was screening for the three-point shooter on both plays. Also, the rebounds Duncan would have theoretically controlled were flying around on the floor like a frightened squirrel, especially the first one.

But you know what? After the year of pain that followed Games Six and Seven in Miami, we received the wonderful gift of the 2014 Redemption Finals.

After winning the 2014 NBA Championship, several Spurs went out of their way to say that the wonderful 2014 season, and the way the Spurs dominated the Finals, made the previous year’s loss somehow acceptable. Essentially, the 2013 ending gave the 2014 Spurs a common pain, and a common purpose. That common pain bound the Spurs together into a common quest. They decided to do everything they could to ensure that the 2014 season would end differently. Perhaps that decision included the desire to play so well that the Spurs would not lose on the sort of freak plays that led to the Game Six loss. This meant not allowing their opponents to come close.

As a result of that common goal, the 2014 Spurs crushed teams in the playoffs. It takes 16 wins to become NBA Champions. In 12 of the Spurs’ 16 wins, the margin of victory was 15 or more. The Spurs essentially eliminated the margin of error that leads to close losses. One missed shot, one funky bounce or one bad call (or one Ray Allen step back three from the corner) simply does not matter when a team consistently wins by 15 or 20 points.

In the clinching Game 5 in 2014, the Spurs outscored the Heat 59-22 from 5:04 remaining in the first quarter until 5:01 left in the third. That is almost exactly one-half of a game. Which means if the teams played two halves at that pace, the final score would be 118 – 44.

Yes, 118 – 44. In an NBA Finals game.

Sometimes teams win because of a fortuitous series of breaks mixed in with good plays. Other times, teams dominate their opponents. While the first type of win is great, the sense of satisfaction from the second type of win is priceless. The Spurs after Game Five of the 2014 Finals had the second feeling. The Spurs could say “We are the best” and “We gave it all we had” — and no one who watched the 2014 Finals could dispute it.

The 2014 Spurs, without preening or pounding their chests, looked genuinely happy, and that was a very good thing. They didn’t need to preen or pound their chests. They could just look up at the scoreboard, laugh, smile, hug and say meaningful things in each other’s ears. And feel at peace.

And because the Spurs felt that way, so did Spurs fans. Including this one. Now when I think of Ray Allen’s three-pointer in Game Six, I immediately think of the 2014 Finals. And smile.