It was everything one could possibly want in a game: A championship and legacies on the line, elite performances by two living legends, a seesaw battle, an epic shot by the best shooter in history to tie the game with 5.2 seconds left, and an overtime session to sort it all out.
For the Miami Heat, the performance thoroughly reinforced to everyone their will and amazing ability to fight through internal and external obstacles to get the job done. It came on a night where they simply didn’t have any choice but to come up victorious if they didn’t want to walk away in shame.
LeBron James, who had 32 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists, said it was the best game he had ever been a part of.
“The emotions, the ups and downs, us being up, us being down,” he said. “I think more than anything just our mental toughness. Our mental toughness to make it almost look like the game was out of our hands, and to come through victorious.”
The Hulk-ish monster Miami unleashed on its home court in the fourth quarter and overtime in an elimination game improved its record to 7-0 following a loss in these playoffs. The Heat still haven’t lost two straight games since January 8-10.
But for San Antonio, which held what seemed like a commanding 75-65 lead heading into what they hoped would be the final 12 minutes of the season, the outcome was a tragedy.
“We had the game,” said Danny Green, who was finally held in check (3 points, 1-for-5 3-pointers in 41 minutes) by a defense determined to give him as few open looks as possible. “We just had to get one more stop, one more rebound, and we couldn’t come up with it.”
So when Green sat with his head down in the corner in his pink button-down shirt and athletic shorts – after speaking with reporters, before fully changing – and thought about how the game had played out, he had to be thinking what everyone else was thinking:
“How did we let Miami off the hook? How did we let this game get away when we were up 94-89 with 28.2 seconds left?! How do we shake this off and go play our best basketball in Game 7?!”
While Green’s head was probably spinning through game-altering plays at warp speed, Tony Parker certainly couldn’t recall everything so quickly:
Reporter: “You guys were 16‑for‑49 after shooting 51 percent in the first half.”
Parker: “In the second half? I’ll just watch ‑ we’ll watch film. Right now it’s hard to think about everything.”
Except Green, Parker and their Spurs teammates have to figure out how they’re going to become the fourth team in NBA history to win a Game 7 on the road on Thursday, less than 48 hours after their epic, 103-100 collapse.
If you ask colleague Moke Hamilton, who authored a terrific column featuring key errors committed by Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, San Antonio had no excuse to take Tim Duncan off the floor on the play during which Ray Allen nailed the most storied shot in his career:
After Leonard’s first free throw missed (19.4 seconds left), Erik Spoelstra did what Popovich failed to—he made the right substitution. Spoelstra shuffled Bosh and Miller a bit down the stretch, but knowing that the Heat would be down by at worst three points, Spoelstra reinserted Bosh. At that time, for some reason, Popovich countered by substituting Boris Diaw in for Duncan and left the Spurs with a five-man unit that featured the 6-8 Diaw as its tallest player. Diaw is as tall as James but is three inches shorter than Bosh. The only way that substitution would have made sense would have been if the Spurs—who were up by three points—opted to intentionally foul so as not to give the Heat the opportunity to tie the game on a 3-pointer.
Duncan refused to make the episode into news.
“It’s what we’ve done all year,” he said. “In a situation where we were going to switch a lot of things, and just unfortunate the way it happened. We got a stop, and we got a bad bounce, and right out to Ray Allen for a three. Just situational. But there’s no questions there. It’s the plays we’ve been making all season long.”
To dissect a game that far means the team who lost probably didn’t lose it on a single possession; this is basketball, after all, and in a game this close there are more than a few bounces that decide the game’s fate.