MIAMI — Instead of a championship celebration complete with champagne and t-shirts, it was unsweetened iced tea and sparkling water for the San Antonio Spurs.
Sometime after 1:00AM on Wednesday morning in Miami, after the Spurs sputtered, and after Ray Allen and LeBron James combined to ensure that the Miami Heat would live to see a Game 7, the Spurs collectively participated in a scene that is customary in Europe but not so much in the NBA.
They got together, as a team, and they had a therapeutic dinner after the game. There, Tony Parker told his teammates a story of great failure and great triumph.
They drowned their sorrows, not with finger-pointing or recollections of what transpired in Game 6, whose fault it was or what went wrong.
No, they drowned their sorrows with balsamic vinaigrette and olive oil.
Over dinner, after suffering a gut-wrenching defeat for the NBA’s ultimate prize, the Spurs regrouped, enjoyed one another’s camaraderie, and discussed a multitude of subjects.
Politics, spending time with families during the offseason, retirement and moving to lands far away from here—far away from South Beach—that is what the conversation revolved around.
By the time the Spurs left the American Airlines Arena, and by the time they sat down together to break bread, they had already regrouped, both figuratively and literally.
Most Spurs players had breaded or grilled chicken, and other meats were available, as well. But the only beef present at Gregg Popovich’s dawn dinner party was the kind that comes from a cow—not the kind that a simpler, less leadership laden gang could have and maybe would have had.
“It was all just casual conversation,” one Spurs player told me. “As a team, we all just moved on and that was pretty much it. All that matters is Game 7. If we win Game 7, nobody will remember Game 6.”
And herein lies Popovich’s opportunity for redemption.
As ornery and abrasive as ever, Popovich was short and downright disrespectful to some members of the media after Game 6. His answers were shorter and more callous than usual—even by his standards.
After the game, he made his way to the podium so quickly, and spoke so quickly, that it was obvious that he wanted to throw Game 6 away immediately and as quickly as the Spurs saw Allen breathe new life into the American Airlines Arena with a flick of his wrist.
“Things will be said. People will talk,” Tim Duncan said on the day before Game 7. “We know what’s at stake, we know what we have to do. We know the opportunity we let slip through our fingers, and we’re not going to hang our head and dwell on that.”
Defiant and proud, Duncan assured us.
“Tomorrow, when that ball goes up, we’ll all be ready.”
Yes, he assured us all.
And if he is correct—if the Spurs are ready—and if they prevail, if they do something that no NBA team has done in 35 years, then Duncan’s fifth NBA championship may be the sweetest of them all.
“I don’t really care what it’s been like for anyone else at any time,” Popovich said on Wednesday. “All I know is we have had a hell of a year and we have an opportunity to win a championship tomorrow night. That’s all that matters.”
Over dinner, Tony Parker told his teammates about September 24, 2005.
At the age of 25, at Serbia’s Belgrade Arena in the EuroBasket semifinals, Parker had scored a game-high 20 points and led his French national team to 62-55 lead over Greece with 47 seconds remaining in the contest.
There, on the brink of carrying France to its first EuroBasket Championship appearance in almost 60 years, Greece inexplicably outscored France, 12-4 over the final 47 seconds of the game and stunned France, 67-66.
And while Allen’s 3-pointer may give Parker nightmares some day, he saw it already when Dimitrios Diamantidis sunk Parker’s French team in that EuroBasket semifinal contest.
There was no Game 2 against Greece. There was no homecourt advantage. It was one-and-done, and the French were done.
The only opportunity to bounce back would come in the Bronze medal game. And that’s exactly what Parker’s French team did.
Parker’s French team regrouped the best they could and defeated Spain for the Bronze medal, 98-68.
There, with his teammates, Parker shared this story. Others shared their own triumphs and tribulations, as well.
Together, the Spurs chatted, they pondered. They looked ahead to Game 7, not back at Game 6.
“Everybody wants to be ready for tomorrow,” Parker said. “Because if you’re not ready for tomorrow, you’re going to regret it for the next 10, 15 years.”
And in 10 or 15 years, we will look back at Game 6 as the day when the Spurs came dangerously close to winning the 2013 NBA Championship. The Larry O’Brien trophy made its way down to the court and the NBA handed out Finals MVP ballots to select members of the media.
It was over and then it wasn’t.
But after Thursday night’s Game 7, the Larry O’Brien trophy will be presented. The Bill Russell NBA Finals MVP trophy will be awarded and in 10 of 15 years, we will look back at Game 6 as either the game that the Spurs amazingly bounced back from and used as fuel to eventually capture the title, or as the game that the Heat stole en route to becoming one of the NBA’s immortal back-to-back championship winning teams.
Time will tell.
For now, all we can do is look ahead to Game 7. All the Spurs can do is bounce back, just like Parker’s French national team once did.
Indeed, all we can do is look ahead and forward to Game 7.
Just like the San Antonio Spurs.
Moke Hamilton is a Senior NBA Columnist for SheridanHoops.com on assignment in Miami for the NBA Finals. Follow him on Twitter: @MokeHamilton