NBA Finals: Game 6–A Survivor’s Tale

“I’m going to the gym. I’m all jacked up.”–MAMBINO Contributor El Mariachi, 12:17 am Eastern Time
 
We didn’t watch Game 6 everyone–we survived it.
 
It’s been echoed over and over again all night and all morning. It’s not hyperbole: this was one of the greatest Finals games ever. Off the top of my head, only a handful of games are in it’s company over the last 30 years: Mavericks-Heat Game 5 in 2006, Bulls-Jazz Game 6 in 1998, Pistons-Lakers Game 6 in 1988 and Lakers-Celtics Game 4 in 1987. There are others, of course, but there’s no doubt about it: last night’s epic Game 6 already ranks in the Top 10 of greatest Finals games ever, perhaps even penetrating the sacred sphere of greatest contests in American sports history. It was that good.
 
It’s not just the dramatic finish and the toe-curling proximity to which San Antonio was to a championship, but rather the ebbs and flows of such an excellently played contest that really makes this game stand out. Even the last two Game 7s (Boston/LA in 2010 and SA/Detroit in 2005) lacked the 48 minutes–make that 53 minutes–of artistry that last night’s bout had. Celtics-Lakers was a sloppy affair, with both teams shooting poorly, Kobe Bryant chucking away a 6-24 night and the final combined score ticking in at just over 160 combined points. Spurs/Pistons had the same feeling of inertia, slogging towards a 4th quarter that was largely out of reach for Detroit. Game 6 was dynamic from beginning to end, with each team playing crisply, trading blows and fighting to a standstill up until Bosh emphatically landed the controversial finishing blow. This game was so finely played, with so many featured players, that it’s hard to remember one seminal moment in a myriad of them. That’s what sets last night’s game apart–painting a masterpiece without muddling the colors.

Digging through the palette of narratives, the most pervading thought: how does San Antonio give that one away? A 10 point lead entering the 4th quarter, a 5 point lead with 30 seconds to go. Two missed free throws that could have made it a nearly insurmountable lead of 7. There’s truly no lengths at which you can’t describe this as an epic Spurs choke job. Yes, the Heat capitalized on those mistakes an took the game from the clamps of defeat, but like the script of a great tragedy, it seemed as if San Antonio knew all the ingredients for a collapse and played the role like Kenneth Branaugh in Hamlet. For all the belly aching of the NBA fan base at large, the refereeing of Game 6 wasn’t the key here; lest we forget, before the Manu Ginobili strip foul and Chris Bosh block mugging on Danny Green both in overtime, we watched as the Spurs missed two crucial free throws, gave away offensive rebounds, turned the ball over AND allowed LeBron and Ray Allen the space for the tying three pointers. Yes, those were some very dubious calls in OT (though, I see far fewer people talking about the seven steps Ginobili took before the foul), but San Antonio lost the game before those five minutes of extra time. If they couldn’t be bothered to chop the head off the South Beach zombies, then don’t be surprised when it springs back to life and eats your face.

More than giving their undead opponents an extra life, what San Antonio really did was expose one of the two advantages Miami squarely has over them: the Heat’s best three players are younger and more athletic than the Spurs’ best three players. LeBron, Wade and Bosh were gassed, emotionally and physically by the end of OT, but still had some juice into the waning seconds of the game (look no further than Bosh’s incredible defense and LeBron’s ability to elevate for multiple shots). On the other side of the court, San Antonio fared like a perforated page in the hand of a 4 year old–precariously hanging on through the gnashing minutes of playoff basketball, visibly being torn asunder in the end. Parker, Duncan and Ginobili simply couldn’t summon the energy and strength to overcome their younger opponents, visibly limping towards the finish line. There are some that like to talk about the no calls in overtime, and how the Spurs were robbed of a victory. San Antonio put themselves in a position where the young legs of the Heat would be able to withstand the unmerciful nature of late June basketball. They couldn’t.

Just as the Spurs began to weaken, it seemed that the Heat were able to tap into their energy reserves and play (when motivated) the most peerless defense in the league. Miami outscored SA 38-25 in the final 17 minutes, while the 37 year-old Duncan was held scoreless and Parker managed just 6 points.

This question has run through my mind: as we’re headed to Game 7, has the Heat been the better team all series? Quarter to quarter, it feels as though San Antonio has controlled the pace, and gotten better aggregate performances out of their stars and role players. LeBron has had just two games exemplary of his greatness, while his running mate Wade has had just one. Even without the miracle finish of last night, there’s still no doubt in my mind that Miami is just lucky to be here. I suppose that answers the question.

A few more random thoughts from Game 6:

  • In defense of the Heat fans that left the arena in the last minute: put yourself in their shoes. If you were a fan of this incredible team that won 27 straight games, headlined by the greatest player of his generation and most transcendent star since Michael Jordan, would you be able to stomach another team winning on your home floor? Even if your team didn’t have as special of a season as Miami did, would you be able sit there and see the opponents celebrate in front of you? I’ll tell you this: I wouldn’t and I didn’t even take that chance. It would scar me forever. 3 years ago, my dad had tickets to Game 6 and Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals between the Lakers and Celtics, with Boston up 3-2 coming back to LA. He asked me if I wanted to go to Game 6 OR Game 7, the latter which was, of course, not guaranteed to even happen. I passed on Game 6, happily. My dad, stunned, asked me why. I told him that going to Game 6 was a lose-lose proposition. Best case scenario? The Lakers would win the game, but would have won nothing besides the right for 48 more minutes of gut wrenching basketball two days later. Worst case scenario? I would watch on as Bill Russell presented the Finals MVP trophy to a Celtic on the STAPLES Center floor. I would never recover. I don’t blame you Heat fans. I understand. But if you left with more than a minute to go, you absolutely suck.
  • Chris Bosh finished with just 10/11, but his impact on the game was profound. His 4th quarter and overtime defense was superb, including his gigantic offensive rebound precluding the Ray Allen three and two huge blocks in overtime. However, his post defense on Tim Duncan won’t get much play, but deserves just as much credit as those highlight reel clips. Timmy certainly ran out of energy in the second half, but much of that is due to just how great of a defender Bosh has become.
  • After a great Game 5, Manu Ginobili was a car wreck last night. The Heat defenders weren’t biting on his jab fakes, which didn’t help that his shot was already off. His 8 turnovers were absolutely inexcusable, and were one of the key components in a Spurs collapse. He said after the game that he didn’t know how the team would get re-energized for Game 7, and that he sat there “devastated”. We know, Manu. We watched the game. It would truly be a shame if that’s the lasting image we have of such a great, great player.
  • It’s a shame that Kawhi Leonard is going to get killed for missing that free throw with just over 30 seconds to go, because he was absurdly great last night. The second year man was 9 for 14, finishing with 22 points, 11 huge rebounds and 3 steals (including 9 points, 4 boards and a steal in the last 17 minutes) and not flinching in the face of huge pressure…except for one, small mistake.
  • LeBron James. He is the best player in the world. Watch that 9 minute stretch in the 4th quarter. You’ll know why.

We’ll be back with a Game 7 preview. I’m still sweating blood. What a game.

 

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