For three quarters of Game 6, as it has been for much of the NBA Finals, the San Antonio Spurs execution was just too much for the Heat to handle — the Spurs shot 50 percent, they played smart defense, they moved the ball, Tim Duncan was playing like a man possessed with 30 points and 14 rebounds, and Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker were chipping in.
Everything was coming together. It was 75-65 Spurs. They had a 10-point lead and were just 12 minutes away from hoisting a new banner.
Then it all came apart — the execution that has been the hallmark of the Spurs went away as the Heat got desperate and cranked up the defensive pressure.
Throughout the Finals the Spurs had withstood the Heat runs, such as in Game 5 when the Heat raced back to make it a one point game in the third, only to have the Spurs rattle off a 19-1 run. It has been the key to this series — the Spurs would not wilt in the face of the Heat pressure.
Except on Tuesday they did. San Antonio didn’t execute in the fourth quarter, from the players to the coach.
In the fourth quarter and overtime combined the Spurs scored 25 points on 31 percent shooting, they were1-of-8 from three, they were 0-6 in the midrange and they had three turnovers (all by Manu Ginobili, who had 8 on the night). Duncan went 0-of-5 in the fourth quarter and overtime, while during that span the hot Danny Green went 0-of-3 from beyond the arc, where he couldn’t seem to miss in the last few game games. Tony Parker was on the bench in key minutes with cramps. The Spurs were 4-of-10 inside five feet in the final 17 minutes of that game, which isn’t going to get it done. Duncan was on the bench when the Heat grabbed a couple key offensive rebounds.
Miami came back and forced a Game 7 with the win.
After the game this was a dejected Spurs team, you could feel the disappointment. This is a team that off the court acts like they do on it — business like, professional. But they looked and felt crushed after this loss.
“We were a few seconds away from winning the championship and we let it go,” Ginobili said. “A couple of rebounds we didn’t catch. A clutch three by Ray (Allen), a couple missed free throws, it’s a very tough moment.”
Will they be over it by Game 7 less than 48 hours away? Will they be physically recharged — Tim Duncan played 44 minutes, Tony Parker 42 and was cramping.
“I have no clue how we’re going to be reenergized,” Ginobili said. “I’m devastated. “But we have to. There’s no Game 8 afterwards. We’re going to have to play our best game, even better than today. Shoot better, better defense, less turnovers in my case, but, yeah, there’s no secret recipe for bouncing back.”
“Obviously, it’s a tough loss,” Tony Parker said. “We had a great opportunity to finish it. But that’s basketball. We can show what we’re made of and have a great opportunity — can’t forget we have another opportunity on Thursday to try to win a championship.”
Duncan reminded everyone the Spurs have been through plenty before. If one team can move on from something like this, if one veteran squad can put it behind them, it is San Antonio.
“We’ll use these 48 hours until the next one to get physically right, get reenergized,” Duncan said. “We’ll do what we usually do. We’ll watch a little bit of film, and make a couple of little tweaks. We put ourselves in a position to win a game.
“They made plays down the stretch to take it from us, but we know what we can do. We know that we can win games either here or anywhere else, and we just have to execute for a longer period of time. We had a lapse for a couple of minutes here and there. As I said, up 10 points going into the fourth quarter, we like our chances.”