Sports have been inundated with maxims and cheesy clichés since the beginning of their creation.
“Defense wins championships.”
“You have to want it more.”
“Make sure you give 100 percent 100 percent of the time.”
“Every second of every play of every game matters.”
“Coming through in the clutch.”
In the 2013 NBA Finals, the world experienced the essence of what sports is all about at its finest and bleakest.
Let’s backpedal to Game 6 for a moment. Before that instant classic went to overtime, the Spurs had four clear chances to close that game out and become the champions themselves. However, due to two missed free throws by two good free throw shooters and two missed defensive rebounds by one of the best collective rebounding teams in the league, the Heat—well Ray Allen—fought off the death of their season, and possibly the death of their core, to live another day.
Yes, there were crucial plays leading up to this last minute of the game that could have changed the outcome. I mean, just take a look at Manu Ginobili. The man had eight turnovers and looked like he was playing the wrong sport. If he had simply cleaned up one or two of his errant passes, San Antonio could have had a larger lead toward the end.
However, let’s get back to those four moments.
Make your free throws. Box out.
Such simple concepts of basketball that are pounded into the minds of all players of all ages. And the Spurs simply needed to apply these concepts to the game at hand.
It was as if the basketball gods dangled the Larry O’Brien trophy in front of the Spurs’ faces only to quickly pull it away with one cold-blooded shot by Allen.
So then we move onto Game 7, a game that many predicted would not be able to live up to the energy-draining entertainment showcased for all to see two days earlier.
The final game of the NBA season might not have had a game-tying shot or gone to overtime, but it certainly represented sports just as well.
After a Kawhi Leonard (we’ll get to this rising star in a later post) made a huge 3-pointer with exactly two minutes to go in the NBA season, the score stood at 90-88. No longer did the 100+ games or 1000+ hours each team had wrestled through up to that point matter anymore. Even though all the hard work they had put in up to that point got them to that point, that point at the end of the tiresomely long and winding road known as the NBA season would define how successful they were in traveling along that road. Get the point?
The way a round piece of leather stitched together with a rubber bladder on the inside bounced would decide a nation’s and world’s view of a certain player. This has been the case for all the players in the league throughout the season…but not to this extent. This is the essence of what sports is all about. The realization that any one play could be the difference in what defines this year of basketball and this era of basketball.
Back to the game. After a Tony Parker steal, Leonard had the chance to vault himself from rising star to shining star. He had a basketball in his large hands, was standing 22+ feet from a 10-foot rim with an 18-inch diameter and had the opportunity to change the outcome of the game with one 3-pointer. In two years of league experience, the 21-year-old small forward had made 106 3-pointers. The 107th would mean more than all of his previous made 3-pointers—along with free throws and two-pointers—combined.
Because that’s a Game 7 and that’s sports. These two teams had been so equally matched and each had won three games up to that point, so it felt like they should change the league rules and make it to where you had to be up two games in order to win the series.
But we have to move on. This isn’t tennis or volleyball where games can be played fairly quickly, allowing this win-by-two rule to come into play. These games are made up of 48 grueling minutes of up-tempo play that can be changed with the flick of a wrist and the follow-through of five fingers.
Kawhi flicked his wrist and followed through with his five fingers.
Two missed jumpers by the Heat allowed the Spurs to have their chance again. I’m not even going to mention the amount of hook shots and post moves Tim Duncan has made in his career…mostly because that would take a while to figure out. The Big Fundamental is in his 15th season, filling each of those with countless moves on the block.
After one of the greatest playoff runs for a 37-year-old, all he had to do was cap it off by putting the ball in the hoop from five feet away. Wherever you are right now, look around you. Look how far five feet is. Got it? That’s the distance Duncan needed to throw a round object and put it through a metal rim with a 15-18 inches long net to tie a basketball game and shift this mounting pressure back to the Heat.
Dribble. Dribble. One step. Two step. Turn head. Rise up. Release ball.
Then the bounce of the ball on the rim gave Duncan one more chance to salvage his team’s 103-game, 5000+ minute season and turn it into a championship rather than an almost-championship. It was as if Duncan just landed on “play again” in Life and got to spin one more time. The ball bounced over to the right side of the rim, allowing Duncan to extend his arm and place one fingertip on the leather. With a slight push of his index finger, a hope of a nice roll and a chance to change history, this tip shot could have become more than just his 29th point with the right rotations.
Duncan’s slap of the floor after his two missed chances exhibits his sheer frustration.
LeBron James had struggled with his jumper all series long. There was a reason Gregg Popovich coached his players to give LeBron just enough cushion to entice him into rising up for a jump shot rather than barreling into the lane. His strength is his athleticism and well, strength; why not do everything you can to take that away?
But LeBron didn’t care about that in the waning moments that would reflect a game that would in time reflect an entire season.
Dribble. Dribble. Pull-Up. Release.
The make of this one jumper not only gave his team enough of a lead that wouldn’t allow San Antonio to tie the game in one possession, this one jumper quite possibly changed many people’s perception of whether or not LeBron can shoot. Yes, he made five three-pointers during the game. However, none of those were worth more in terms of his legacy than this one shot.
With a four-point deficit and 27 seconds to go in the game, if the Spurs could make a shot, they could begin to play the fouling game and hope for someone to do what Mario Chalmers did about a minute earlier and miss two free throws.
As Ginobili drove baseline, he did the one thing that coaches tell their players not to do even as early as the pee-wee stage.
“Don’t leave your feet without knowing what you’re going to do with the ball.”
(I told my brother this the first day I got him hooked onto basketball, and he has noticed when it happens ever since.)
With one hop in his steps, Ginobili capped off this game with how his Finals will be remembered—a bad pass leading to a turnover.
The rest was history. The Spurs dug themselves in too big a hole, and unlike Game 6 for San Antonio, Miami made their free throws, played strong defense and grabbed their defensive rebounds in order to close this game out.
Now, I didn’t just tell you all of this so I could get practice in play-by-play commentary based on my memory of last night’s game. You can just wait for this game to be rerun on television to hear Mike Breen yell Bang! like someone has just been shot.
I want to emphasize that this game with these moments is what makes sports so thrilling and exciting to play and watch as a fan while being so draining and painful at the same time. Sports will draw you in and toss you out like your feelings don’t even matter.
In high school or college, did you ever have that one paper or one test that would change your final grade that would change your GPA that would change your class rank that would change what scholarships you would receive that would change your college destination that would change your life’s future? (Even if you didn’t, use your imagination.)
Remember how stressful that one assignment was? That’s what each of these moments was like for Leonard, Duncan, LeBron or whoever else had the chance to change the course of NBA history.
This dilemma in the world of sports is a fulfilling one if you’re willing to take the good with the bad. Due to this being a Game 7 with so many game-changing, season-changing and legacy-changing opportunities for both teams, it felt like all of those changes were decided by a flip of a coin. They were so evenly matched it only seems fitting to let the Spurs have the trophy for one month before giving it off to the Heat. They were that close.
But that’s a part of sports. Sports giveth and taketh away so quickly, especially in the sport of basketball that has more openings to unlock a different door of conclusion than any other sport out there.
And Game 7 of the NBA Finals epitomized all of the heartache and pure joy that athletes and fans of any level experience when they invest themselves in the complicated world known as sports.
Ignite the Site!