All day Tuesday, I was confidently nervous. Yes, I’m aware that’s an oxymoron, but it’s how I felt. I felt confident the San Antonio Spurs would close out the Miami Heat in Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals to win the franchise’s fifth championship because Gregg Popovich always has his guys mentally ready and the Spurs have always treated Game 6 like Game 7. That was the case yet again on Tuesday night, but as Tim Duncan said in his post game press conference: “the ball just didn’t bounce [the Spurs’] way.”
Miami played desperately as everyone expected, yet the Spurs seemed to overcome their age and match all of the Heat’s runs to keep the game close. In fact, San Antonio led by 10 to start the fourth quarter, then lost the lead, then got it back and that’s really when it felt like it was over. My body ached like the players’ after such a grueling series, especially 35-year-old Manu Ginobili and 37-year-old Duncan. My heart raced in the final minute of regulation and I was angry when overtime was forced because it shouldn’t have been — if Kawhi Leonard or Ginobili had hit just one of the two free throws that were missed down the stretch, I would be on cloud nine right now.
Still, I felt confident. Duncan had been playing lights out and Tony Parker had seemed to really come alive at the end of regulation, so I felt it would only take five more minutes of play to hoist the trophy. Then it happened: Ginobili turned the ball over.
Ginobili is the most polarizing player of my life. I’ve loved him and I’ve hated him, but for the past three years, I’ve wanted nothing more than for the Spurs to trade him. He’s played absolutely terribly throughout this year’s Finals with the exception of Game 5 and I said out loud in overtime of Game 6: “If the Spurs lose this, it will be on a turnover by Ginobili.”
No, I’m not psychic. People who think they are have some screws loose up top.
Now it’s over. Game 6 is over no matter how much my mind wants to bend back and try to replay any of the individual plays that turned the tide at the end of regulation, it’s over. Part of me says, “Don’t worry — the Spurs won after the Detroit Pistons forced Game 7 in the 2005 NBA Finals.” But the other side of me remembers two things: the Spurs were at home for that contest and Duncan wasn’t 37.
The Spurs will absolutely play admirably in Game 7; there’s no doubt about that. Pop will have the troops ready to go for the last hurrah because it’s over after this. Win or lose, this is it for the Big Three. If the Spurs make it back to the Finals one day, it will be without Duncan, Ginobili and Parker together. And it will likely be without Pop, the driving force behind it all who loses more sleep than anyone after nights like Tuesday. But no matter how ready the Spurs are for Thursday night, Game 6 was their Game 7, or at least it felt like it to me. I’m not throwing in the towel because the Spurs are simply too mentally tough to let something like this overcome their psyche. But there’s one thing they can’t control: Father Time.
Duncan wanted it so badly in Game 6. His play spoke libraries more than words ever could. He reminded me of John Elway playing in his last hurrah at the same age. But now it’s literally the last hurrah for Duncan and the Spurs. One last game — on the road against the most hyped, popular, polarizing team in sports — for one last moment of glory.
I’ve said it over and over since Russell Westbrook went down in Game 2 of the first round, but it never applied more than it does now and it can’t be said again after Thursday night:
It’s now or never, fellas.