I still can’t believe two years later that this actually happened. The San Antonio Spurs and the Miami Heat were playing the first of two NBA Finals that would happen between them. The Spurs took game one 92-88, the Heat took game two 103-84, the Spurs took game three 113-77, the Heat took game 4 109-93, and the Spurs took game five 114-104 to go up 3 games to two.
Fast forward to game six of these Finals. The Heat entered the four quarter trailing the Spurs 75-65. Heat forward LeBron James entered the 4th just 3-12 from the field. That all change pretty quickly however. Lead by LeBron James, the Heat were able to climb back into the lead with 2:09 minutes left in the 4th leading 89-86. It was then that the Heat went ice cold from the field allowing the Spurs to take a commanding 94-89 lead with 28.2 seconds left, that close to their 5th NBA Title.
LeBron James quickly fires off a three pointer, the first one falls short. The ball is tipped back out towards Mike Miller and Ray Allen. Miller passes to LeBron, James fires another three away. Boom. The Spurs lead was trimmed to two at 94-92 with 20 ticks left. The Spurs then called a full timeout and when play resumed, Mike Miller fouled Kawhi Leonard, a player playing in his first ever NBA Finals.
Leonard went to the line, and missed the first three throw. You can hear the crowd reaction at American Airlines Arena still ringing in your mind. Perhaps one of the biggest mistakes in his historic coaching career then happened. Greg Popovich took out Tim Duncan and put in Boris Diaw after Leonard’s missed free throw. Leonard sinks the second one, a 3 point game with 19 seconds to go. No timeout called by Erik Spoelstra. Mario Chalmers then begins to dribble the ball up the court.
Chalmers dribbles around for a few seconds into the shot clock. Chris Bosh sets a screen for LeBron James to come off of an pop a wide open three-point shot. It happened, but James misfired. The next sequence in events changed the course of the NBA Finals all because of a missed free throw and a coaching error by Popovich. Chris Bosh grabbed the offensive rebound over Manu Ginobili and Danny Green. Bosh passed the ball to some guy named Ray Allen, the NBA’s all-time leader in three-pointers as he was standing in the right corner guarding by Tony Parker. You all know what happens next.
ESPN announcer Jeff Van Gundy brought attention to Popovich taking Tim Duncan out of the game. Questioning the move as was almost everyone else.
“Tim Duncan out of the game leads to the second shot, and clearly a three-point shot.”
Prior to the shot happening, the yellow rope that prevents fans from entering the court in a on-court celebration was put out for the San Antonio Spurs as many thought the game was already over. The Heat players were angry by the move, and they used as a motivation.
Allen allegedly told the Heat staff to “Get those motherf***ing ropes out of here!” Even LeBron James noticed the yellow rope, and you know he used that as motivation.
“We seen the championship board already out there, the yellow tape. And you know, that’s why you play the game to the final buzzer,” James said. “And that’s what we did tonight. We gave it everything that we had and more.”
So what happened after Ray Allen’s iconic three-point shot? Tony Parker missed a jumper to send the game to overtime, which lead to the Heat winning game six of the 2013 NBA Finals 103-100.
“See you in Game 7!” the public address announcer for the Heat screamed out as some Heat fans tossed their white T-shirts — the ones that hang on chairs in the arena. These read “First to 16 Wins,” the number of wins it takes to win the championship
“It’s by far the best game I’ve ever been a part of,” James said of Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals.
The Heat then went on to win game seven of the NBA Finals 95-88. The only thing most of us will never forget is Tim Duncan blowing a layup that would’ve brought the Spurs tied with the Heat with under a minute to go in game 7. Jeff Van Gundy described it as a point blank miss by Tim Duncan. He was certainly frustrated, as he slapped the floor due to the frustration.
“To be at this point — with this team, in a situation where people kind of counted us out — [it] is a great accomplishment to be in a Game 7,” Duncan said. “Or to be in a Game 6 up one and two chances to win an NBA championship and not do it, that’s tough to swallow.”
Game six isn’t what Duncan says will never leave him.
“For me, no. Game 7, missing a layup to tie the game,” he said in his postgame press conference. “Making a bad decision down the stretch. Just unable to stop Dwyane [Wade] and LeBron [James]. Probably, for me, Game 7 is always going to haunt me.”
After Duncan’s missed layup the Heat had the ball and all they need was a two points to make it a two possession game. LeBron James’ step back jumper was just what the doctor ordered, making it 92-88 in favor of the Heat with 27.9 seconds to go. Mario Chalmers’ screen created the beautiful shot for James. When the Spurs had the ball back, Manu Ginobili found himself nearly falling out of bounds out of control, and threw it away to LeBron James who was fouled by Tim Duncan right away.
That was basically it. It was back-to-back titles for the Heat, and back-to-back Finals MVP’s for LeBron James, who was now a two time champion.
“It took everything we had as a team,” Miami Heat shooting guard Dwyane Wade said. “Credit to the San Antonio Spurs, they’re an unbelievable team, an unbelievable franchise. This is the hardest series we ever had to play. But we’re a resilient team and we did whatever it took.”
The 2013 NBA Finals went out so disappoint for the Spurs that you almost felt bad for them. Most of their players didn’t have many years left, and they almost never did come back.
“In my case, I still have Game 6 in my head,” Manu Ginobili said. “Today, we played an OK game. They just made more shots than us. LeBron got hot. Shane [Battier], too. Those things can happen. But being so close and feeling that you are about to grab that trophy, and seeing it vanish is very hard.”
“It was a great series and we all felt that,” Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said. “I don’t know if ‘enjoy’ is the right word, but in all honesty, even in defeat, I’m starting to enjoy what our group accomplished already, when you look back. And you need to do that, to put in perspective. So it’s no fun to lose, but we lost to a better team. And you can live with that as long as you’ve given your best, and I think we have.”
The Spurs would get their revenge on the Heat in the 2014 NBA Finals destroying LeBron James in company in five games. As we said above however, it almost didn’t happen.
“I can remember 2013 like it was yesterday,” says Philadelphia Sixers coach Brett Brown, who was an assistant under Spurs coach Gregg Popovich at the time of the 2013 NBA Finals. “I’m thinking, ‘Can you believe this? We did it. We beat LeBron, Wade and Bosh on their home court for our fifth championship. There’s 28 seconds left and we’re up five and the ropes are coming out and I’m saying to myself, ‘This is the most amazing championship of them all.’
Greg Popovich will never forget Allen’s three.
“I’ve thought about that play every day, without exception, four, five, six, 10 times a day,” Popovich said. “I always will.” When the Spurs were in the huddle before the final possession, they had identified that very look — the Ray Allen corner 3 — as the one to guard against at all costs. And as the stupefied San Antonio players shuffled off the American Airlines Arena floor, Popovich gathered himself outside the Spurs’ locker room. He knew he had work to do.
“I’ve never seen our team so broken,” Spurs guard Tony Parker says.
“That game killed me mentally,” Spurs guard Manu Ginobili admits.
Shortly after game six of the NBA Finals, Popovich instructed his players to dress quickly and head to the team bus as they were going to eat at Il Gabbiano Restaurant, a Italian restaurant in Miami which was the teams favorite in anticipation of them celebrating winning the NBA Finals. Although that didn’t happen, Popovich still kept the reservation at the restaurant.
“Pop’s response was, ‘Family!'” Brett Brown says. “‘Everybody to the restaurant. Straight there.’ We needed to regroup because everyone was dazed, wondering what the hell had just happened. Pop’s instinct was to bring us together. Avoid the distractions. Block out the noise. He told us, ‘Grab your wife, your child, your mother. We’re all going to dinner.’ And off to dinner we went.”
Popovich meet with every player that night at every table, helping them talk over what happen in game six and how to correct. Two days later, the Heat won game seven. The Spurs just couldn’t overcome the heart break and the disappointing taste that lingered in their mouths still. The team then faced the most uncertain Summer in the history of the Spurs.
“It was so hard,” says Spurs general manager R.C. Buford. “Especially hard to see Pop like that. I don’t like talking about it.”
Popovich waited four days before holding a meeting with his big three that has the most wins out of any big three in all of NBA history. He asked Parker, Duncan, and Ginobili if this was it for them, are they done with basketball? No one had a direct answer as of that moment, so they all agreed to meet later that Summer to discuss their future plans again.
“I thought about retiring,” Popovich concedes. “Not so much because of the loss but because there are other things to do in life. I just wanted to sit for a while and see if the competitive spirit was still there.”
“As the summer wore on, I got angrier and angrier,” Popovich says. “I wanted to pull the guys back together and appeal to them and challenge them. I wanted to ask them, ‘When you are kicked in the gut, how will you respond?'”
All three of them ended up agreeing with Popovich, as the trio returned for the 2013-2014 season, hungrier than ever for a chance at the NBA Finals.
“I wanted a chance to do better,” Ginobili explains. “That series was a drag on me.”
Shane Battier, who is now retired but played for the Heat in both of the NBA Finals said that Spurs team that ran through Miami was unlike no other.
“When I came to Miami in 2011, I had never seen a team with a bigger edge than that Heat group that lost to Dallas in the Finals the year before,” Battier says. “So I inherited that pain. The focus was so strong with that group that we could have played anybody — line ’em up, any historical team you want — and they would have had their hands full.
“You can’t quantify that kind of hunger, that desire, that sense of loss from the year before, but it’s real, and the Spurs had it.”
The Spurs won 60 games in the regular season, clinching the first seed in the Western Conference. Tim Duncan knew that they couldn’t let the championship slip out of their finger tips again, so before the Spurs first playoff game Duncan wrote the number ’16’ on a board in his locker. The 16 represents the number of wins you need to win a championship in the NBA. Duncan would walk over to the board and cross off each number after it was written. Popovich even held off in his speeches so that Duncan could do so.
The Spurs and the Heat met again in the NBA Finals setting up what promised to be another instant classic between the two teams. Popovich and the rest of the Spurs knew that this was more than likely their best chance to win the Finals again, and they were determined to get it done this time.
“For the most part,” Former heat forward Shane Battier says, “teams weren’t talented enough to beat us when we were attacking their pick-and-roll. But if they were able to get the ball off against what were very precise defensive rotations, if we were off a little bit, if we were a step behind, it was going to cost us points.”
That’s exactly what the Spurs did. Everyone on that team knew exactly what Miami could do and will do, that’s what they knew was the best part about facing the Heat again. The Spurs shared the ball so much and making all the right plays it just began to annoy the Heat.
“It was exhausting,” says Cleveland Cavaliers forward James Jones, who played with LeBron James during LeBron’s tenure with the Heat. “I don’t think we’d ever seen them move the ball that much, that well.”
“You could sense their frustration,” Manu Ginobili says. “LeBron had to work so much, and then we’d come down and hit another 3. I’m sure that was difficult for them, for him, but Pop told us after 2013 this was the way we had to play to beat them. If we went isolation, we had no shot.
“The mentality, especially for those three games, was not to give away a single possession. Just keep it moving, keep it moving — it was incredible. It was so much fun to play that way. So exciting. I can never remember a stretch of such great basketball before.”
After game five in which the Spurs clinched the 2013-2014 NBA Title, LeBron James admitted that the Spurs were just a flat out better team then the Heat. Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, the other key pieces of the big three were non-exsitent factors throught those Finals as well.
“That’s team basketball,” James said. It’s selfless. Guys move, cut, pass. You’ve got a shot, you take it. But it’s all for the team. It’s never about the individual. That’s their brand of basketball, and that’s how team basketball should be played.”
Heat president Pat Riley was even amazed how the Spurs fought through adversity and such extreme disappointment during the Finals.
“They found their nirvana through their adversity,” Pat Riley says. “That doesn’t happen often like that, when you lose the way they did in 2013. It usually destroys a team, makes them go the other way, especially when there’s aging. They played three of the greatest games that anybody has ever played. That’s what it takes. It takes that kind of adversity and great players and, most importantly, mature, grown-up individuals who have been in the profession a long time, who can take the game of basketball to another level. But that’s what they did.”
Greg Popovich knew the Spurs fifth title was the best one the Spurs ever won to him, and his team. It’s not even close.
“Championships are always wonderful,” Popovich says. “But because of the circumstances, because of watching those guys stick with it all year and earn that opportunity again, it was the most satisfying thing to me — ever — in my career. I’m talking about at any level as a player or a coach.
“It’s not even close.”
It was all over for the Heat that Summer. LeBron James left to return back to Cleveland, Battier retired, Wade and Bosh stayed together in Miami to try to help Pat Riley pick up the pieces, but it was no use as it was to late to try to build right back up right away as the Heat needed to use most of the 2014-2015 NBA season to try to build the Heat right back up to the top of the Eastern Conference.
All because of Ray Allen’s three-point shot in game six of the 2013 NBA Finals, the entire landscape of the NBA changed instantly, and it almost broke apart the Spurs.
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