Rapid Reaction: NBA Finals, Game 6

Twenty thoughts after tonight’s NBA Finals Game 6, which was the greatest and most emotionally draining basketball game I’ve watched in my entire life.

1. Channeling my inner LeBron, there were not one, not two, not three, not four, but FIVE ways that this game was going to be remembered at a certain point in time. They were (and each point will be getting further discussion once I get into breaking down the game) the Tim Duncan Game, the Headband Game, the Erik Spoelstra/Dwyane Wade Game, the Tony Parker Game, and the Ray Allen Game. After digesting everything, I don’t really know what to call it. Hopefully I’ll figure it out by the end of this.

2. I can’t recall any basketball game ever generating as much “Greatest basketball game ever played” buzz as this one. Granted I missed out on the Bird/Magic duels in the 80’s and the majority of the Jordan era, but it seems like the rapid reactions from fans and analysts go something like this, “HOLY FUCK THAT GAME WAS AWESOME!!!!!”

3. Continuing on with the previous point: from the start of the 4th quarter until one hour after the game had ended, I had direct contact via text message, phone call, Twitter or Facebook regarding the game with sixteen different people. That easily shattered my previous undocumented record, which I would guess would be last year when the Heat won the title. Those were just a bunch of congratulatory messages though. Last night was different. Last night was a mix of “Whoa LeBron was great!”, “What the hell is Spoelstra thinking?” and “Holy crap that game was incredible!”

4. Let’s take it one step further: The players involved in the game have been gushing with quotes about how incredible, and incredibly bizarre it was. LeBron called it “By far the best game I’ve ever been a part of.” Bosh: “Best game I’ve ever seen.” Birdman Andersen: “It was the most amazing basketball I’ve ever seen and to be a part of it was special.” And even a very animated “It was a hell of a game” from Gregg Popovich.

5. In order to firmly grasp how monumental this game was, you need to take into consideration everything that was on the line. First and most obviously, the NBA Title. The Spurs were up 3-2 in the series and looking for a fifth championship in the Duncan/Popovich era. Duncan was playing for a fifth title and greatest player of his generation bragging rights. Parker was playing for a likely Finals MVP, the Greatest Point Guard Alive Championship belt, and an automatic spot in the top three when it comes to best international players of all time. Popovich was coaching for a fifth title and a permanent spot on the NBA coaching Mount Rushmore alongside Phil Jackson, Red Auerbach and Pat Riley. Wade and Bosh were playing not to be traded. And LeBron was playing for his legacy. Isn’t it amazing how many “legacy defining” games LeBron has played in. Seems like at least one every year. Duncan

6. A lot will be made of the 4th quarter and overtime (and rightfully so), but the mystique of this game started well before the fireworks exploded. Remember, before chaos broke out late in the game, this was going to go down as the Tim Duncan Game. Before the series I said that Duncan needed to have a couple of throwback 2003 Duncan games, and amazingly, the Heat survived one tonight. With Miami making it a priority not to allow the Spurs three-point shooters beat them, they allowed Duncan to go to work one on one in the post. Chalk this up as a catastrophically large advantage to Duncan, who started 8 for 8, posted a 25 point and 8 rebound first half, and finished with 30 and 17. To put it more simply, Duncan’s first half may have been the best half of basketball he’s ever played and I’ve ever seen. He was on pace for 50 points and 16 rebounds, and with how unstoppable he was in the first half I could’ve been talked into believing that that is what he would finish with. And based on that half alone, Duncan should’ve won the Finals MVP if, you know, the Spurs ended up winning the game.

7. You’ve heard of Danny Green, right? I’m sure you have. He’s the guy who got confused and thought he was Ray Allen, shattered the Finals record for three’s made (coincidentally held by Ray Allen) and generated a whole bunch of talk about how cool it would be for a former D-Leaguer to win the Finals MVP. Look, even though I wasn’t a huge fan of Danny Green’s out of body experience, it was definitely a neat story and an interesting narrative to write about. Notice the key word “was.” Those days are long gone. Green went 1 for 7 shooting and finished with only three points. You can thank or criticize Miami’s swarming perimeter defense for ending that Cinderella story.

8. The majority of the 1st half was back and forth and closely contested. But as we’re accustomed to seeing from the Spurs they went on a run to close out the 2nd quarter that pushed the lead to only six points, but it might as well have been 16. In the midst of my frustration I prematurely tweeted a simple and solemn “This game is over” that was 50% a pissed off overreaction, 25% prediction and 25% attempt at a reverse jinx. It did feel like it was over though.

9. And it may as well have been, by the time the 4th quarter had started the Heat were down by 10, LeBron was in full-fledged Dallas 2011 mode, and I was trying to make fake trades for Wade and Bosh in my head. Most of them were unrealistic and involved Stephen Curry somehow being traded to Miami, but still. I had to get to a happy place.

10. The 4th quarter started and all hell broke loose. With Miami trailing 75-65, Spoelstra trotted out a lineup that was screaming “Cleveland LeBron, save us!” Oddly enough, I was screaming the same thing earlier in the day when I made the executive decision to wear my old school Witness t-shirt I’ve had since my days as a Cavaliers fan. I’m a freak and believe in good karma based on the t-shirt I wear while the Heat are playing (Go ahead and laugh at me, but last year Miami didn’t lose a game in the playoffs once I started wearing my Big Woodies Fireworks t-shirt). My hopes for Game 6 were that by wearing a Cleveland era LeBron shirt that LeBron would trot out on the court and put together a 30-10-10 triple double. Well through three quarters LeBron was 3 for 11 shooting and I was ready to burn my shirt in the street like all of the pissed off Cavaliers fans did in 2010 when he took his talents to South Beach.

11. I’ve watched LeBron closely for ten years… six of which I’ve had the luxury of the NBA League Pass which means I’ve watched just about every one of LeBron’s last 553 games (playoffs included). I can’t remember him ever playing an extended stretch without a headband. This might not seem like a significant enough event to warrant a whole point in this list, but it definitely is. You know how sometimes when a player changes teams in the offseason and he doesn’t look quite right in his new uniform? That was the case here. He looked like a completely different human being out there doing Cleveland LeBron things. It was probably coincidental, or maybe it was like a fighter seeing his own blood, but for whatever reason, when LeBron’s headband was knocked off with nine minutes left he went bananas and imposed his will like I had been yearning for since the start of the series. He was attacking the basket relentlessly (thanks to the space created by the shooters on the floor) and he managed to make one of the biggest plays of the game that nobody will ever remember because there were ten huge plays that would follow, but big enough that it deserves its own point.

12. With 6:50 left in the game Miami trailed 82-80. The Heat was flirting with making a huge run to blow the game open. A hard close out by Ray Allen on Danny Green allowed Green to drive into the paint, draw Birdman into the air to contest his shot and dish to Tim Duncan. This should’ve been a Duncan dunk and perhaps the end of the Heat run. In less than 2 seconds LeBron left Tony Parker on the wing, darted underneath the basket and elevated to block Duncan’s layup. It was incredible to watch. Not only the physical ability to do that, but also the mental capacity to realize in a split second that he could leave Parker on the wing because Green didn’t have the angle and Duncan didn’t have the time to make the pass… it was just outstanding.

13. Earlier in the game there was a telling sequence where LeBron backed down Kawhi Leonard (who by the way has huge hands and had the least talked about 22 point and 11 rebound game I’ve ever seen) and finished at the rim. Jeff Van Gundy commented, “The power of shooting gives James more space on the floor in that back in move. There’s no help coming, eventually he’s going to overpower Leonard.” For anyone that really knows about basketball, that isn’t a hard concept to understand. So by the power of deduction, that leads me to believe that the people who thought that Dwyane Wade should be brought back in the game despite the fact that Miami had just rolled off a 22-9 run without him don’t know about basketball. Unfortunately, one of those people happens to be head coach Erik Spoelstra.

14. I broke my self-appointed no swearing on social media rule because the only way I could accurately express how pissed off I was by Spoelstra’s decision to bring Wade in was by dropping a couple of F-bombs. Let me give that another go; how the fuck could Spoelstra bring Wade back in? It was uncanny. It was like watching a scary movie when the idiot protagonist decides to go back into the house that the serial killer is in. Miami was rolling with their Cavaliers-esque small ball lineup which going back to the movie comparison would be like the family driving away from the house. Spo putting Wade back in with Miami up by three with 3:48 left was like the protagonist of the movie making an aggressive U-Turn and driving back towards the house to confront the killer. Don’t be stupid Spo! LeBron had room to go to work in the paint because the Spurs defenders had to honor the shooters on the perimeter. As soon as Wade came back in the game the paint was clogged and LeBron suddenly had multiple defenders surrounding him. Parker

15. Once again, let’s recap.  The Heat are leading 87-84 with 3:48 left when Wade came in. The only person whose spirit looked more broken by this than myself was LeBron, who seemingly knew that Wade coming into the game meant that because Wade is Wade, he had to get a few shots so he’d play hard defensively (the most egregious example of this came with under a minute left overtime when the Heat were clinging to a one point lead and Wade decided to isolate and take a twenty foot jump shot based solely on the fact that he’s Dwyane Wade and he can seemingly do no wrong). It also meant that as I mentioned before, the Spurs ability to guard LeBron down the stretch would be infinitely easier now that they could send a help defender and not worry about a wide open player on the perimeter. To nobody’s surprise but Spo’s, the Spurs went on a run and eventually took the lead with under one minute remaining. This is when the game for just over one minute of game time action became the Tony Parker game.

16. I can’t say too many good words about Tony Parker based solely on the principle that Skip Bayless adores him and the Spurs so much, so this point might be brief. Don’t confuse this and mistakenly think I don’t realize how great Parker is (the internal “Who is the best point guard alive” debate has already begun inside my head since I started working on my Top 50 Players list). His skills speak for themselves and his crunch time chops have been on display this postseason. Tonight was no different. Parker was exhausted and struggling after having to deal with a 6’8 physical freak chase him around for the entire 4th quarter, but Parker managed to make not one, but two huge plays down the stretch. First was the step back bomb he hit with 1:30 left in the game to tie it, and then the floater over Chalmers to give San Antonio a 91-89 lead with 58 seconds left. Parker ended up a lackluster 6 for 23 from the field but still would’ve won the Finals MVP had the Spurs pulled out the victory. Then again, Game 7 is Thursday so we can’t close that chapter just yet.

17. Even though it seemed as if Parker was well on his way to a 2nd Finals MVP, the Tony Parker Game disappeared more quickly than Alan Parish getting sucked into Jumanji. Thanks to an gutty offensive rebound from Chris Bosh (Tim Duncan wasn’t in the game, but still) and a heady kick out to Ray Allen in the corner, the Heat season stayed alive and the very turbulent relationship between my mother and Ray Allen (Who was referred to as “The Saboteur” by my mom, who was convinced that Ray Allen signed with the Heat to screw them out of the title. She must’ve watched too much wrestling with me when I was a little kid) was mended. I told her from the get-go that there would come a time when she would love Ray Allen. Tonight was that night. The all-time leader in three’s made sat and watched as Danny Green obliterated his record for three’s in a Finals series… you just knew he was going to respond with something like this. Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve just entered the Ray Allen Game. Miami survived the final 5 seconds of regulation, and suddenly we were in overtime.

18. Overtime served as the continuation of my intense frustration towards Spo and Wade, and also as the redemption of Chris Bosh, who played spectacularly down the stretch doing all the things he was supposed to do. Statistically this game won’t stand out for Bosh (10 points, 11 rebounds, 5 for 12 shooting), but he made every big play he was supposed to make. The big time offensive rebound and kick out to Allen; the block on the Tony Parker jump shot in overtime; and the game winning block on Danny Green in the corner, which was double sweet since Bosh declared before the game that Danny Green wouldn’t get an open look for three.  So let’s recap really quickly: The Heat got what they needed from LeBron, Allen, Bosh, Chalmers, Miller and Battier… and Wade sucked. Okay, just wanted to make sure we cleared that up.

19. The Heat miraculously managed a 103-100 win when it seemed like they were dead in the water with under a minute left. This evokes two questions: First, how do the Spurs bounce back from such a devastating loss? Think about it: The Spurs split two pairs of free throws in the final minute which could’ve pushed their lead to six or four points. They were so close to winning that the yellow rope was going up around the court and the Larry O’Brien Trophy was courtside across from the Spurs bench. They watched their lead, their trophy and just as an extra kick in the nads the yellow rope all disappear. Now, it comes down to a Game 7. What do the Spurs have left mentally, and what does either team have left physically? How could Thursdays game possibly live up to Game 6? And how can my parents, myself or my cousin Gianni (a Spurs fan) withstand another game like this. Gianni and I had the following texting exchange at the end of regulation:

Gianni: Holy smokes. That’s all I got to say about that.

Me: I’ve already cried once during this game. I can’t handle this.

Gianni: I already began to cry tears of joy. That was short lived. Alright time for OT. No more texting cause neither of us can handle it. LeBron headbandless

20. That text messages revealed the final and most important point of this game for me. If I learned one thing from Game 6 it’s that I’m far too emotionally invested in LeBron James than I should be. I’m blessed to have great family and friends, to be able to live comfortably, and to go to a great college. I couldn’t ask for much more than I’ve been given, yet I was reduced to tears when LeBron was faltering down the stretch in Game 6. Is that healthy? Definitely not. But that’s just the way it is for me. That wasn’t the first time that’s happened, and it certainly won’t be the last time. Last year after LeBron won his first title I wrote that nine years of hopes and dreams dashed was worth it for the one year of unimaginable happiness. Well call me selfish, but I don’t want to go another 9 years of hopes and dreams being dashed. That sucked. Tonight it looked like I was going to have to wait at least one more year for that distinct kind of happiness that only your favorite team or player can bring you; the happiness that comes from being a part of something bigger than you. For me, every game is the LeBron James Game. There is just always a subtitle that goes along with it. Game 6 will always be the LeBron James Headband Game for me. It’s right alongside with the 48 Special Game in Detroit in 2007, the Orlando Game Winner, the 40-18-9 Game in Indiana last year, the 45 point evisceration of Boston in Game 6 last year, the Cramp Game in the 2012 Finals, the night LeBron won his first title, and the Indiana Game Winner. What will Game 7 be?


NBA Finals Game 5 Diary

Two years ago I wrote a running diary of Game 5 of the NBA Finals. The Dallas Mavericks took a 3-2 series lead, LeBron notched a triple-double but was silent in the 4th quarter (an alarming trend during the 2011 Finals), and the most trying summer of my life as a LeBron fan was just around the corner. I capped that running diary off by saying that the Heat wouldn’t die easy. Not my proudest moment as a writer. Once again with the NBA Finals tied at two games apiece, a running diary seemed like an absolute necessity. All I could do was hope that it would turn out better this year.

3rd quarter

11:18- LeBron connects on a deep two that may have been a three to start the 2nd half. Jeff Van Gundy, never content with remaining calm, is riled up because on a similar play in the first half the refs didn’t give a signal to the scorers table to review the play, but would go on to change a Manu Ginobili three to a two. Let’s just say the only people more upset about those two calls than Jeff Van Gundy were my parents.

10:43- You absolutely do not want to turn the ball over against the Miami Heat. Uncharacteristic back to back turnovers from the Spurs lead to a wide open corner three from Mario Chalmers and two free throws for LeBron. Just like that Miami trails only by two. Amazing what happens when the best player in the world creates shots on three straight possessions.

9:40- Dwyane Wade dribbles into four Spurs defenders, falls down, turns the ball over, and fails to run back on defense which leads to (let me know if you’ve heard this one before) a Danny Green three-pointer. My goodness gracious, that’s Green’s 4th three of the night and 23rd of the Finals, an NBA record. I can’t say that I’m a huge fan of this out of body experience that Danny Green is having this postseason. Over the last month he’s had more success than anyone else in the playoffs at guarding Stephen Curry, my 2nd favorite athlete in the entire world, and he may shoot my all-time favorite athlete out of a 2nd NBA Title. The only person angrier than me about this development is Erik Spoelstra, who marches onto the court and gets a timeout. I secretly love angry Spo timeouts. Spurs lead 66-60.

8:50- Ginobili gets Bosh on a switch and I actually think he licks his lips before he attacks the basket and scores. That’s vintage Ginobili right there. I joked in my Finals MVP Power Rankings that Trick Shot Titus has made more big shots over the last two months than Ginobili has. Foot, meet mouth. Ginobili has 13 points and 8 assists. Spurs lead 68-60.

8:05- Kawhi Leonard answers a Dwyane Wade floater with one of his owns over Mike Miller in the paint. One of the most surprising developments of Game 5 so far is that there have only been two mentions of how large Kawhi Leonard’s hands are. Is there a player in the league who is as widely known as Kawhi Leonard for a large body part? Wait, don’t answer that.

7:02- Tony Parker gets a wide open lane into the paint after Chalmers goes down on a screen but LeBron manages to strip him at the last possible moment. LeBron and Wade vs. Danny Green on the fastbreak. Advantage Danny Green. To everyone’s surprise but my own, LeBron dishes to Wade and Wade misses the layup. Look, you can’t give me crap for making jokes at Dwyane Wade’s expense when he makes (or fails to make) plays like this.

6:15- If I’ve learned anything from writing running diaries, it’s this: I should keep my mouth shut. LeBron vs. Danny Green on a fastbreak. Advantage Danny Green. Green (who all joking aside is a fantastic transition defender) gets a good contest on LeBron’s first layup attempt. LeBron, despite nearly crumbling to the ground after the initial contest, gets his own rebound but misses the follow. As always, a missed opportunity for the Heat leads to a Spurs basket, this time a Tony Parker floater over Mike Miller, looking more and more like a deer in headlights by the minute.

4:45- LeBron misses a contested three pointer (exactly the shot the Spurs want him to take) and Parker answers on the other end with a transition layup. He’s a magician when he gets into the paint. Just pay attention to the way he can maneuver his body around defenders and the incredibly odd ways he manages to get shots off over and around defenders. There are times it doesn’t seem possible. Wade comes back and knocks down a contested elbow jumper. 20 points for Wade, but again, that’s the shot the Spurs want the Heat to settle for. It also happens to be the shot that unites Dwyane Wade and Josh Smith as two of the only players who consistently settle for mid-range jumpers even though they are below average jump shooters.

3:05- A mini-run for Miami, now seven consecutive points, continues after another jumper from Wade and a foul away from the play on Ginobili. Battier makes the free throw and cuts the Spurs lead to one. Oh you guys didn’t hear? Shane Battier is still alive! Yeah, we had a party for him and everything. Good times.

2:50- That Heat run ends after Danny Green buries a three from inside the Alamo. I love and appreciate a good ole Mike Breen “Bang!” just like everybody else, but it’s a shame that Gus Johnson couldn’t somehow be involved in this. Brain fluid would be leaking out of his ears if he was in the building calling this game.

2:03- Ginobili connects on a tough fade away runner over Norris Cole. 18 points, 8 assists for the recently resurrected Ginobili. “Manu Manu” chants are echoing throughout the arena as the Spurs lead is pushed to 9. Norris Cole has been the recipient of serious abuse from Parker and Ginobili tonight, and I’m pretty sure Mario Chalmers just got yelled at for it.

2.6- Really all I could say at this point is Ginobili is a basketball savant. Good lord. Apparently shooting left handed was getting too easy for him so he opted to try out a right handed runner. The Spurs are up 87-75 and you can almost feel the panic of the Heat through the television screen.

4th quarter

12:00- The Heat start the 4th quarter with LeBron, Mario Chalmers, Ray Allen, Udonis Haslem and Shane Battier on the floor, a 6 point underdog to the 2009 Cavaliers lineup of LeBron, Mo Williams, Sasha Pavlovic, Anderson Varejao and Wally Szczerbiak. By the way, WHERE THE HELL IS BIRDMAN BIRDMAN?!?

10:41- After we see a replay of Boris Diaw forcing LeBron into taking a tough shot in the post, Mike Breen comments Diaw has given Pop 23 good minutes tonight. In return Pop will treat Boris Diaw to a $23 worth of McDonald’s after the game. Ginobili hits another floater in the lane. Spurs are up 89-75.

10:10- Kawhi Leonard drills a corner 3 to extend the Spurs lead to 17. Breen again neglects to mention Leonard’s large hands. He’s caught up in the excitement that the Spurs have hit eight more three’s than the Heat have tonight. Understandable, but he’ll be getting a notice in the mail tomorrow from the league office telling him that he’s been fined $5,000.

9:30- Two contested misses by LeBron leads to a Duncan tip in on the other end. A very quiet 15 point, 12 rebound night from Duncan. The Spurs are on a 19-1 run and leading 94-75. Coming back from the 143rd Angry Spo Timeout of the series, we hear a Coach Pop tell his players to, and I quote, “Knock the stuffing out of em!” If the game wasn’t over before, it is now officially over. So what do we know going into Game 6? Not much.

The three biggest mysteries stemming from ABC programming over the last two weeks are how did Jesse Williams get his sideline reporter gig, will Whodunnit? last more than seven episodes, and who would win the Finals MVP if the Spurs won the series—you can make a compelling case for Green, Leonard, Duncan or Parker. We also don’t know if there will be any correlation between what happened tonight and what will happen in Game 6 since there has been virtually no carry over from game to game this series. I may not be in a position to give you any of those answers, but I can guarantee you Miami won’t die easy… Wait, that didn’t turn out well last time.

NBA Finals Preview Podcasts

The NBA Finals begin tonight and since it’s such a significant matchup I figured one podcast to preview Heat/Spurs wasn’t enough. On Tuesday night podcast veteran Paul Clark joined The Captain’s Corner to discuss who the biggest breakout star of the postseason has been, whether Kevin Durant’s performance during the playoffs changed our perceptions of him, how injuries have impacted the postseason results, and who will win the Finals.

On Wednesday night, my cousin Gianni Zambito made his Captain’s Corner debut and offered his insight on what it’s like to be a lifelong fan of Tim Duncan. We break down Tim Duncan’s career, Tony Parker’s ascension, the differences and similarities of our respective favorite players, and make our Finals picks.