This is the End: NBA Finals Game 7 Diary

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My first piece on the Place to Be Nation website was a distant but beautiful memory I had about Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals back in 1998. Game 7’s are fascinating to watch not only because it gets the most viewers but because it is, in essence, a title fight. The winner is the champion who revels in their greatness for the entire offseason, and the loser is the ultimate runner-up, one win short of their goal and left for an entire summer and fall to ponder what the hell they did wrong. Game 7’s in the NBA Finals do that one even better. In the conference finals, you still have one more step to take to win it all. In a Finals Game 7, there is no basketball down the road on Saturday, Sunday, or any other day of the week. This is it. This is the game to end all games. We are on the stairway to heaven and one team is going to be left out while the other kicks down the door. For the San Antonio Spurs, you could never duplicate the fateful heartbreak of what they experienced in Game 6 on Tuesday night. To be that friggin’ close to clinching an NBA Championship with a couple of plays to go and fall short at the last second, literally, is the kind of pain and regret for fans and players that you can never really erase…. that is, unless you win tonight, the final night.

This series has reminded me a lot of another Final that went seven exhausting games and probably my favorite one: The 1988 Finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Detroit Pistons. Similarly to the Heat and the Spurs, the first five games of the Lakers/Pistons series were blowouts on paper. The lowest margin of victory at that point was 10 points when the Pistons took a 3-2 lead in the Silverdome (one year after WrestleMania III took place there) and looked to get a road win in L.A. and take the title. Then Game 6 happened. It is my favorite NBA game of all-time. Everyone on both sides played their hearts out, with Isiah Thomas playing the most courageous game you will ever see with a severely sprained ankle in the third quarter. Despite Zeke’s 43 points (including 25 in the third quarter alone!), the Lakers got to the free throw line more often, Magic found enough open shooters, and they stopped the Pistons on the last possession to bring it to a Game 7. The Pistons were seconds away from winning the NBA title on the road, and it slipped away from them. The Spurs experienced a loss maybe even more devastating than what the Pistons suffered on June 19th, 1988. The Pistons lost by 3 in a great Game 7, giving the Lakers back-to-back titles at home. The Heat are in the same exact position on the silver anniversary of that epic game. Will the Spurs do an encore of what Pistons fans regrettably remember?

We have been very lucky to now have three Game 7’s in the NBA Finals in the last nine seasons. The Lakers beat the Celtics in 2010 and the Spurs beat the Pistons in 2005. The home team won both games. The final scores were frighteningly low (83-79 in 2010, 81-74 in 2005) due to the intensity and insane pressure of the moment overtaking the ability to actually make baskets. Even the Knicks/Rockets Game 7 in 1994 had the same trajectory as the latter two. For the Spurs, it worked in their favor against Detroit, but now they are the lone wolf in the forest, the road team trying their hardest to get past the heartache of Game 6 and win one on the road for the title. It has not happened since 1978 when the Washington Bullets beat the Seattle Sonics in Seattle to win the title in a Game 7, but road victories have happened before. Can the Spurs dust off that old book and rewrite that page in history? Or will they fall to the predictors and lose to Miami, giving LeBron James his second ring in a row?

We’re about to find out.

Check back throughout the night as we’ll update this piece with Andrew’s in-game thoughts.

FIRST QUARTER

I immediately find a Miami Heat fan in the crowd wearing a Steph Curry jersey. Miami fans, you really don’t do yourselves any favors, do you?

Two minutes in, and we get a variety of shots rattling out for the Heat, including the usually hot Mike Miller for the three point line. First basket by the Spurs is a backdoor layup under the cylinder by Parker and Miami’s first basket right afterwards is a backdoor layup over the rim by LeBron. So typical of both guys.

Everyone is gambling for steals, but for Duncan, it works out with a fast break dunk and the Spurs take a two-possession lead early on. Miami is missing everything so far, including LeBron. Remember, Kobe went 6 for 24 in 2010 and Duncan went 11 for 27 in 2005. Not shocking that the best player on the court struggles early in a game like this.

Spurs are not doing themselves any favors with sloppy turnovers against Miami’s quick defense. Jeff Van Gundy calls the game so far “uncharacteristically not sharp.” If you read the scores of the last three Game 7’s in the Finals, it’s right on target.

Bosh is playing Like a Bosh, which is rap song code for sucking. A missed shot, a flop, a bad defensive play. But he CAN block shots all of a sudden, so you need him.

The first guy for Miami to see his shot go in consistently is DWYANE WADE, of all people! He has been butchered by people, including myself, but I have to give Wade credit for one thing: He has absolutely abused Gary Neal since he broke out in Game 3. Neal looks frustrated. He missed a three he almost always makes just now.

Ginobili hits a three, then commits two really stupid fouls on screens. Popovich takes a chance and puts Ginobili back in the game with the two fouls, and he turns the ball over on a halfcourt violation. Sigh. What happened to this guy?

Two guys that have done very little in the Finals step up to spark Miami’s first run. Shane Battier hits an open three-pointer and plays feisty defense to cause a miss. BIRDMAN BIRDMAN (thanks, Shaq) plays solid defense on Duncan and gets a putback to tie the game. Battier hits another 3! Miami is now up 3 after trailing by 7 early on with Parker and Duncan on the bench and Manu…. being himself.

My friend Norman has made a point throughout the series about how predictable and stoic the Spurs play on both ends when Thiago Splitter is in the game, and I think he has a point. Splitter comes in, and Miami feasts on them.

Miami is up 18-16 at the end of the quarter. Not a rock fight, the tempo is quick, but definitely a case of jitters for both teams.

SECOND QUARTER 

ABC, you know how to steal my heart. We start off with the best part of the series: Awkwardly curt Gregg Popovich interviews! Shockingly polite this time, saying that the Spurs started off with really good defense and ended it with bad offense. Spoelstra would have said the same thing about his team.

Pop puts Parker in, but keeps Duncan at bay with Splitter at center and Ginobili back in. I don’t know about this. Battier with ANOTHER THREE! He’s 3 for 3 now! LeBron is on the bench, so any offense here is a plus.

Parker starts pushing on every play and gets a beauty of a basket. He finds an easy dunk for Splitter. Time out Miami with a  one-point lead.

Duncan is back in, but he gets beat twice by Wade on offensive rebounds. Chalmers gives Parker a pretty layup of his own.

Random note: Danny Green has such a beautiful spin on his three-pointers. Why is he so fucking bad at hitting the floater, one of the easiest shots to make in the NBA?

Perfect example of the Spurs offense: They slush the middle on the inbounds, Wade and Chalmers get caught chasing a roaming shooter, and Parker gets loose underneath to draw a foul on Bosh, his second.

Wade is starting to really sink it now, he is in a zone. Duncan comes right back with a good old fashioned and-1 against Bosh, drawing three fouls on Bosh, exiling him to the bench for the half. Meanwhile, LeBron looks timid so far. It’s almost a replay of Game 6.

Ray Allen is an all-time shooter, but a ball handler, he is not, and the Spurs are making sure that if Allen penetrates, they get hands on the ground. He has three turnovers by himself already.

And here comes the L-Train! It starts with a basket and a foul going to the rim out of transition. Then he drills a three. I understand the strategy to give LeBron jump shots in half court sets rather than give up the paint, but LeBron can kill you from the outside, too. Pick your poison, I guess.

If there is one thing the Spurs are awesome at, it is running good, quick offense off of made baskets. That is coaching to a hypertensive degree. It pays off with a nifty lay-up by Ginobili.

Kawhi Leonard already has 10 rebounds in this game. He might be the best player to come out of the whole 2011 draft, and the Spurs got him in a trade. R.C. Buford is smarter than all of us.

Ginobili seems to finally be coming around, and ironically, it started after he got his second early foul. He just put in a beautiful pocket pass to Duncan for a lay-up.

LeBron makes another three, but he falls in love with it and takes two milk-the-clock three’s that don’t go in. San Antonio smartly got in the penalty early in the quarter, and they get eight free throws in the last three minutes. If you cannot make a shot, get to the line.

Don’t blame the refs for home cooking so far. The Spurs have 15 free throws so far and the Heat only have 3.

Wade is officially on fire. A step back jumper goes in with little time left to give the Heat a 46-44 lead at the half, the Heat’s first halftime lead since Game 2. He has 14 points, and LeBron has 15. The second quarter was a stalemate, but both teams got their runs in and it turned out to be a much smoother quarter than the frantic opening minutes.

Danny Green is 0-6 in the first half. Remember that Finals MVP talk? That might be dead at this point.

THIRD QUARTER

First off, I find it ironic that I am writing a running diary of a game where Bill Simmons is an analyst. Simmons basically invented this kind of thing.

So far, this has been a game of almost-runs. The Spurs seem ready to get some shots going, then they go cold. Miami gets going in the middle of the second quarter, then they start putting the Spurs at the free throw line. Who is going to get that big, far scoring spree? Will it even happen?

Mike Miller and Danny Green are really stinking it up so far. Green’s shot is not falling, so now he is trying to pass too much and commits an awful turnover in transition. Miller is getting easily beat by the younger, smoother Kawhi Leonard. Kawhi has, as Michael Cole would call them, frying pan hands.

Jeff Van Gundy is right. When Chalmers is aggressive on pick and roll’s, Miami is a terror because penetration is available anywhere you go with so many defenders spread out on the shooters that Miami loves to use.

The Heat are emphasizing on help defense in the post now that San Antonio is struggling from 3, but Leonard is killing them in the mid range game right now. You might have to double on Leonard this half.

LeBron keeps getting wide space when the defender goes under the screen. It kills the Spurs again as James sinks a three. Now it’s become a problem.

Leonard with a FANTASTIC reverse lay-up draws the foul on Bosh, his fourth. I’d leave him in there anyway, he’s not a guy that you worry about getting too touchy in the fourth quarter of games.

Story of the game: The moment you think a team is about to go on a run, the other team puts a stop to it. Boris Diaw makes a three and a nice pass and the Spurs go from being down 4 to being up 1. Timeout Miami with 2:30 left in the third.

The only player other than Wade or James to score in this quarter so far is Chalmers with 3. 5 different players have scored for the Spurs in this quarter.

Bill Russell is in the stands looking bored. That’s okay. Russell yawned through at least 4 of his titles. That’s how great he was.

If there was one thing the Pacers exposed against Miami, it was their inability to fight off backtaps on missed shots. The Spurs have used that to a marvelous degree, getting 8 offensive rebounds. Tony Parker looks out of it, though.

Chalmers banks in a three at the top of the key to give the Heat a one-point lead in a scintillating third quarter! Chalmers seems to like that shot. Have we seen that before?

FOURTH QUARTER

It’s all-time time now, bitches. You can feel the electricity on the sidelines.

Leonard starts out with his trademark one-hander, but it misses. Battier hits another three! That’s 5 of those for the Dukie. Leonard makes up for his miss with a nifty put-back on a Ginobili miss.

BIRDMAN BIRDMAN with great energy as the only big on the court for Miami so far in this quarter. He is active on defense in the paint, draws a charge on Ginobili, and gets to the line on an offensive board, drawing the foul on Duncan.

Spoelstra takes out Birdman to put Bosh in for the home stretch. It looks risky, but you have to go with your best big here, so I don’t mind the decision.

LeBron is on the attack this quarter, but he has facilitated so far to mixed results. But at least he is getting to the free throw line.

The Spurs are getting stuck in the half court offense now because the Heat are making shots and running back on D. And San Antonio is really struggling so far. Only three made baskets.

This quarter is emptying out the miscellaneous NBA rules department so far. A lane violation on a free throw, a jump ball with the shot clock running out, and a potential clear path foul. The clear path would be a potential killer for the Spurs because it gives Miami two free throws and the ball. The refs give the Spurs some relief and don’t call it a clear path, and the Spurs get the deficit down to 4.

Duncan gets caught on a switch with Wade on one side and Wade drills a jumper. Duncan gets some déjà vu on the other side with LeBron and LeBron drills it. The Heat are up 6 with 5:30 to go in the Finals. Pop needs a timeout.

LeBron finds another open shooter on a drive, but it’s Bosh, of all people. Bosh airballs it. Geez, dude. He finds Battier again. YEA, THAT’S THE TICKET!

The Heat are hitting the kind of shots that would just put a team away right now, but the Spurs just will…. not…. die. A three pointer by Ginobili followed by another and-1 by Duncan. 3 minutes to go, and the Heat are up 3. Can they hold on? What a game.

I smell a Tony Parker spurt in these last few minutes. He has had zero impact so far in this quarter. I just cannot imagine Parker going quietly like that in a game like this.

We said the three-ball would save San Antonio against the Heat, and it has panned out exactly that way. Leonard makes a clutch 3 to cut the lead to 2.

Chalmers with two crucial misses at the free throw line, but Leonard bricks a three in the corner. Wade misses a jumper, but James soars in for the rebound and finds Battier at the top of the key for an open three. Battier misses it! That would have ended the game.

The Spurs run it out (WHERE ARE THE TIMEOUTS?!) and Duncan misses two point blank shots at the rim with Battier on him. Bosh rebounds and the Heat call time with 39 seconds to go. This is exhausting.

LeBron curls on a screen and drills a mid range jumper. 92-88 Heat with 27 seconds to go. 35 and 12 for the King. Hate him all you want, he is the best basketball player in the world.

Ginobili with another turd-buster of a turnover. WHY IS TONY PARKER ON THE BENCH?! Terrible play call there by Pop. Heat up 6 now. Ginobili airballs a desperation three. Fuck this guy. Seriously.

It’s over. 95-88 home win for the Heat. Back-to-back titles for LeBron, and a second straight Finals MVP. Only Russell and Jordan have won regular season MVP and Finals MVP in the same season twice in a row.

For the first time ever, the Spurs taste defeat in the NBA Finals. And it might have been their last chance.

Only in Miami do they leave actual games but they stick around for trophy ceremonies. You don’t deserve what you have.

WHAT A GAME!

Author: Andrew Riche

Andrew Riche is a Place To Be columnist for sports and pop culture. He is a fan of Louisiana sports and currently resides in Mandeville, LA. He knows nothing about cars and has no shame in watching Dawson's Creek episodes. Send Andrew an email