You can see the disappointment in Tim Duncan’s face. You can hear the frustration in Manu Ginobili’s voice.
When members of the 2012-13 San Antonio Spurs look back at this season they will play the “what if” game. What if we made our free throws down the stretch? What if we grabbed two more defensive rebounds? What if we didn’t turn the ball over in the final minute of the game? What if … what if … what if …
One free throw. One rebound. One turnover. That’s how close the Spurs were from winning their fifth NBA championship as a franchise. These proud Spurs — a collection of discarded players who complemented three Hall-of-Famers — left Miami’s American Airlines Arena hanging their heads and staring down on the floor filled with championship confetti after the Heat celebrated a 4-3 series win in the NBA Finals to defend their crown.
The Spurs gave everything they had in Game 7 but just couldn’t overcome LeBron James’ 37 points and their execution failed them down the stretch. And when their valiant fight fell just short, losing 95-88 in Game 7, they couldn’t stop thinking about the title they gave away two nights earlier.
”Being so close and feeling that you are about to grab that trophy and then seeing it vanish is very hard,” Ginobili said. ”I think that if we would’ve lost both games like this, I would be a little more up. But it’s a tough feeling.”
The Spurs had two chances in Miami to win one game, and they failed both times in spectacular fashion.
Ginobili points to the Spurs’ Game 6 meltdown as the dagger in their hearts.
The Spurs had a five-point lead with 28 seconds left and found a way to lose in overtime. The play that will stick with Ginobili and the rest of the Spurs forever is the unfortunate bounce at end of regulation when Chris Bosh grabbed LeBron James’ missed 3-point shot and flipped the ball to Ray Allen who buried the game-tying 3-pointer with 5.2 seconds left.
If the Spurs grab that rebound, they win the title. If Allen misses that 3-pointer, the Spurs win the title.
”It’s such a fine line between celebrating and having a great summer with now feeling like crap and just so disappointed,” Ginobili said.
Speaking of “feeling like crap,” Duncan was almost inconsolable after Game 7. The greatest power forward in NBA history came up small with under a minute left to play in final game of the series when his short, running jump hook over Shane Battier bounced out and his tip-in missed as well. The normally stoic Duncan ran down the court disgusted, slapping the floor with his right hand. During a timeout, Duncan had a towel over his head and was so upset with himself he couldn’t figure out whether to throw the towel or bite it.
“For me, no. Game 7, missing a layup to tie the game,” Duncan 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.”
Hard to fault Duncan for the loss because up to that point he was authoring a MVP-type performance. His 24 points and 12 rebounds were a huge reason the Spurs were even close to the Heat in Game 7.
”To be at this point with this team in this situation, where people every year continue to count us out, is a great accomplishment,” said Duncan, his voice quivering in a rare show of emotion. ”To be in a game 7 or be in a game 6 and up one with two chances to win an NBA championship, that’s tough to swallow.”
Duncan wasn’t alone in terms of coming up empty when it mattered most. Ginobili was both brilliant and awful in Game 7 with his 18 points and four turnovers — all in the fourth quarter. His final turnover with 21 seconds left in the game basically sealed the deal for Miami.
Parker, who had been spectacular through the first five games of the series, was a no-show in games 6 and 7. Parker struggled with just 10 points on 3-for-12 shooting and was benched late in the game. He won’t use his bad hamstring as an excuse, but it was clear he wasn’t the same player after suffering the injury.
Once again, the Spurs will face proclamations of their demise this offseason. Only this time, it may be harder to hold those off.
Duncan is 37, but coming off an All-NBA First Team season and a vintage performance in the finals. The 31-year-old Parker is nearing his apex after one of his finest seasons. But Ginobili will turn 36 next month and will be a free agent, perhaps marking the end of the three-person core that helped put the Alamo City on the NBA map, and keep it there for 10 years.
”I couldn’t love our guys more,” said Gregg Popovich, who also faces a decision this summer if he wants to return as coach. ”What they accomplished this year was something nobody ever expected. They showed a lot of mental toughness and a lot of good play to get where they got. I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
The questions begin now. Will Ginobili return? Can Duncan keep turning back the clock? And does the 64-year-old Popovich have another year left in him?
Parker chafed when asked if he thought this was the last run with this group. ”I can’t believe you’re asking that question,” he said. ”It’s been five, six years you saying we’re too old, so I’m not going to answer that.”