“How often in life do you get EXACTLY what you want??!?!” – My brother at his bachelor party, to me, repeatedly
Listen, I’m not going to pretend like I enjoyed watching last night’s NBA game. I mean, the parts where it seemed like the Spurs would win and the Heat would lose were fun, but from the moment LeBron lost that damn headband — minus a couple of those Tony Parker circus shots — the panic and queasiness I felt were remarkably similar to those I get in that recurring dream of mine where I show up for a college final after having forgotten all semester that I had even signed up for the class. As a LeBron hater first and foremost, it was absolutely awful for me, and chances are that whenever this post actually goes live, I’ll still be restlessly flipping my pillow from one side to the other, trying in vain to get visions of missed free throws and made corner threes out of my head.
Still, I am an NBA writer of some sort, and as such, I must at least attempt to attempt objectivity. And I can distance my own feelings enough from the game to be able to realize that this was indeed the game of the year — yes, even better than the Nate Robinson game, though I can tell you which viewing memory will be the significantly rosier-colored one for me — and easily on the shortlist of greatest NBA Finals games of all-time. It’s pretty inarguable, and if I couldn’t tell it my own damned biased self, the steady stream of fellow NBA scribes smarter and less emotional than myself saying as much on Twitter could’ve pretty well clued me in. The game was so good that people had to keep throwing random “Yeezus” quotes at it, just because that was the other really good thing that happened yesterday.
What made the game so great? Well, a bunch of things, and you probably remember most of them pretty well, but I think the game’s greatness can be summed up by that lead quote of my brother’s, or the catchphrase of a more prominent basketball analyst: It gave the people exactly what they wanted. Not me, of course, but for an average NBA fan with no tremendous rooting interest in this series, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more strictly crowd-pleasing game in my life. Anything you could’ve possibly wanted from that game, you got it, and in most cases, you got it in spades. Seemingly every major narrative was at play, everything that pundits predicted was going to happen happened, and any lingering desires left from the first five games of the series were satiated.
And what was it that the people wanted? Well…
1. A close game. If you had one complaint about the Finals thus far, this was probably it. Aside from Game 1, which was close through four quarters before ending with the Tony Parker .1 Prayer (yeah, this is what I’m going with, though I also liked “The Southwest Texas Floater” and “The Longest Twenty-Four” from the comments section), this series has mostly consisted of blowouts and games that were generally just over before they were over. Not so with this one, which the Spurs looked maybe a basket or two from blowing open late in the third, but which was otherwise neck-and-neck throughout, and obviously very tight towards the end. A game like this was all that was keeping this series from being an all-timer, and now that it has it, bring on the historical accolades.
2. Crazy momentum swings. I gave up counting on this one at some point in the fourth quarter. For all the mini-narratives contained within, this was a game that resisted big, sweeping narratives. Any time one storyline seemed to dominate the game, another one would zoom in to potentially take its place as the headline. It was very diplomatic, in a way. Just about everyone and everything got their turn being the focus of the game. I’m very curious how beat writers would even begin to approach recapping the events of last night in a game story, however, since I’m of course going to spend the two days from after I hit “send” on this e-mail to Trey until 8:30 on Thursday night pretending this game never actually happened, I’ll probably never know.
3. A Tim Duncan throwback game. Bill Simmons had been calling for this throughout his pregame column and appearance on “NBA Countdown,” and I think the rest of us kind of wanted to see it too. Duncan had been quietly effective in the series, but had yet to really put his stamp on any of the games the way Parker, Ginobili and Danny Green had at various points throughout. Well, Duncan put his stamp on this one, and on all of the Miami Heat bigs’ foreheads, with an absolutely dominant first half, scoring 25 (already a series-high) and grabbing eight boards in the first two quarters alone. It was incredible, and if you’re a Spurs fan, probably the biggest bummer of losing this game is that his deep-digging efforts were wasted, largely thanks to a putrid Manu Ginobili performance (nine points, eight turnovers), Tony Parker’s toughest shooting night of the Finals (6-23) and Danny Green finally coming back from jump-shooting Xanadu (1-7, three points).
4. A Ray Allen throwback game. Score another one for Simbo. When he wasn’t talking about Duncan pregame, he was praising Ray Allen’s overshadowed efforts in Game 4, and predicted he might have one incredibly big shot left in him. Well, a corner three with five seconds left to save the season would probably qualify, as would a huge bucket and two huge free throws in overtime to seal it. Regardless of how you feel about the Heat and Spurs in this series, it’s hard not to love Ray Allen for doing Ray Allen things, especially in a game where Danny Green finally cooled off on his own Ray Allen impersonation. (Well, unless you’re a Celtics fan. Hard not to make enemies in this league.)
5. Unforgettable individual highlights. Gotta have some of these. I screamed when Kawhi Leonard eviscerated Mike Miller early on in this one with a combination poster dunk and face slap (dunkslap?), easily the dunk of the Finals thus far. Even better might have been Tony Parker’s fadeaway three, guarded by LeBron to tie the game with just a couple minutes left. And though he hit no big shots in this one, Danny Green did have an incredible strip on LeBron on a fast break towards the end of OT to keep the game within reach for San Antonio. But the moment that stands apart from this one has to be Shoeless Mike Miller, tossing his sneak to the side in the middle of an offensive possession and hitting an open three anyway. (Remarkably, this is not even the first YouTube result for “Shoeless Mike Miller.” Some guys just don’t know how to double-knot.)
6. Good LeBron and Bad LeBron. Everybody got at least a little of what they wanted from LeBron in this one. Before he lost the headband — and if this game becomes known as The Headband Game and oh God of course it will and GODDAMNIT MANU GINOBILI MAKE TWO FREE THROWS — LeBron was having a game that proved all the haters right, going 3-12 and missing makeable shots and seemingly shrinking from the moment yet again. Then, of course, he went bare-foreheaded and proved all the haters wrong, going off for 11 points in the fourth quarter and assisting on a couple more baskets, leading the Heat’s big comeback. But he still left a little wiggle room for the haters, turning the ball over a couple times too many in the final minutes of regulation, and leaving the Spurs an opportunity to seal the deal in the final minute — though he also helped his own cause with a last-minute three to cut into their lead. Basically, everyone was allowed to leave this game with their pre-existing notions of LeBron still in tact, which is nice.
7. Incredible comebacks. Gotta have a couple of these too, right? This game seemed like it was on its way to being basically over late in the third quarter, as the Spurs were seemingly hitting every shot (and getting every call) and the Miami crowd had flattened like a box of Matzoh. But the Heat rallied, got the building back into their Jack White-imitating ways, and managed to take the lead in the final minutes. Then the game really seemed like it was over when the Spurs got the ball with a four-point lead and just 37 seconds to go with Manu Ginobili going to the line, before a couple missed free throws and a couple clutch Heat threes ended up sending the thing to OT. So many little things could’ve sealed this one for the Spurs, but that’s just about always true of the losing team in great games like this.
8. Plenty of coaching decisions to second-guess. Should Spoelstra have gone to his three-point-shooting lineup earlier? Should he have stuck with it throughout instead of going back with Wade? Should Popovich have left Tony Parker in for that final defensive possession, and should he have called a timeout to get him back in after they got the stop? Should Spo have double-teamed Duncan earlier? Should Pop have left Diaw on LeBron as long as he did? Any one of these decisions could have swung the game, and if you’re a basketball writer with a mind to do deep dives into the reasonings and percentages behind all of these moves, you certainly have plenty of fare to pore over for the next two days.
9. Equal ref jobbing on both sides. Miami certainly seemed like it was getting the short end of the stick early on this one, as LeBron and Wade were both victims of some seriously questionable no-calls throughout the second half, which they let get into their heads a little bit too much, but still. However, Joey and crew mostly made up for it in overtime, with two no-calls on critical San Antonio offensive plays — the Ginobili drive with 10 seconds to go, and the final Danny Green corner three to tie it — that, while not unquestionable fouls, could easily have been whistled. Basically, both sides have equal rights to complain, and thus no right to complain, and in today’s NBA, that’s about the best we can ask for.
10. A Game 7. And even more than the close game, that’s really what people wanted from this one, right? More basketball between the two teams that are now very, very obviously the two best in the NBA, maybe the two best we’ve seen on this stage in five years or longer? Well, not only did they get an extra five minutes last night, they get an extra 48-plus on Thursday, and that sneakily rare thing in the NBA: a seven-games-long Finals. Chances are it won’t be as good as this one — Game 7s can rarely compete with the epic Game 6s that precede them, like how the “Game of Thrones” season finale didn’t even try to top the Red Wedding — but, well, it’s more, and that’s generally good enough. It might not excuse rooting for Miami, but it’s not totally ignoble either.
Well, that’s about it. You guys got what you wanted, and I hope you’re all very happy. Now I have to get back to weeping softly into my 2011 Mavericks Dirk Nowitzki jersey.