So Who Are the San Antonio Spurs Now: Achievers or Chokers?
The narrative would be as big as Texas and as plain as the black on those uniforms if not for how close the Spurs came.
The story still makes sense—the Spurs, 18-to-1 long shots before the season to win the 2013 NBA title, legitimately overachieved (again) because they’re more intelligent, more poised and far more professional than most of their rivals.
Except they didn’t just come close to slaying the mighty Heat.
The Spurs will be remembered for having the Heat beat in Game 6 and blowing it.
Plus, Tim Duncan blew that easy tying shot in Game 7—even though he played another fabulous game overall—and was immediately afterward as demonstrably disappointed in himself as we’ve ever seen him.
The twist leads to questioning everything we believe about Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Gregg Popovich & Co.
We’ve long seen them as tremendously determined and strong-minded competitors because they've won it before.
It’d really be a shame to see them as less than that now that they've lost.
Yet that’s a conclusion many will jump to because the Spurs did blow it.
The math says so.
Advanced stats blogger/physicist Michael Beuoy wrote that with a five-point lead and 28 seconds left in the fourth quarter of Game 6, the Spurs’ win probability was a staggering 98.5 percent. (And it stayed a five-point lead until LeBron James’ three-pointer fell with 20 seconds left.)
But Duncan disappeared even before Popovich sat him out for a more agile player to defend the perimeter. Kawhi Leonard missed a free throw and Ginobili failed to foul Chris Bosh as he seized the game’s key offensive rebound.
Then Parker closed out oh-so-carefully instead of intensely and actively on Ray Allen’s tying three-point shot, not unlike how Ginobili’s main goal as he closed out on Derek Fisher’s famous 0.4 shot was not to foul—and not even to jump.
And as so often happens when players don’t play aggressively, the Spurs' players lost their way and lost the game. And when it happens this way on this stage, we like to make sweeping conclusions that guys are soft or passive or weak.
In the Spurs' case, for them to deliver the choke of all chokes, it has to call into question their reputation as poised pros, right?
Fine, but let’s not be emotional about our reaction.
First, the Heat had some true pros on their side, too. And the dudes (James and Allen) to hit the key three-pointers have made more than a handful of clutch shots—and have more than a handful of NBA titles between them now.
Second, before we ever get to them being 98.5 percent likely to win the championship, we have to acknowledge the Spurs being 5.6 percent likely to win the championship in Bovada’s preseason odds.
This San Antonio team made it this far because Leonard and Danny Green were way better than people predicted, these guys were tremendously determined and strong-minded competitors and it added up well with great understanding of team play.
The Spurs took advantage of no one else in the Western Conference having their stuff together and did really well, despite Parker’s sore hamstring, to push a Miami team awfully tired from its third consecutive maximum-length season.
For sure, the Spurs’ legends would’ve changed in NBA history if they’d held on and pulled off the win. Popovich would be more brilliant; Duncan would be even more the great fundamental rock.
Instead, what we must take away from the result is that they’re still brilliant and great…but they’re human.
They did wilt under the immense pressure of the moment and all that could’ve been accomplished.
Yes, they did.
It doesn’t make them losers after all the winning they’ve done.
It makes them human.
And guys who just gave everybody one fabulously competitive 2013 NBA Finals.
Kevin Ding has been a sportswriter covering the NBA and Los Angeles Lakers for OCRegister.com since 1999. His column on Kobe Bryant and LeBron James was judged the No. 1 column of 2011 by the Pro Basketball Writers Association; his column on Jeremy Lin won second place in 2012.
Follow Kevin on Twitter @KevinDing.
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