Sizing Up Game Six

-While hugely disappointed by the result – not just because I’m quietly rooting for the Spurs but also because that game was blown by San Antonio more than it was won by Miami – last night’s Game 6 was undeniably amazing. Seriously, it was one of the better basketball games in recent years and just so happened to take place on the biggest of stages, Game 6 of the NBA Finals. The dramatic turnarounds, from LeBron throwing away what seemed like the Heat’s final possession (still not sure if it was a shot or just a horrible lob pass/idea in the area of Chris Bosh) and Championship aspirations, to a scowling Bosh moments after the forgotten Big sealed the deal with a block on Danny Green’s desperation three (on which, by the way, he was definitely fouled).  If people are wrong when they say only title-winning games are remembered, last night’s Game 6 won’t soon be forgotten.

-With all that said about the game’s brilliance, I simply can’t escape that the game was over, that the Spurs had the thing won and lost in the end not because James and company were brilliant down the stretch but rather because San Antonio couldn’t get out of its own way. When the game was on the line, LeBron missed both big shots he took and committed two horrible turnovers. If Kawhi Leonard, Manu Ginobli or Tony Parker could make free throws down the stretch, if the Spurs could have rebounded either of Miami’s two missed desperation threes in the closing seconds…if any of those things happen the game’s over, the Spurs are NBA Champs. And LeBron knew it, even in the moment. The look on his face seconds after the missed lob to Bosh (for which LeBron completely blamed Chris) was unmistakably one of defeat.

-In many ways, this series has been defined by tremendous play from role players and at times underwhelming performances from the stars. Speaking of the latter, two marquee guys struggled in big ways last night. The first that comes to mind, Dwyane Wade, was not only average from an individual standpoint, but also a major reason his team struggled. At this point it’s pretty well documented that San Antonio is driven to clog the lane in an effort to slow LeBron, and that James and the Miami offense respond better to that defensive strategy when they can spread the floor. It’s no coincidence, then, that Miami went on huge runs last night in the fourth and in Game 2 when Ray Allen and Mike Miller were in the lineup and Wade wasn’t. And it’s not because either of those guys are better basketball players than Wade (though Allen’s been sensational in this series, a true difference maker), it’s because they are significantly better long-range shooters. When the Spurs have to follow Miller and Allen to the corners, the paint opens wide from LeBron. When the Spurs defenders stick to LeBron, Miller and Allen have killed them. Of course, for all Wade does well, he’s never been a great shooter, especially from three, and his inability to spread the floor against the Spurs has really hurt James in particular and the Heat in general. The other “star” that needs to be mentioned here is Manu Ginobli, who has absolutely killed his team all series. He had a nice Game 5, but who’s to say San Antonio doesn’t get that one without him considering they won going away? In every other game, he has been horrendous, and that includes his EIGHT turnovers last night and his ill-advised attempt at a last shot in regulation (most are focusing on the fact that Manu was fouled, but he took close to five steps before any contact arrived). I’m not one to use hindsight to question great coaches, and going with Ginobli in Game 5 worked well for Popovich, so it’s hard to criticize him for going back to the well in Game 6. But there’s also something to be said for in-game adjustments, we use them to define our football coaches all the time, and at some point Pop had to see Manu was closer to his Games 1-2-3-4 form, that at this point Game 5 was an aberration. Again, Pop is an amazing coach, arguably the best in the game, and taking out a former star is hard for a coach because of the “what he may do” factor, but Ginobli’s kind of bad Tuesday went way beyond considerations like that.

-I guess while I’m criticizing Pop I should also mention I disagreed with his decision to rest Duncan and Parker for so long in the fourth. The Spurs had the Heat on the ropes wit the title on the line. In those instances, you throw your haymaker…you don’t dance around the ring waiting for your opponent to recover. Many will argue Pop’s move was smart, that he of course knew Game 7 was a possibility and took a calculated risk in Game 6 to guarantee his team would be fresh in a potential final outing. That logic, though, doesn’t make much sense to me. At the time, there was one quarter and one game left in the entire season, with months of nothing but rest to follow. Not to mention they have Wednesday off before Thursday’s Game 7. If playing five extra minutes on a Tuesday means you won’t be ready to compete for an NBA Title on Thursday, you aren’t a champion, plain and simple. Also, I think Duncan has to be in the game late when you know rebounding will be key (and while he may not match up well with Miami’s shooters, his height helps him close out on threes, just as it helped Bosh later in the night). In Duncan’s 44 minutes of action, Miami managed a measly eight second-chance points. In his nine minutes on the bench, the Heat owned the paint with nine points off rebounds, including six in the waning seconds. 

-I’ll make this fast, but I hate when “big moments” late in games are called differently than every other moment in said big game. Really, it shouldn’t be allowed. Rules are rules. Baskets should be baskets…whether they come in the first quarter or in the fourth. The implication here is that certain possessions carry more weight than others and should thus be officiated accordingly, but how is that fair? Who’s to say the “late-game” rules won’t benefit one team and hurt the other? And how are the players and teams supposed to account for rules that don’t actually exist? Bosh’s shot block on Danny Green is an obvious foul in at least the first three quarters, but apparently wasn’t in last night’s overtime. But how is that fair when softer foul calls went in favor of the Heat earlier in the same game? The points Miami received in those earlier moments counted in the score just the same…they were no less important than would have been the three free throws Danny Green deserved. So why did the refs approach those moments with less discretion?

-I’ll close by admitting that I actually enjoyed watching the fair-weather Heat fans leave last night’s game early. It only further confirms the perception that Miami sports fans take a spoiled, bandwagon approach to their teams. They sort of reminded me of my father, who in attempts to beat traffic has missed countless classics. He’s more neurotic doctor (with a bedtime) than a fickle fan, however. Last night wasn’t just any game, of course. It was Game 6 of the NBA Finals and, at the time, looked to be the last minute in Miami’s third consecutive memorable season. As a fan, at best you were going to see a classic NBA Finals comeback victory, at worst you were going to support YOUR team, one that by way has been good to you as basketball’s most exciting for three straight years. You stay because those are your guys and that’s what supportive fans do. Of course, those same fans will be back in “diehard” form for Thursday’s Game 7, which I expect to be another classic.

 

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