MIAMI -- Six years came down to the final 30 seconds of regulation, and then the last seconds of overtime. Six years were ready to tip over their way. Manu Ginobili was thinking about so many things as he sat with his chin in the palm of his hand staring down at the stat sheet on the table before him. He looked as if he were staring at a bill he couldn't afford to pay.
"We were a few seconds away from winning the championship," he said. "And we let it go."
The Spurs' 103-100 overtime loss in Game 6 on Tuesday is going to be remembered as one of the better games of the last 16 NBA Finals, which happens to cover the length of Tim Duncan's era. The Spurs are going to want to forget all about it. And they never will forget that Duncan, at 37, gave them 30 points and 17 rebounds in 44 inspiring minutes and it still hadn't been enough. Even if they go on to win Game 7, this will be a painful night for a team that has spent 16 years in contention around Duncan with the goal of winning a game like this.
Afterward, LeBron James and Ray Allen talked about the luck of the bounces that benefited them and enabled them to force Game 7. No doubt there was luck involved in the long carom of James' errant three-pointer that was rebounded by Chris Bosh and delivered instantly to Allen in the corner. The luck was in the carom, but not the shot. Allen was backing up blindly into the corner as the pass was in the air and Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker converged on him. The three-pointer was out of Allen's hands and that was when the Spurs began to feel the sickness, the nausea, that comes when something that you've worked so hard to accomplish is lost.
The Spurs were trailing down the stretch when Parker criss-crossed his dribble to create space for a breathtaking three-pointer over James with 1:27 left in the fourth quarter. His three tied the game, and then he turned his steal of a Mario Chalmers pass into a short jump shot to put the Spurs in front 91-89 inside the final minute. James lost the ball twice, and both times Ginobili found himself at the free-throw line. He made all but one of his four free throws. The Heat couldn't get a shot up to the rim and the Spurs were up 94-89 with 28.2 seconds remaining, and amid all of that it is the free throw he didn't make that Ginobili will remember.
"A couple of rebounds that we didn't catch, a tough three by Ray, a couple of missed free throws," Ginobili said. "It's very tough. A very tough moment."
Scores of fans were leaving the arena and lengths of yellow rope were being manipulated around the edges of the court in preparation for the Spurs' victory. A large maintenance crew was preparing to wheel in sections of the stage on which the Spurs would celebrate their fifth championship and first since 2007, and none of this is pointed out to suggest that the Spurs themselves celebrated too early. Their reaction was just the opposite. They had been working and waiting and absorbing painful playoff losses over the last five years in order to earn this five-point lead with less than 30 seconds left and no timeouts available to Miami. They weren't going to let it go to waste, and yet gone to waste it went.
"We don't think we played a great game, but we were in a great situation," Ginobili said. "We had them where we wanted, very close game down the stretch. Up two with two free throws and a few seconds to go, no timeouts. We were in a great spot. We just gave them another chance, and it hurts because it's one of those moments where you're going to be thinking about what we could have done better in the last few possessions so many times all night long, all tomorrow, till the next game. So it's terrible."
The last 5.2 seconds after Allen's equalizing three were spent wisely by Parker as he drove to the baseline, but his pull-up fell short. Midway through the overtime, they were up by three points again. And they didn't score again. In those closing seconds, there were two more opportunities. In the most important moment, Ginobili drove and Allen rode him close. With one reach, Allen stripped the ball and forced Ginobili's eighth turnover of the game.
"He made some turnovers and some unfortunate plays," Duncan said, "but the last play down the stretch there, it can go either way. We obviously believe it was a foul going down the middle. We get two free throws and we're talking about something different here, if that happens."
If the whistle had been blown there, then the investment of the last six years would have paid off.
"I had a very good game last game," Ginobili said of his 24 points and 10 assists in Game 5. "Today I just couldn't maintain it. I was very insecure. I had a career high in turnovers in a really bad moment. It really helps to make me feel terrible. Even with all that, we were so close of winning it. So it's one of the many things I'll be thinking tonight."
If Danny Green had been able to get off a three-pointer at the buzzer, then maybe a second overtime would have given them one more chance. But Bosh followed Duncan's sensational cross-court inbound pass with 1.9 seconds left into the corner to block Green's shot.
"He'll be just fine," Duncan said of Ginobili and his eight turnovers. "He'll blame himself and put it on himself. That just makes him more aggressive and more ready to play the next one."
So this is where the Spurs stood. Over the 43 hours to come they were going to convince themselves that Ginobili would recover from his error-prone 2-for-5 performance, determined to make amends. Instead of focusing on their failure to exploit Duncan's greatness in Game 6, they will go into the next game Thursday seeking more greatness, in spite of the limp he carried down the hallway out of his locker room after the game. They will expect more of the same from Leonard (22 points and 11 rebounds) and a better showing from Green, who was 1-for-7 amid the heightened defensive attention he earned in Game 6. They will count on Parker to do better than his 6-of-23 performance, with many misses coming against James' defense.
All of this is trying to look ahead to Game 7 optimistically from their point of view.
"I have no clue how we're going to be re-energized," Ginobili said. "I'm devastated. But we have to. There's no Game 8 afterward. We're going to have to play our best game, even better than today. Shoot better, better defense, less turnovers in my case. But yeah, there's no secret recipe for bouncing back."
If anyone would have offered the Spurs the opportunity to play a Game 7 in the NBA Finals any time over the years since they won the last of Duncan's four titles, they would have been grateful. But there was no such gratitude on this lonely night. They went 16-for-49 in the second half and overtime, and Duncan went 0-for-5 in the fourth quarter and overtime. Duncan, Parker and Ginobili are going to spend the long night and the next day thinking about all of the different times they might have made the one extra play that would have ended their season happily by now. Instead of looking forward to the chance to come, they were obsessed with the fact that they shouldn't be playing at all.