Tim Duncan walked off the court with 2:12 left in the fourth quarter to a standing ovation. Then Manu Ginobili followed suit. And finally Tony Parker. The fanfare surrounding San Antonio's big three has never matched Miami’s before, but last night things were different.
An unlikely trio that found each other through unlikely circumstances 12 years ago had just secured their fourth NBA title together.
Just a year ago these three had been in a similar place, but their tears were of disappointment, not joy. But the past was wiped away with a 104-87 Game Five victory, and the future — whatever it may hold for these three stars — was not a question as they hoisted the O’Brien trophy.
“We remember what happened last year and how it felt in the locker room, and we used it and built on it and got back here and it’s amazing,” Duncan said.
Duncan, Parker and Ginobili have certainly stolen the title of Big Three. But it was once again San Antonio's secondary players who came up big.
After being beaten by double digits on their home floor twice in a row, Miami came into AT&T Arena with new life. "Follow my lead," LeBron urged his teammates in the huddle before the start.
And they did. At least for the first 12 minutes of the game.
LeBron scored 17 points in the first quarter and the Heat jumped out to a 22-6 lead early on. San Antonio's fans were caught by surprise. The Spurs made a run and were up seven at halftime, but it didn't look like a lead that would last.
A charge call and an improbable block changed all of that.
Patty Mills, filling in for a struggling Parker, forced Ray Allen to commit an offensive foul with 6:50 to go in the third quarter, then drove to the baseline for a pretty reverse layup. And suddenly, the Spurs were up by 14.
On the next possession, Dwyane Wade went up strong to the basket for what looked like an easy dunk, but Tiago Splitter had other ideas. With full palm on the ball, he brought Wade down with him and brought the San Antonio crowd to its feet.
Splitter’s stuff led to a flurry of three straight triples by San Antonio, two of them coming from Mills. Miami barely had time to blink before it found itself down by 21, the hopes of a three-peat somehow stifled by one monster block.
It was all Spurs the rest of the way, and though LeBron fought as best he could, his 31 points and 10 rebounds were simply not enough to overcome a Spurs team that featured five different players in double figures.
Bosh and Wade combined for 24 points, and no other Heat player hit the double-digit mark.
“They played exquisite basketball this series and in particular these last three games, and they are the better team. There’s no other way to say it,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
Kawhi Leonard was stellar again, finishing with 22 points and 10 boards, becoming the third youngest player to win the Finals MVP. The new face of the Spurs franchise shouldered the task of guarding the league’s best player, and also stepped up to hit big shots in the final three games of the series.
Mills finished with 17 points on six-of-ten shooting, and the ever-dependable Diaw had five points, six assists and nine boards.
Parker, Ginobili and Duncan combined for 49 points in what could be the last game they ever play together.
Whatever Duncan decides to do next season, his 17 years in the league have been characterized by some of the classiest basketball the NBA has ever seen. When the Spurs struggled to score in the second quarter, it was Duncan who picked them up, making the same methodical, calculated and fundamental post moves he has thrived on for almost two decades.
In an interview that ran in the middle of the game, Duncan reflected on the time he has left.
“[The games] are counting down, every one means a little more,” he said.
It’s quite possible that this one meant the most.
Photo: Greg Nelson/Sports Illustrated