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Wednesday, June 19, 2013
Despite slip-up, Spurs have a shot

By Marc Stein
ESPN.com

MIAMI -- One by one they took turns at the interview podium, faced the world's cameras and let loose with some of the deepest, rawest emotion that we've ever witnessed from the notoriously buttoned-up San Antonio Spurs.

Manu Ginobili. Then Tony Parker. Then Tim Duncan.

One by one they wearily and grimly plopped down in front of the microphone without even trying to hide how heartbreaking this all was.

"It's obviously disappointing," Duncan said, struggling to stifle the most disgusted look that has ever crossed his face in public.

"Right now," Parker conceded, "it's hard to think about everything."

"I'm devastated," Ginobili admitted.

A five-point lead with 28 seconds to go in Game 6 of the NBA Finals was not enough to clinch the Spurs' fifth championship. The peerless historians at ESPN Stats & Information inform us that, over the previous 15 seasons -- including the playoffs -- teams that held five-point leads with between 20 and 30 seconds left on the clock went a tidy 1,850-27.

That's a win probability, dating back basically for as long as Duncan has been in the league, of 98.6 percent.

Yet as hard as this might be to process, especially if you caught any of those hard-to-watch news conferences, San Antonio's iconic threesome has actually lived through worse nights over the years.

Worse, yes, than seeing all that commotion right near their bench in the final minute of regulation as league officials wheeled in the Larry O'Brien Trophy and scrambled to get in position to crown the would-be new champions.

I can think of at least one for sure.

Remember Ginobili's fatal foul on a driving Dirk Nowitzki in 2006?

Assuming you do, then you'll understand why Miami 103, San Antonio 100 in OT can't quite go down as the most devastating defeat in Spurs history. Not yet. Not until we see whether the Spurs can or can't spring one more surprise in this patternless, nothing-is-sustainable, roller-coaster circus of a series and rise up off the mat when so many will presume they won't.

That stake through the heart in '06, and the playoff elimination it inflicted, still ranks as a lower low for the Spurs -- for now -- than what they endured Tuesday night.

Reason being: San Antonio, this time, gets one more chance.

Maybe it's not a great chance, given that history tells us no team has won Game 7 on the road in the NBA Finals since the Washington Bullets conquered Seattle in 1978. But San Antonio, against a Miami team that might well be as tired as these Spurs are depressed, will take it.

Manu, Tony and Timmy, especially.

As recently as the morning of Game 3, Ginobili wasn't afraid to share on ESPN Radio that he and Duncan and Parker not only acknowledge that this is a "huge chance" to win one more ring but also that "nobody knows if we're going to be back here again." The Spurs who were around in 2006 likewise haven't forgotten that they didn't have another game on the other side of that heartbreaker to atone for the three-point play Nowitzki couldn't have completed without Ginobili's brain freeze.

That crusher, even more than Derek Fisher's Point Four heroics in 2004, prevented the Spurs from the back-to-back titles that would have cemented their status as a true NBA dynasty. Tuesday's unraveling might have cost San Antonio its opportunity to join the Celtics, Lakers and Bulls as the only franchise in league history to win it all at least five times ... but it's only a maybe at the moment.

And if we've learned anything after six games in these topsy-turvy Finals, it's that you'd be wise to stifle the urge to blurt out premature proclamations.

History, incidentally, says the Spurs do have a chance. The only other team to lose Game 6 of the Finals in overtime was the 1974 Celtics, who fell to Milwaukee in double-OT at home and had to play Game 7 on the road just like San Antonio now. Boston wound up beating Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's Bucks by 15 in that decider.

Slightly more recent history reminds us that the Heat have lost their past six games after a win … and that the Spurs haven't lost back-to-back games since mid-December when all three of their old warriors are in the lineup.

So let's see. Let's see what Timmy, Tony and Manu have left in what might be their farewell, as a trio, to the game's grandest stage. Let's see if the Spurs' uncharacteristic willingness to bare their souls, after the sort of ending they hoped they'd never have to endure again, accelerates the healing process.

So many Spurs had a hand in their Game 6 downfall. Ginobili finished with just nine points and a career-high eight turnovers. Danny Green, after all that Finals MVP talk, fluttered back to Earth with 1-for-7 shooting. Kawhi Leonard sullied a 22-point, 11-rebound masterpiece by resurrecting an old Spurs demon with a late missed free throw that could have clinched title No. 5. And Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, for the first time anyone could remember, was roundly second-guessed in the aftermath of it all for benching Duncan just before Ray Allen's OT-forcing 3, deciding that he needed his most mobile defenders on the floor as opposed to his best rebounder.

The only semblance of solace, as Parker put it, is that they get one more chance to "show what we're made of."

"I have no clue how we're going to be re-energized," Ginobili said. "But we have to. There's no Game 8 afterwards."

True.

But there is a Game 7.

"We have to realize," Parker said, "we have another great opportunity."

Said Miami's Dwyane Wade of the Spurs: "This is a team as seasoned as it gets."

Too seasoned to declare them cooked in this crazy series.