Commentary

Spurs eye toughest Finals spot yet

Originally Published: June 19, 2013
By J.A. Adande | ESPN.com

MIAMI -- The San Antonio Spurs are always about the basics, and never has that trait served them better than right now.

The team that doesn't beat itself just beat itself while on the verge of a championship. Missed free throws and turnovers and failure to secure rebounds gave the Miami Heat new life and brought on this seventh game. So the Spurs have retreated further into their fortress of simplicity, trying to frame this Game 7 not as a punishment for their mistakes but as a reward for their work: a single shot at a championship, a proposition that any team in the league would accept.

[+] EnlargeGregg Popovich and Tim Duncan
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsSpurs coach Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan embrace the challenge of Thursday's Game 7.

They certainly aren't concerned with all of the statements they could make, perceptions they could alter or historical standing they could garner.

That stuff is the province of the Heat, who always seem fully cognizant that their reputations are on the line. The Heat aren't just battling for a championship, they're fighting for the very concept of them, the notion that LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh could assemble, mix in a few pieces and win multiple championships.

They are thinking beyond.

"I want to go down as one of the greatest," James said. "I want our team to go down as one of the greatest teams. And we have an opportunity to do that."

All of that's in play for Tim Duncan and the Spurs, they just don't seem so interested in it, even though this would rank as the greatest of the franchise's potential five championships. The Spurs have never trailed in a Finals series, and this road Game 7 against the NBA's best team in the regular season qualifies as their most perilous predicament.

"It's not about the situation or what has led up to it," Duncan said. "It's a great story for everybody else, but we're here for one reason. One reason only: It's to try to win this game [Thursday]."

It would be even more remarkable if they could prevail 48 hours after that wrenching defeat of Game 6, when a five-point lead evaporated in less than half a minute of game time.

"It's tough for any team," Danny Green said. "But we have a veteran group. I'm assuming and I'm hoping that we'll get over it."

Even Gregg Popovich conceded "it was a tough loss," which is about as far as he cares to venture into the world of feelings and emotions.

It's fair to wonder how they can recover. In fact, Manu Ginobili wondered himself.

"Uhhhhh, I don't know," he said. "We've never been through a situation like this. In 10-plus years we've been through everything, but none like this."

The Spurs tried to move away from the tormenting game by going to a late-night dinner following the overtime loss.

"We shared histories and what happened in different games," Tony Parker said. " Sharing stuff like when I was with the [French] national team, when we were up seven and lost in 35 seconds the European championship. You just share those moments and try to see what you can do better and prepare for Game 7."

That sounds a bunch of poker players commiserating over bad-beat stories, but if they think it was cathartic, maybe it will be cathartic.

I've written before about the Myth of the Devastating Loss, dispelling the notion that a particularly bad loss carries over to the next game. The difference for the Spurs is that, unlike most of the other teams that bounced back, they don't have the luxury of playing the next game at home.

In fact they're faced with one of the most daunting prospects in the playoffs: winning an NBA Finals Game 7 on the road. Home teams have won 14 of the 17 seventh games in the Finals, including the past five. The last time the road team won was in 1978, when the Washington Bullets beat the Seattle SuperSonics. In other words, way back when there were the Washington Bullets and the Seattle SuperSonics.

One thing in the Spurs' favor: Unlike the Heat, San Antonio's core of Duncan, Parker and Ginobili has played a Finals Game 7 before, against the Pistons in 2005.