The San Antonio Spurs were seconds, mere seconds, away from a fifth NBA title. Manu Ginobili had made a free throw and the Spurs led the Miami Heat 94-89 with 28 seconds to go in the fourth quarter of Game 6 of the NBA Finals.
But the Spurs, renowned for their ability to cold-bloodedly close out an opponent who is on the ropes, couldn’t close the deal Tuesday night. Instead, coach Gregg Popovich faced heavy scrutiny for his strategy of twice removing Tim Duncan from the game on defense only to have the Heat come up with two huge offensive rebounds that set up game-altering and game-tying 3-point shots, first by LeBron James and then by Ray Allen with just five seconds to go.
San Antonio was uncharacteristically sloppy in the closing seconds. Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard each missed free throws that could have changed the entire complexion of the game. Ginobili’s 1-of-2 effort left the Spurs with a five-point lead instead of six. Leonard’s failure to convert the first of his two attempts with 19 seconds remaining kept it a one-possession game at 95-92, setting the stage for Chris Bosh’s dramatic offensive rebound and Allen’s iconic 3-pointer from the deep corner.
Popovich’s tactical decisions took even more of a beating in the overtime that few expected would be needed. Trailing by one with eight seconds left, Popovich opted to not use his one remaining timeout in order to reinsert Tony Parker into the game. Rather, he implored the Spurs to push the ball up the floor. Ginobili took off on one of his signature, wild drives to the hoop and wound up turning the ball over—the last of his eight turnovers on the night. There was some question whether or not Ginobili had been fouled by Allen, but if you’re going to call the foul there, you also have to call Ginobili for the traveling violation before the contact—he made a run with the ball that would have done Adrian Peterson proud.
With 1.9 seconds remaining and down by three points, Bosh blocked Danny Green’s 3-pointer from the far corner and Game 7 was rendered necessary because of the Heat’s 103-100 overtime win.
With all of that as a backdrop, here are the individual grades for Game 6:
San Antonio Spurs
Tim Duncan: B+
Duncan was monstrous in the first half, scoring 25 points on 11-of-13 shooting with eight rebounds as San Antonio took a 50-44 lead. It was the Duncan of old and it looked as if he was going to bring the Spurs the fifth title that has eluded them since 2007.
The second half was an entirely different story. Duncan was just 2-for-7 and scored five points to go with eight more rebounds and he missed his only shot in the overtime. His 30-point, 17-rebound effort was still huge for the Spurs, but they needed more from him in the second half than he was able to give.
Kawhi Leonard: A-
Leonard continued his breakout Finals performance, logging 22 points, 11 rebounds and three steals in a team-high 45:48 on the floor.
Leonard was 9-for-14 from the floor, 1-of-3 from deep and 3-for-4 from the free-throw line. And that’s where the “minus” grade comes from. Needing two free throws to, for all intents and purposes, clinch the championship, Leonard could only knock one of them down. Yes, it was a high-pressure situation for a 21-year-old in just his second season in the league, but again … he needed two and he only managed to get one.
Leonard did have this first-half dunk when he pretty much eviscerated Mike Miller:
Tony Parker: C
Parker played a solid floor game with eight assists and no turnovers, but he could never find his shooting rhythm. Parker was just 6-for-23 from the floor. In fairness, two of those six makes were enormous: A step-back 3-pointer with 1:27 remaining to tie the game and a 12-foot floater to give San Antonio a 91-89 lead with 58 seconds left.
Parker also missed a big free throw, a chance to give the Spurs a four-point lead midway through the overtime. Instead, his 1-for-2 at the stripe with 2:42 remaining was San Antonio’s last point. Parker was lifted with 31 seconds left for Boris Diaw and spent the rest of the game on the bench.
Manu Ginobili: F
Ginobili’s revival lasted exactly one game. After a turn-back-the-clock 24-point, 10-assists showing in Game 5, Ginobili was back to being the guy he was in the first four games of the Finals.
Ginobili finished with almost as many turnovers—eight—as points—nine. He was just 2-for-5 from the floor and contributed only three assists. And when he was asked to run the offense in the closing seconds of overtime after Popovich had sat Parker down, the Spurs were unable to get a look.
Foul or no? You decide:
Danny Green: C
Green gets an A for his defensive work—he came up with two huge blocked shots and made yet another terrific play to deny James on a fast break. But the Finals MVP talk for Green officially ended in Game 6 after he was 1-for-7 for three points.
Bosh had promised before Game 6 that Green would not be open and for the most part, the Heat lived up to that proclamation. Green attempted five 3s, made just one and got rejected by Bosh on what would have been a game-tying 3-pointer at the end of overtime.
Here’s Green’s play on James on the breakaway in overtime:
Diaw was the star off the bench for the Spurs, confounding James on the defensive end for long stretches and igniting the offense with some terrific ball movement. Neal scored five points in 24:15 and was 1-for-3 from deep. Honestly, the minute count was surprising—Neal was that invisible out there most of the time. Splitter only got a little more than eight minutes of playing time, but made a couple of circus shots. Matt Bonner’s 10 seconds were unremarkable, as you might imagine.
Here’s some of Diaw’s defensive work on display:
LeBron James: B-
LeBron had an A fourth quarter to go with an F first three quarters, during which he was just 3-for-12 with 14 points , six rebounds and seven assists. In the fourth quarter and overtime, however, James was 8-for-14 with 18 points, four boards and four assists to record his fourth NBA Finals triple-double.
But James was also very nearly the goat for the Heat when he coughed up the ball in the lane with Miami down by two points and 39 seconds showing on the clock.
Yes, LeBron was fantastic in the fourth—for the most part. But he was the Invisible Man for much of the first three quarters and that has to be factored in, as well.
And, since everyone else is doing it, we’re not going to get into the whole headband thing here.
Chris Bosh: A-
No, Bosh still didn’t find his shooting touch, making just 5-of-12 and finishing with 10 points. But he pulled down 11 rebounds—none bigger than the offensive board that set up Allen’s 3 late in regulation—and his two blocks came at crucial times.
With 32 seconds left in overtime and the Heat clinging to a one-point lead, Bosh rejected Parker’s wing jumper and then came up with the game-saving swat on Green’s 3 as time expired.
Bosh, often criticized and sometimes outright ridiculed, came up huge for Miami when it needed it the most. That counts for something.
Chalmers was happy to be home. After scoring just 13 points on 5-of-19 shooting in the three games at San Antonio, Chalmers poured in 20 points and was 4-for-5 from deep upon his return to American Airlines Arena.
Chalmers did most of his damage in the first half, scoring a team-high 14 points before intermission to help keep the Heat in the game, including this first-half 3 ball:
Mike Miller: A-
Miller scored eight points, was a team-high plus-15 and his lone offensive rebound was huge—it set up LeBron’s 3-pointer to get Miami to within two points with 20 seconds left.
Besides, how can you really knock a guy who cans a 3-pointer while wearing just one shoe?
Dwyane Wade: C-
Wade’s banged up. I know this. You know this. Everyone knows this. But 6-for-15 with three turnovers just isn’t enough from a team’s second-best player in an elimination game.
The Heat won Game 6 in spite of Wade, not because of him. He was a non-factor most of the way, other than helping to set up a five-on-four in the third quarter when he opted to stay on the offensive end and complain about not getting a foul call rather than getting back on defense.
Wade did elevate for this nice two-hander over Duncan, though:
Andersen returned from a two-game layoff and gave the Heat 14 minutes of high-energy play that included four rebounds and three steals … and four fouls. Battier found his missing shot, hitting 3-of-4 from deep in 13 minutes. The Birdman even took flight once:
Allen played 41 minutes and scored all nine of his points in the fourth quarter and overtime. He came up huge on the game-tying 3, when he not only knocked down the shot but also had the presence of mind to make sure he was behind the arc—without having to look down—before letting the shot go.
So now the season comes down to the two most exciting words in sports: Game 7.