Wiedmer: King James likely to reign over NBA

Wiedmer: King James likely to reign over NBA

June 20th, 2013 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Miami Heat small forward LeBron James smiles as he speaks during a news conference before NBA basketball practice, Wednesday, June 19, 2013 at the American Airlines Arena in Miami. The Heat host the San Antonio Spurs in Game 7 of the NBA Finals on Thursday.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

To borrow an old comedic line, I slept like a baby on Tuesday night after the San Antonio Spurs lost to the Miami Heat in overtime. I woke up every two hours and cried.

Two missed free throws. Two lost rebounds. All four miscues coming after the Spurs -- my Spurs on those years the Celtics aren't in the Finals -- grabbed a four-point lead with less than 30 seconds to play in regulation.

Just one more free throw or one more rebound and the classiest yet least appreciated dynasty of the past 15 years is celebrating its fifth NBA title over that time span.

Instead, the NBA's third-best free throw shooting team during the regular season (.791) missed twice at the line in those final 30 seconds, twice failed to rebound missed LeBron James 3-pointers on separate possessions, all those shortcomings turning their fifth title into tonight's seventh game.

Thus are the Finals now a final. Thus are the Spurs almost certain to lose, possibly by a wide margin, the hurt of the Heat's grand comeback nearly impossible to overcome in just 45 hours.

Or to dial up a quote from Spurs wing Manu Ginobili, who missed one of those two freebies and committed a career-high eight turnovers: "I have no idea how we're going to get re-energized. I'm devastated. But we have to. There's no Game 8 afterwards."

To be fair, there's a Game 7 not only because the Spurs sputtered, but also because the Heat refused to lose.

Though no opponent can control free throws, rebounds are at least 50 percent heart and hustle and with the defense of their 2012 championship somewhere between fragile and finished, Miami twice out-fought San Antonio for offensive boards that led to 3-pointers from James and Ray Allen inside the final 20 seconds. The bounces may have been fortuitous, but if you've quit trying, Spurs supporters aren't the ones crying.

Maybe San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich could have coached better in those waning moments of regulation and overtime. Certainly Ginobili could have played much better.

But the Heat won this game at least as much as the Spurs lost it, and having won it, it's difficult to see them not winning it all tonight against a devastated San Antonio bunch long in years and short on recovery time.

Yet whichever squad you've rooted for to this point, Game 6 was the kind of contest we'll be talking about for years, if not decades, to come.

It was a game filled with stunning individual performances -- 30 points and 17 rebounds from SA's Tim Duncan; 32 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds for LeBron James, including 18 points in the fourth quarter and overtime.

It was a game filled with moments to be remembered forever -- James' fourth-quarter block of a Duncan gimme, Allen's overtime-inducing triple, Tony Parker's deep 3 to tie it late in regulation after the Heat had seemingly gained control.

"One of the best two or three of games I've ever seen in this league and I've been around this league for 30 years," said ESPN commentator Magic Johnson, he of the five NBA title rings as the LA Lakers point guard.

But for the Spurs, it has to be one of the most devastating losses ever, especially in the Finals, where their previous four appearances under Popovich have all resulted in world championships.

In fact, over my 30 years as a sports writer, I can only think of two examples that are arguably equal, both of them coming in the World Series. The first is the infamous "Bill Buckner Game" in Game 6 of the 1986 Fall Classic, when the Boston Red Sox were all set to take out the New York Mets at Shea Stadium, leading 5-3 with two outs against the Mets in the bottom of the 10th. But the Mets tied it, Buckner let a slow grounder from Mookie Wilson roll through his legs at first to bring home the winning run and the Mets won Game 7 by 8-5 two nights later.

Lost in all that is that the Red Sox actually led the final game, 3-0, but couldn't hold on.

The second is Game 6 of the 2011 World Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and Texas Rangers. Just as the Mets were home against the Red Sox, the Cards were home against the Rangers. Just as both the Mets and Heat were seemingly beat late, the Cards trailed by two runs in both the 9th and 10th innings and were down to their final strike.

Yet St. Louis somehow won 10-9 in l1 innings, then spanked the Rangers 6-2 the following night in Game 7. Also just as Boston led in Game 7, the Rangers briefly grabbed a 2-0 lead in their Game 7 before collapsing.

You could argue that the best team won both World Series. You could also argue that there was no way for the Game 6 losers to collect themselves well enough to win a Game 7 on enemy soil.

All of which brings us to tonight, the world champion Heat definitely the more emotionally healthy team when that should matter most.

Or as Magic said in the earliest minutes of Wednesday morning, "I don't think you can win Game 7 on the road with LeBron James on the other side."

Sad to say, I agree. Make it Heat 97, Spurs 83. And enough tears in San Antonio to flood its Riverwalk.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com