Tim Duncan’s phone is going to ring today and it’s probably going to be Patrick Ewing on the other end.
The San Antonio superstar and the greatest power forward to ever play the game of basketball suffered one of the darkest moments of his career on Thursday night, clanking a jump hook through the lane that we’ve seen him make time and time again off the rim and miss the putback attempt. It was a moment among others from game seven that Duncan says will haunt him for the rest of his life.
While Ewing’s miss was in game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals rather than the title deciding game, it will undoubtedly haunt him forever too as he never won a ring during his career. For Duncan, not winning his fifth isn’t quite the crushing blow that Ewing’s miss was, but it will still hurt. He had a tremendous pair of games as the Spurs went for the championship in games six and seven, finishing with 24 points and 12 rebounds in game seven.
To be truthful, the Spurs perhaps showed their greatness simply by the fact that they stuck around as long as they did. To absorb a night from LeBron James, 37 points, 12 rebounds and 4 assists and still be in striking distance in the final minute is something most teams aren’t capable of. Add to that the fact that Shane Battier suddenly got hot and nailed an NBA Finals game seven record six three pointers and Dwyane Wade felt fine on the night burying 23 points and grabbing ten boards, I’d say it was impressive that this was a game at all.
The Spurs players did their part, particularly Kawhi Leonard whose future looks brighter than ever after this series. The 21-year old forward played more like a seasoned veteran at times in this series and was a real challenge for LeBron James throughout the series. His rebounding was perhaps the most surprising aspect of it all, averaging 11 per game in the Finals and 16 to go with 19 points in game seven.
But as good as San Antonio was, this Heat team once again sits atop the NBA on the back of its MVP. A second straight ring is far short of the predictions James made when he came to South Beach, but at least the shadow of Michael Jordan that looms over him has gotten a bit smaller.
If this Finals has taught us anything, it’s that LeBron can and will do anything humanly possible to win. In a series where the Spurs challenged the Heat star to shoot jump shots and beat them without attacking the basket, it appeared they had at least shaken his confidence in the early going. But by game seven, James had shaken any doubts rising to one jump shot and then another, knocking down more than 50% of the shots he took.
His five three pointers are one of the key talking points everyone is focusing on, but if there was a statement of James as a shooter it was his final bucket that gave the Heat a four point lead and the title. Up 90-88 with 30 seconds remaining, James took the ball at the point, dribbled right and rose up for a picture perfect jumper that slipped through the net like silk to finish off the team that denied him his first NBA title in 2007. For the second straight year he has led this Heat team to the promise land with an MVP performance in basketball’s biggest games and in doing so has furthered his legacy.
"LeBron was unbelievable," Duncan said. "He stepped up in this last game and he made enough shots to make us change our defense over and over again. We just couldn't find a way to stop him."
The shot that he missed will haunt Duncan and perhaps rightfully so. He’ll likely never get this chance again, the last two games slipping away from his team so painfully to deny him his fifth title. But he should rest easy knowing that he lost not because he or his team gave it away, but because they stepped into the path of a freight train named LeBron James and the train won.
Only now can Duncan truly sympathize with guys like Chris Webber, Kenyon Martin, Zach Randolph, Carlos Boozer and Amar’e Stoudemire, players who have at some point or another gotten in the way of the freight train that was Tim Duncan during the height of his career. Sometimes as a star, you step into the arena with another star and you come out on the short end of the stick. For Duncan, game seven is just so tough to swallow because it’s the first time in his career that another player has done that to him. That player is LeBron James and perhaps that feat alone is a statement of his greatness.