National Columnist

Spurs lose a game they almost always win, and they all play a part

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MIAMI -- The Spurs are the Spurs because they win this game. They have four NBA titles since 1999 because they finish when they get this close to a title, chasing thousands of fair-weather Miami Heat fans out of the building in regulation.

The Spurs win Game 6, and the NBA title that comes with it, because Tim Duncan grabs a rebound. Tony Parker makes a shot. Manu Ginobili makes a play. Gregg Popovich makes a call.

That's what the Spurs do. It's who they are.

But that's not what the Spurs did on Tuesday night. It's not who they were.

Who was the team that blew a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter -- and a five-point lead in the final 20 seconds -- to lose 103-100 in overtime to the Miami Heat? No idea. They looked like the Spurs, I'll concede that. Same faces, same uniforms.

But Duncan didn't grab the rebound. Parker didn't make the shot. Ginobili didn't make the play. Popovich made a call, this is true, but it wasn't the right call. Popovich, who takes odd delight in making the people around him uncomfortable, will spend the next 48 hours stewing in his own discomfort because he messed up this game. He messed it up badly.

They all did.

They all messed it up so badly, in fact, that this story could be devoted to each of them. Tony Parker could be called a goat for how he played in the final 15 minutes. Duncan could be called a goat for the same reason. Ginobili too. And Popovich. They were terrible when it mattered, making mistakes they had to make to let the Heat rally.

A quick word about that rally. The Spurs didn't just lose this game; the Heat won it. How many times have you seen a team try to give away a win, only to see the other team refuse to accept it? Not Tuesday night, you didn't. LeBron James scored 18 points in the fourth quarter and overtime, including a 3-pointer with 20.1 seconds left in regulation and a bucket with 1:18 left in overtime for a 101-100 lead.

Miami won this thing. LeBron helped take it.

But only because the Spurs gave it away.

"Bad, very bad," is what Ginobili said when asked how it felt to get so close to an NBA title, and fall short. "It's a tough moment. We were a few seconds away from winning the championship, and we let it go."

All of them did, starting with one of the best power forwards in league history, Duncan, who was having an enormous game until he just sort of ... gave out. He's old, you know. He's 37, though for three quarters he was the 20-something Tim Duncan who won MVPs and NBA titles. Through three quarters of Game 6 he had 30 points and 14 rebounds, but the game went 17 more minutes -- and he didn't score again. Grabbed just three more rebounds. Missed five shots.

His fault.

But Tony Parker, you know? Tony Parker. He was 6 for 23 on the night, and 2 for 8 in the fourth quarter and overtime. His final two baskets came in a 29-second flurry late in regulation -- a 3-pointer in LeBron's face to tie it at 89, then an 8-footer with 58 seconds left for a 91-89 lead. Soon it was 94-89, and there were 28.2 seconds left, and thousands of Miami Heat fans were pouring up the stairs, dressed in white and squeezing the hell out of there. They didn't come to watch losers, these front-running fans, and the Heat were losing.

But then came the Heat rally, which stood because Tony Parker missed at the buzzer of regulation. Then he missed a free throw in overtime that could have given the Spurs a four-point lead, and he missed a 3-pointer, and with 34 seconds left he had his shot blocked by Chris Bosh. Tony Parker did all of that.

His fault.

But Manu Ginobili, you know? Holy cow, Manu Ginobili. Two days after his best game of the season -- 24 points, 10 assists in Game 5 -- Ginobili played his worst game of the NBA Finals, maybe his worst Finals game ever. And that's saying something, because he's had some stinkers in this series alone. His Game 5 explosion was shocking given his struggles in the first four games, when he averaged 7.5 points and three assists and shot 34.5 percent.

His Game 6 implosion was more typical of Ginobili in these Finals: nine points, eight turnovers. He missed a free throw with 28.2 seconds left in regulation that almost surely would have clinched the game. He had two turnovers in the final 45 seconds of overtime. He stubbornly -- I would say stupidly -- tried to make the final play despite being so bad all game.

His fault.

But Gregg Popovich, you know? Gregg Popovich. The most puzzlingly un-Spurs-like finish of the bunch may well have belonged to Popovich, whose Hall of Fame destiny doesn't jibe with the way he repeatedly denied his team its best shot at closing out Game 6.

Popovich took Duncan off the court for the Heat's the final two possessions of regulation, when Miami came up with offensive rebounds against a Spurs lineup lacking a true big man. LeBron's 3-pointer with 20.1 seconds left came after Mike Miller rebounded his first miss, and while Popovich has taken out Duncan a lot this season in similar situations, it didn't work there. So when confronted with the same decision a few seconds later ... he did it again.

Popovich again replaced the 6-foot-11 Duncan (13th-best rebounder in NBA history) with the 6-8 Diaw (eighth-best rebounder, per 36 minutes, on the 2012-13 Spurs roster), and paid for it when the Heat rebounded James' miss and got it to Ray Allen for the tying 3-pointer with 5.2 seconds left.

Popovich could have fouled on that possession, denying the Heat the 3-pointer they had to have to force overtime, but he chose not to. And when asked about it afterward, he went Ugly American on the reporter who dared to question him.

"That's a European question, right?" Popovich shot back.

"Yes," came the reporter's reply. "We usually do that in Italy and Europe, anyways."

"Right," Popovich snarled. "We don't."

Yes, Pop, and you lost Game 6 because of it.

Well, plus the whole Ginobili thing. Manu was terrible, no two ways around it, but it was Popovich's decision to play him the entire fourth quarter when it was clear that Ginobili was having one of his rancid performances from Games 1-4, not his brilliance from Game 5. Ginobili also played three minutes of overtime, enough to turn it over twice in the final 45 seconds. Tony Parker, as bad as he was, was much better than Ginobili on Tuesday night -- but wasn't on the floor at the end.

Popovich's fault.

Everyone's fault, really, which is symmetrical in a way. The Spurs are the Spurs, four-time champions since 1999, because they get winning contributions from so many people.

Whoever that was Tuesday night, they got the opposite.


Gregg Doyel is a columnist for CBSSports.com. He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.
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