MIAMI -- Tim Duncan slowly walked in, pulled out his chair and sat down. His shoulders slumped, his head lowered, his spirits crushed. He lifted his eyes slowly waiting on questions about why and what and how and who and where and when.
For the first time in his career, Duncan played the last game of an NBA season and failed to win it.
He heard the first question, lowered his head down into his hands and sat motionless. A man completely heartbroken, a man completely devastated. Duncan, at 37 years old, had dragged his Spurs back to the NBA Finals in search of a fifth ring and came up agonizingly short.
"The obvious word is 'disappointing,'" Duncan said, letting out a long sigh. "Tough end to the game. Made some bad decisions. Missed some shots. I don't know what to say. Just give credit to the Miami Heat. LeBron was unbelievable. Dwyane was great. I just think they found a way to get it done. We stayed in the game. We gave ourselves opportunities to win the game; we just couldn't turn that corner. They made more plays down the stretch, bottom line."
Bound to wake Duncan in cold sweats every night this summer: With the Spurs down two inside a minute left, he beat Shane Battier and had a shot that he makes almost a hundred out of a hundred. Maybe it was the adrenaline of the moment. Maybe it was the anxiety. Maybe he just missed it. But the shot went long and to the right and clanged off the iron. Duncan had an opportunity for a putback right after -- long again.
And, so long went the Spurs' season.
They put themselves in a horrifically difficult position, needing to bounce back from one of the more soul-crushing losses that you'll ever see in professional sports. Up five with 28 seconds left in Game 6 and the yellow tape being wrapped around the court and Heat fans streaming out, the Spurs missed two free throws and gave up two rebounds that allowed Miami to force overtime and win an absolutely epic game in overtime.
Manu Ginobili, who struggled mightily in Game 7 going 6-12 for 18 points but with four very critical turnovers, admitted Game 6 lingered with him and was the main thing on his brain following Thursday's loss.
"In my case, I still have Game 6 in my head," he said. "Today, we played an OK game. They just made more shots than us. LeBron got hot. Shane, too. Those things can happen. But being so close and feeling that you are about to grab that trophy, and then seeing it vanish is very hard. I think that if we would have lost both games like this, I would have be a little more up. But it's a tough feeling."
I feel the same way as Ginobili. Watching his tangible disappointment leak out of him, watching Duncan's devastation, watching Gregg Popovich try to find words to say, watching Tony Parker struggle with words, it was hard not to replay and rewind to those 28 seconds where, for a brief moment, the Spurs were five-time NBA champions. Just one more free throw, just one different bounce off the rim, just one missed 3 from either LeBron or Ray Allen and the Spurs probably are exhausted on Thursday from a parade, not from slogging out a Game 7.
"For our part, I couldn't love our guys more," he said, appearing to be fighting back tears. "What they accomplished this year is something nobody would have ever expected. And they showed a lot of mental toughness and a lot of good play to get where they got. And I couldn't be more proud of them."
Duncan, however, said he felt the pain of Game 7 more than anything. And for good reason.
"For me, no," Duncan said. "Game 7, missing a layup to tie the game. Making a bad decision down the stretch. Just unable to stop Dwyane and LeBron. Probably for me, Game 7 is always going to haunt me."
It's not that Game 6 carried over and impacted the way the Spurs played or prepared. Because it was obvious early on that they were over it, at least in the moment of playing Game 7. They competed, they battled and they had another chance to heal the wounds from Tuesday. It's just more, after the fact, their summer will be filled with regret more from what happened in those 28 seconds and less about the 48 minutes on Thursday night. The Spurs gave the best player in the world a second chance, and he punished them with 37 points and one of the all-time Game 7 performances.
"After the fact -- after Game 7, of course you're going to think about Game 6 and how close we were," said Parker. "One free throw. One rebound. But I don't think Game 6 affected Game 7."
You have to wonder if the Spurs know this might've been it. Everyone has been trying to write them off as old and washed up for years, but really this time, it has to seem like their best shot to reach the mountain top slipped through their fingers. They had the upper hand the entire series, taking Game 1 and playing in front most of the way. They had the Heat beat in Game 6. They had it within two inside of a minute left in Game 7 with the best power forward of all time sweeping to the rim to take a shot that he's made thousands of time to tie the game. They were right there. But they just fell painfully short.
"So many little things that could have gone our way in the last play or the last two plays to win it," Ginobili said. "You know, there's such a fine line, such a fine line between being celebrating and having a great summer, with now feeling like crap and just so disappointed.
"So I am trying to put things in perspective, but it's very hard. And the next few days are going to be very hard."
The next few days, the next few weeks, the next few months and probably the next few years. Championships are forever, and the Spurs had another one to complete the collection. One for each finger, one for each of the last three decades. One to complete a cycle born in 1999 with Duncan and Popovich and set to end with the original Big 3 celebrating on the Heat's home floor.
But it slipped away, and all they were left with are the images that will haunt them for a lifetime.