Looking back: The Heat and Spurs gave us an all-time NBA Finals

In retrospect, the 2013 NBA Finals is still an all-timer. (USATSI)
In retrospect, the 2013 NBA Finals is still an all-timer. (USATSI)

Before the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs even played Game 7 of the 2013 NBA Finals, we were starting to wonder where this series placed in NBA folklore. Regardless of how Game 7 played out, was it already one of the best NBA Finals series we've ever seen? Did the fact that we'd have a do-or-die Game 7 after six stellar exhibition of the best basketball you can dream up push this series over great, shorter series in the past like the 90's battles between Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls and the Utah Jazz?

Was it already better than the seven-game Finals we had seen recently between the Detroit Pistons and the Spurs or the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics? The consensus amongst many writers and watchers was "yes" but it's also easy to get swept up in recency bias to make you think the latest thing you experienced was the best ever. That's kind of how things go on the internet these days.

We're now nine months removed from the 2013 Finals and with the Heat and Spurs matching up for a nationally televised game tonight, there will be cutaways and interviews throughout the game reliving its top moments.  

The first lasting moment of that series was Game 1 with a raucous crowd in Miami (no seriously, it really was quite deafening and not just the music volume in the arena/night club) was the silence that befell the arena with 5.2 seconds left in the game. The Heat opted not to foul with about a seven-second differential between the game clock and the shot clock and San Antonio leading by two with the ball. Tony Parker dribbled around a swarming defense, looking for breathing room to plunge the dagger into Miami for the first victory of the series.

He dribbled and dribbled some more, trying to elude LeBron James' stalking defense. Eventually, he slipped to the floor, kept his dribble alive, stood back up, and knocked up the leaning jumper with 5.2 seconds left, securing a Game 1 victory. The Spurs stole Game 1 in Miami and the pressure of an entire legacy was suddenly on the line.

Game 2 also had a signature moment, although it was certainly not as dramatic as what the Spurs were able to do in the first game. The Heat answered back and were trying fervently to put the game away while extracting any potential drama from the victory. San Antonio probably had at least one more run in them with less than nine minutes left in the game and trailing by 19, but they needed to get the comeback in motion.

Parker ran a pick-and-roll at the top of the key with Tiago Splitter and the mammoth Brazilian went rumbling down the lane as his point guard delivered a pinpoint bounce pass. The 6'11" 245 lbs center took off for a tomahawk dunk just outside the restricted area, opting to bring all of his power by jumping off of two feet. LeBron was waiting for Splitter, standing right in front of the basket. He timed his jump and raised his right hand. 

As if Splitter had the grip strength of the toddler, James slapped the ball out of his hands with the sound of skin slapping leather echoing in the microphones attached to the rim. It was a feat of strength in which James won in impressive manner. He preened to the crowd, impressed by his own effort and defensive execution. The Heat took the ball the other way, James eventually caught up and fired a cross-court pass to Ray Allen in the right corner for a 3-pointer that pushed the lead to 22. It was the finishing stamp on a blowout victory that would lead all highlight shows that night. 

Because the Spurs are the Spurs, they didn't let a shift in momentum in the series with the Game 2 loss shake their focus. They had a job to get a split in Miami and headed back home with home court advantage to protect. That's exactly what they did with Danny Green acting as a human flamethrower in Game 3. Green was left open time and time again. Even when he was defended, it was like he was alone in the gym putting up practice shots. 

Green connected on 7-of-9 from 3-point range as he was in the process of setting the NBA Finals record for 3-pointers made. He hit consecutive 3-point shots to bury the Heat early in the fourth quarter of Game 3 with everybody wondering how he kept getting open. The Spurs had their own signature blowout victory and control of the series.

The reason the Heat brought the Big Three of LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh together was to win championships and have an advantage in any matchup they played. They were supposed to have three of the top players in the league, overwhelming opponents in every phase of the game. That was the plan and it was most evident in Game 4 as they responded in San Antonio as they were designed to do.

James, Wade, and Bosh combined for 85 points, 30 rebounds, 10 assists, 10 steals, and five blocks. It was utter domination to even up the series and send the two teams to a best-of-three for the 2013 NBA championship.

In their final home game of the season, the Spurs really needed a victory. Going to Miami and winning two on the road to win it all was just not a likely scenario. Throughout the last decade, they've always had a haymaker to unleash as they set you up with the jab. That haymaker is Manu Ginobili. Ginobili wasn't the same Manu we remembered. This version wasn't nearly as accurate and his movements were slowed by years of nagging injuries. He didn't move the same way or have the same impact when unleashed on opponents.

But for a night, we saw a ressurrection of an Argentinian assassin who often left his foes confused by what just attacked them. Gregg Popovich gave him the rare start and his first possession of the game was a made long 2-pointer, establishing he wasn't quite dead yet. He finished with 24 points and 10 assists, the Heat unable to correctly guess where he was headed with his movements next all night. The Spurs left San Antonio needing one victory in the final two games to finish off an epic series with a win. And that's when it all happened.

Matt Moore and Royce Young were on location in Miami covering the final two games. I was at home, manning the television and ready to rip whatever video needed to go up on this website. It was also my duty to get a quick game recap up before Matt and Royce filed their writing from the arena. With 28.6 seconds left and a five-point lead for the Spurs, I began racking my brain for the angle I'd take in the news post. Clearly, I had to mention the place in history a fifth title put Popovich and Tim Duncan.

LeBron hit a three to cut the lead to two with 20 seconds left. Kawhi Leonard missed a free throw to keep it a one possession game. James had a chance to push his growing legend to new heights with a game-tying, season-saving 3-pointer. With 9.4 seconds left the ball was caroming off the rim and into the hands of Bosh. Allen was backpedaling to the right corner as the Spurs tried to figure out where the ball was and where the Hall of Fame shooter was headed. Bosh pushed the ball to Allen. Feet set. Shot released. Everything went black.

I stood in the middle of my living room, staring blankly at the TV. I had to do something. I had to rip video. I had to start a post with such a legendary shot. I had to start communicating with my coworkers on what we were doing next. I just stood there, frozen by what I contend is the greatest shot in NBA history. The entire Big Three experiment was on the line, LeBron's free agency a year away and in search of the best place to win another title. But Allen wasn't finished play that season and there were mother******* ropes to be removed from the court.

The talk going into Game 7 was we just wanted a memorable game. The series had been so fantastic that getting a contest reminiscent of Game 7 between the Lakers and Celtics in 2010 was not going to suffice. The two teams responded by shaking off Game 7 jitters early in the night and eventually providing a fantastic display of competitive basketball with an entire season on the line for both sides. Parker struggled for the Spurs but Duncan, Leonard, and Ginobili all showed up.

For the Heat, James had a legendary performance buoyed by the scoring of Wade and the outside shooting of Shane Battier's six 3-pointers. LeBron finished with 37 points, 12 rebounds, and four assists. He made 12-of-23 from the field, 5-of-10 from downtown, and 8-of-8 from the free throw line. He came through with everything on the line, even providing the dagger for the 2013-14 season -- all 1,315 games of it. 

It's impossible to know if the 2013 NBA Finals was the best ever but it was certainly the best of this generation. Seven games, seven signature moments for the series. A new story unfolding every time they rolled the ball out there and laced them up. Legacies were furthered and crushing defeat came with the counterpart of legendary victory. I don't know if the 2013 NBA Finals are the greatest series we've ever seen or will ever see.

I just know, as a basketball fan, I feel lucky to have experienced every second of it. 

CBS Sports Writer

Zach Harper likes basketball. Some would even say he loves it. He's also an enthusiast for everything Ricky Davis, Rasheed Wallace, Nic Cage, and has seen the movie Gigli almost three times. He's been... Full Bio

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