If this feels at all familiar, that’s because it is.
Almost exactly two years ago, on June 12, 2011, as I sat writing a blog post in a hotel room in Miami, FL, the hometown Heat prepared to play the Dallas Mavericks in Game 6 of the NBA Finals. At the time, the Heat trailed the Mavericks 3-2 and the driving narratives were Dwyane Wade’s health, LeBron James’ play and Dirk Nowitzki’s excellence.
Right now, as I sit writing this intro in a hotel room in Miami, FL, the hometown Heat prepare to play another team from Texas, the San Antonio Spurs, in Game 6 of the NBA Finals. The Heat trail the Spurs 3-2 and the driving narratives are Dwyane Wade’s yo-yoing health, LeBron James’ mediocre (based on the otherworldly standards he’s set for himself) play and Tony Parker and Danny Green’s excellence.
If it feels at all unfamiliar, too, that’s because it is.
Two years ago, the Heat were in the first season of the Big Three era. They were still getting to know one another’s tendencies; LeBron still had yet to establish his big-game bonafides; and they had yet to win anything as a group. In those NBA Finals, they ran into one-star, many-role players team that hit on all the right notes at all the right times. In those Finals, the Heat were still an immature group.
This time around, the Heat are in their third season together—a millennium in the modern NBA, where Erik Spoelstra is the League’s second-longest tenured coach. They know how to play together; LeBron’s established himself as a winner; and they captured last season’s NBA Championship. Yes, the Spurs, a two-star, many-role players team, are hitting on all the right notes at all the right times (read: clutch three-pointers), but the Heat are no longer an immature group.
As Coach Spoelstra said to his team during a recent game, “You guys know what it takes.”
They did not, however, know two seasons ago.
That’s not to say that the Heat will certainly win tonight and force a Game 7. That’s far from a given. Tony Parker, despite an injury that should have him riding the pine in a suit, is playing O’Brien caliber ball. Tim Duncan, Chris Bosh’s idol, is as reliable as Old Faithful. Danny Green (Danny Green!) is shooting like, well, no one ever has on this stage. And Manu Ginobili seems to have, if only for a night, found his old/young self.
All of that is to say, and not that you don’t already know this, Game 6 is anyone’s game.
With all that in mind, and with the Heat on the verge of elimination and infamy, Game 6 will tip at AmericanAirlines Arena at 9 p.m. (EST). I’ll see you, virtually, with more info closer to then.
8:06 PM: After spending time at pre-game press conferences and in both locker rooms, here’s some tidbits worth mentioning:
-When asked about the physicality of the series, Coach Spo responded, “This is more about execution, precision, effort…”
-A moment later, when asked about rosters and shuffling, Spo wouldn’t say who was starting tonight. He said we’d all find out at the same time closer to game time.
-Asked if the series came down to strategy, down to coaching moves and maneuvers, Spo responded, “It’s important to understand, we’re trying to win a basketball game, not chess.”
-After Spo finished up, Coach Popovich took to the podium. Only two people asked him questions, neither of whom got a straight answer. Pop doin’ work!
-In San Antonio’s locker room, Danny Green politely fielded questions about spoke about his jumper and its origins. Eventually, after divulging everything but his mom’s maiden name, Green excused himself. Sweet, patient guy, especially considering the circumstances.
-Across from him, Tiago Splitter spoke with a single reporter about…his family origins. Apparently, his family can’t trace their roots too far back, but he did mention something about Prussia (modern day Poland).
-In Miami’s locker room, there’s a card in front of each and every locker. It reads: “That dreams that God put in your heart never change. Your integrity demands that you step-up & follow those dreams to a better place — to pick yourself up and yet again push on.” The inspirational quote is attributed to Tony Dungy.
-Per the usual, Ray Allen has a beat-up ball in front of his locker, and all of the media is congregating around LeBron James’ locker.
8:22 PM: Going to climb up to my perch high in the rafters and watch the greatest players that the greatest game has to offer warm up. Be back when I’m settled.
8:51 PM: Took a while to get to seat (build more elevators, Heat!), but finally here and ready to go. Game. Time.
8:53 PM: Typically late-arriving Miami fans are, well, typically late. Still, that means they’re here earlier than usual. Meanwhile, PA guy instructs those in their seats to make some noise. It’s Game 6. Of the NBA Finals. If you need to be told that tonight, you need to be at home watching network TV.
8:58 PM: Mike Miller and Manu Ginobili are both still in starting lineups for their respective teams. This ish ain’t chess. *Alonzo Harris voice*
9:01 PM: LOUD “Let’s go Heat!” chant prior to National Anthem.
9:08 PM: Joey Crawford, most infamous ref this side of Tim Donaghy, is out their to throw out opening tip. He’s worth watching tonight, as always.
9:10 PM: And we’re off, as the Heat winning tap!
9:11 PM: First bucket of the game is a contest 12-footer by Chris Bosh. As he runs back down court, yells and pumps fist.
9:13 PM: Nothing new, but Tony Parker gets to the basket faster than you can say the word “fast.” Almost feel bad for Mario Chalmers.
9:14 PM: After hitting that corner three to make it 10-9, Heat, Chalmers turned to Spurs bench and said something.
9:16 PM: Dwyane Wade is not only called for the offensive foul, but is slow to get up. Looks like his it’s his leg, and looks like he’s shaken it off.
9:17 PM: All knotted up at 14 at 7:14 mark of the first quarter.
9:20 PM: Oh, important pre-game nugget that I almost forgot to share: Norris Cole, backup PG on the Heat, says that he’s real cool with quasi-rapper, quasi-pop star Flo Rida.
9:22 PM: Wow. Kawhi Leonard just made Mike Miller regret ever leaving the Dakotas to play in the NBA. What a facial. Leonard, as you may recall, has some of the largest hands in the NBA. Pair those with his fairly prodigious hops, and he’s bound to throw down some baby Dr. Js.
9:28 PM: LeBron sticks the three…and holds the pose. Spurs lead down to one, 20-19. (Actually, 22-19, as Duncan answers with patented banker.) Speaking of LeBron, Danny Green is wearing a pair of Nike Zoom Soldiers, with a big LEBRON on the back of one shoe and JAMES on the other. LeBron’s winning even if he loses, not that anyone wants to hear that.
9:33 PM: After Shane Battier banks home that three, we have a 24-24 game. In case you haven’t noticed, it’s a good one brewing here at the AAA.
9:35 PM: Mario Chalmers is in that zone where he could sell water to a well. Mean, he’s in that 2008 NCAA Title game mode.
9:37 PM: The first quarter showcased the best both teams have to offer, and it ended with the Heat up on the Spurs, 27-25. If the next three quarters are anything like that first one the best thing to have happened today won’t be the release of Kanye West’s Yeezus (or J. Cole’s Born Sinner or Mac Miller’s album, for that matter).
9:43 PM: Danny Green, coming off of a strong screen, hits his first three of the game. He’s now 1-2 on the game, well below his series shooting percentage.
9:47 PM: Just when I was about to write Wade off for the night, he shows signs of life. Good lift on that midranger, as he puts Heat up 36-30 and causes Spurs to burn a timeout.
9:52 PM: Now’s a good time to remind people that Rio Chalmers considers himself an elite NBA point guard.
9:53 PM: And now’s a good time to remind people that Tim Duncan is the best power forward of all-time and a top-10 player of all-time. Reproving that tonight: 8-8 shooting, with 16 points and 4 rebounds.
9:57 PM: Just consulted with my friend and NBA expert Ben Golliver: Prior to Duncan’s 8-8 start to this game, only John Paxson has ever taken that many field goals without a miss in a Finals game.
10:02 PM: So much for the resuscitation of Ginobili. With four minutes to go in the half, he has recorded nary a point. As of now, Spurs are being carried by Duncan. He has 21 points (the team as a whole has 42) and 5 boards. Meanwhile, LeBron (5 assists) is playing the role of distributor tonight and Chalmers (14 points) is the beneficiary
10:08 PM: Oh where oh where can Ray Allen be? He’s 0-4 with a zero points. *Celtics fans rejoice*
10:10 PM: Boris Diaw with the gnarly and nifty pass to Duncan. Bosh should heed Jermaine Cole’s advice: “Long live the idols, may they never be your rivals.”
10:12 PM: 50-44, Spurs up at the half. Potentially only 24 minutes left on the 2012-13 NBA season.
10:31 PM: Ginobili opens the second half with a long J; Chalmers answers with a three of his own (off a LBJ pass, of course). 53-48, Spurs.
10:33 PM: Whose world is this? Why, LeBron’s of course. After stripping Danny Green at one end, pins him down on the other and forces a foul. Welcome back to Earth, Danny.
10:37 PM: What do I know, but these little at-the-rim passes from Wade to Bosh should be thrown as oops. Making Bosh come down with it so close to basket is recipe for disaster (read: strip or block). Also, whatever happened to Wade-James two-man action? Seems like we haven’t seen that since prior to Eastern Conference Finals. Miss those full-court oops.
10:41 PM: Big back-to-back buckets (Wade J; Miller drive) for the Miami Heat. Trail by one, 57-56. Still, at some point it’s going to have to be LeBron’s time to take the ball and take (or give away) the game. It’s nice that he has 7 assists, and is making teammates look good, but at day’s end the man with the crown and scepter needs to ascend the throne dolo.
10:53 PM: So, I should probably book my ticket back to NYC right about now. Spurs lead by 12, with a little over four minutes left in the third quarter.
10:55 PM: It’s only fitting that Wale and LeBron James are cool. After all, media’s relationship with James really is a love/hate thing. And if Heat lose, gonna be a lot of hate in coming day, weeks, months.
10:57 PM: After years of tormenting Tim Duncan, Joey Crawford is finally making it right. The baldie is giving the Spurs plenty o’ calls. (71-58, now.)
11:00 PM: After a momentum-shifting run by the Heat, James misses (and wants foul) a driving shot. Spurs come back to score on the other end. The Spurs, as my man Golliver says, never shake. LBJ, on the other hand, looks a little sweaty in the palms right now. Sometimes, it seems, outsized expectations can be debilitating.
11:05 PM: After three quarters, Spurs lead by 10, 75-65.
11:10 PM: Mike Miller just drained a three…with one shoe on! If the Heat win, that’s the shining moment right there.
11:15 PM: Building has come alive again. That’s what a Shoeless Mike and LeBron dunk will do.
11:20 PM: James ditched the headband and the Heat are back! We might never see that oversized piece of cotton ever agin.
11:22 PM: Jeezuz! The Miami Heat have taken the lead, 84-82. What a surge, what a surge. Now, with six minutes left in the game, we’re about to witness men at work.
11:24 PM: “N***as in Paris” on the PA system; LeBron James making moves. Must be a Roc brainwaves connection.
11:26 PM: With five-plus minutes left in the game, the Heat lead 84-82. Crowd is loud and into it. Feels like we’re almost in Boston or something.
11:28 PM: Big, big bucket by Kawhi Leonard. Stifles the bleeding…momentarily. Then, Bron answers with a driving two. Heat up three again.
11:31 PM: LeBron with 27, 9 and 8; Tim Duncan with 30 and 16. No stars born tonight — just two of the best shining brightly.
11:32 PM: THREE MINUTES! Hope you didn’t fall asleep on your couch, EST people. This is worth a little grogginess at work tomorrow.
11:36 PM: Dwyane Wade at the line shooting two. He’s had a tough game, but the Heat need him now. Need him to play his role and let LeBron be LeBron.
11:37 PM: Guys are diving on the floor like, well, like kids at the park in the summer. Wonderful sight to see. With one minute and change to play, the Heat lead, 89-86. Spurs ball…
11:39 PM: Tony Parker with the step-back three over LeBron. We are all witnesses right now. Tie game.
11:40 PM: The Spurs have retaken the lead. Heat trail by two and have the ball. Fifty-seven seconds to play.
11:42 PM: LeBron had Tony Parker in the post. Then Leonard came to double. Then Bron turned it over. Oy.
11:44 PM: With the Spurs up 94-89, and 28.2 seconds left, I’m headed down to the court so I can catch the Trophy Ceremony.
11:54 PM: Luckily, never left my seat! Get this: Arena personnel had set up yellow rope to cordone off court for Championship ceremony witha minute to play. They just had to take it down.
11:56: Spurs score off sweet TP9 dish; Heat don’t off of a Bron iso. Let’s not do this again.
11:57 PM: Chris Bosh, and-one! SO LOUD IN HERE.
11:59 PM: Leonard with 20 and 9 in the biggest game of his life. Spurs up 2, a little less than three left to play.
12:00 PM: It’s midnight, so who’s gonna have to leave the ball?
12:01 PM: This is as good as it gets. If you’ve never watched before tonight, never watch again. But if you love basketball, you know what this is. The greatest game known to mankind.
12:02 PM: With a minute and change left, Heat lead 101-100. Is this the wildest potential closeout game ever?
12:04 PM: This is what the players practice their whole lives for. This is what fans pay their whole salaries for tickets for. This is what writers, not on a deadline, pine for. This is it. ONE MINUTE!
12:06 AM: LeBron with the steal, and then the out-of-bounds on the fastbreak. Weird play, weird call. Refs don’t want to decide this one, though. We can applaud that.
12:07 AM: Call reversed. Saying it’s off James. Spurs ball. They trail by one, forty seconds to play.
12:10 AM: TERRIBLE possession by the Heat. A lack of movement, ends in Wade jumper. Missed. Whatevs, though. Spurs get knocked around, Allen ends up with ball, hits two freebies. Heat by three, less than two seconds to play.
12:13 AM: After three hours of do-or-die ball, the Heat do by a final score of 103-100. That was history, y’all. Thanks for sharing it with me. See you back here on Thursday night.