NORMAN — MIAMI - Tim Duncan backing in on Shane Battier, who is 3 inches shorter, 35 pounds lighter and a Hall of Fame away in terms of talent, that’s better than San Antonio ever could have hoped for with Game 7 of the NBA Finals on the line.
Three times an NBA Finals MVP, big Tim is automatic in situations like that. It’s so famously fundamental for him, the footwork, the blend of power and grace, the well-earned layup against an overmatched defender. At 37, he’s practiced that move so often and so precisely that the only easier shot for him would be a slam dunk in an empty gym.
Imagine, then, the shock Duncan felt when the ball went glancing off the rim, and once more on his frantic tip-in attempt. That basket, if it had dropped, would have tied the score at 90 in the final minute, and would have crammed the Miami Heat’s confetti shower right back into the cannons for at least a little while.
Instead, after scoring 30 points in Game 6 and 24 more in Thursday’s Game 7, Duncan, the former Wake Forest star, soon found himself in front of a roomful of reporters, his head in his hands at the front table, his mind wandering to places it has never been in four previous NBA Finals appearances.
“Missing a layup to tie the game, making a bad decision down the stretch, being unable to stop Dwyane (Wade) and LeBron (James), Game 7 is always going to haunt me,” Duncan said.
He’s taking this 95-88 loss more personally than he should. Other than Kawhi Leonard, who scored 19 points and grabbed 16 rebounds, nobody else on the Spurs played at a championship level Thursday night.
Leonard, however, is 21 years old. Duncan, ages beyond that, played 43 minutes and change in this worldwide examination of his heart as well as his game. As a matter of fact, out of every player on Miami’s athletically superior roster, only James, the game’s latest legend, played more minutes than Duncan in these last seven games, and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra calls James “the best-conditioned athlete in this game.”