by Mike Seely
Over 100 games into this NBA season, who knew that the Miami Heat's least valuable player was LeBron James' headband? Utterly stymied for a full three quarters of Game 6 of the NBA Finals by the Spurs' peculiar defensive tag team of Boris Diaw and Kawhi Leonard, James chucked his headband, flexed his receding hairline and then caught fire, leading Miami back from a 10-point deficit at the end of the third quarter to take the lead late in the fourth.
But the Spurs being the Spurs -- and this series being this series -- the game was far from over. An ice-cold (6-23) Tony Parker hit a step-back three with James (32 points, 11 assists, 10 rebounds) hounding him to reclaim the lead for San Antonio, and a few Heat misses later, the champagne carts started heading for the visitors' locker room. But a couple of missed free throws -- one by Leonard (22 points, 11 rebounds) and another by Manure Ginobili (more on him later) -- put the Heat in position to tie the game with a three. After a miss, Chris Bosh grabbed an offensive rebound over Manure (Tim Duncan was out of the game, with the Spurs intent on defending three-pointers and only three-pointers) and passed to arguably the game's greatest jump-shooter, Ray Allen, who buried a corner three to send the game into overtime, where Miami would hold on for a stunning 108-105 victory to set up a decisive seventh game Thursday.
The Spurs wasted a vintage performance by Tim Duncan -- or at least a vintage first half. Duncan finished with 17 rebounds and 30 points -- 25 coming before intermission, as he seemed incapable of missing. But Miami was quick to double him after halftime, and neither Dany Green (3 points on 1-7 shooting) nor Ginobili could reclaim their Game 5 magic in trying to pick up his slack.
Manure was as awful in Game 6 as he was scintillating in Game 5. The Spurs only had 13 turnovers as a team; eight of them were committed by Manure. And several came on crucial possessions, the most grating of which was a wild baseline jump-pass out of a late-game timeout that resulted in a pivotal steal. While the Manure-Tiago Splitter combo was effective for much of the regular season, in this series their simultaneous presence on the court has been a poison pill, with Manure again notching a team-worst -21 point differential (Splitter was -13). In Game 5, Manure was the equivalent of a formerly great man cracking one last brilliant joke on his deathbed. In Game 6, he just died.
If the Spurs are looking for a silver lining, they can take solace in the fact that they're probably not going to shoot a collective 28 percent from three-point range in Game 7, and Parker should return to form. And if any team is equipped to move on quickly from a demoralizing loss like this -- one which literally saw the Spurs five seconds from dancing on the fireball at center court -- it's San Antonio. Moreover, as much as we've shit on Manure, the moment you decide to bury him is usually precisely when he wakes up and does something unbelievable. Spurs' fans had just better hope that it's the good kind of unbelievable, rather than an unbelievably moronic, season-sabotaging turnover spree.