For one night, the Spurs let a championship vanish before their eyes


“We were a few seconds away from winning the championship, and we let it go.”

As Manu Ginobili sat at the podium cloaked in dejection, a Spur was finally fully transparent. His facial expressions, his tone, his body language — they all told the story.

“I’m devastated,” he would say.

The Spurs had just watched a 5-point lead with 28 seconds remaining slip through their fingers, and along with it, an NBA championship. At least for one night.

Two crucial Miami offensive rebounds led to two different made 3-pointers in the final 20 seconds of regulation, the second of which — a Ray Allen bomb from the corner — eventually sent the game to overtime where the Heat prevailed, 103-100, to force as improbable a Game 7 as you’ll ever see in the NBA Finals. To surpass the events of the overtime period would not tell the whole story, but the main plot, the absolute turning point, the shocking twist came before the extra period even began.

It’s difficult to put in words what we just saw, but there’s no shortage of starting points.

But the line that stands out in the box score like a dead body in a Miss America pageant is the atrocity Ginobili posted on the biggest night of the Spurs’ season. A 2-for-5, 9-point, 4-rebound, 3-assist performance came two nights after an all-time vintage Manu game, and the worst part came in the turnover category.

Ginobili had 8 turnovers in Game 6, more than half the total of the entire team. It was a trainwreck for one of San Antonio’s most beloved, and just 48 hours after he played hero, he was the face of a team in pain.

“I have no clue how we’re going to be re-energized. But we have to,” he said. “There’s no Game 8 afterwards. We’re going to have to play our best game, even better than today.

“Shoot better, better defense, less turnovers in my case. But yeah, there’s no secret recipe for bouncing back.”

He’s right. There’s no recipe for recovery after what happened tonight. The outcome of Game 6 will be remembered for a long time, and it will be up to the Spurs to make sure it isn’t etched in stone for all of history. The Spurs had a game in their hip pocket, but they don’t anymore.

At this point, a typical recap seems pointless. This was one of the most painful losses San Antonio has ever experienced, and could top the list by Thursday if Miami wins this thing.

But that’s a BIG ‘if.’

Basketball is an emotional game, especially when your heart is ripped out of your chest like it was tonight. The ups and downs of a game that appeared to belong to San Antonio will make you reel when you recall how little they meant in the end. The memory of Duncan’s first half and — outside of young Kawhi Leonard’s contributions — the relative lack of help he received from his teammates will be wrestled with all the way through Thursday’s tip-off, and the feeling of a wasted chance will echo through the brains of fans during that stretch as well.

The Spurs can be better, though. Ginobili and Tony Parker combined for perhaps their worst ever performance as teammates, and yet the game was there to be had. It’s highly unlikely they’ll be that historically bad two games in a row. And one of the constants of this game is the defense. Aside from the first quarter and the LeBron fourth-quarter surge, San Antonio was pretty damn good on that end. It’s an effort that can be replicated.

What’s most problematic about a loss like this is that it feels like the end of the world. Yet here we are, still talking about basketball. Still asking about the adjustments that must be made before the next game. A series with a rhythm and a pattern that has yet to be interrupted is still on schedule. And wouldn’t you know it? The Spurs have a chance to continue the trend. These Finals have been as wacky as anything I’ve ever seen, and if you’ve given up after tonight, if you don’t think the Spurs have a shot, then you haven’t been watching this series.

This game belonged to the Spurs in regulation, and they let it get away. It was one of the most un-Spurs-like thing you’ll ever see. San Antonio is tired, but don’t forget, Miami is exhausted, too. They spent everything they had to come back and win that game, and Dwyane Wade continues to look worse and worse on his knee. This is going to be a street fight.

“We don’t think we played a great game, but we were in a great position,” Manu said.

He’s right. And as awful as tonight was, they still have one more chance to get right back in that spot. So take a deep breath.

The Spurs already have.