The back-and-forth of wins by the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs has resulted in a Game 7 that will continue the trend of unpredictability in the 2013 NBA Finals.
Though the outcomes of games have followed a rhythmic sequence, it’s clear that each team is more than capable of earning a victory depending on which version of the Heat or Spurs shows up.
San Antonio will enter the season’s deciding game following a Game 6 nosedive that delayed their hopes of winning a fifth championship in 15 years.
The Spurs led by 10 points entering the fourth quarter and were ahead 94-89 with 22 seconds left when an offensive rebound led to LeBron James' made three-pointer. The trophy was presumably being wheeled out through the tunnel before the Heat forced it back into hiding.
San Antonio was so close.
If Kawhi Leonard made both of his free throws with a 94-92 lead and 19 seconds remaining, the Spurs would have pushed the game back to two possessions.
Instead, Leonard missed the first of two and the Heat were still alive. James missed a three-pointer, but a second offensive rebound in the final half-minute resulted in Ray Allen's made three that yielded overtime and an eventual San Antonio loss.
The Spurs were left stunned, as exhibited through the words of Manu Ginobili (quoted by Spurs Nation's Dan McCarney):
We were a few seconds away from winning the championship and we let it go. It hurts because it’s one of those moments where you’re going to be thinking about what we could have done better in the last few possession so many times all night long, all tomorrow until the next game. I have no clue how we’re going to be re-energized. I’m devastated. But we have to. There’s no Game 8.
Will the devastation of Tuesday’s collapse be too much for San Antonio to overcome? A blow like that can certainly shift momentum in favor of Miami heading into Game 7. Suddenly, the Heat need just one more win on their home floor to win a second consecutive NBA title.
The problem, as it has been for each team coming off a victory this series, is that back-to-back wins within a series have evaded the Heat since Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Chicago Bulls.
By that same token, the Spurs haven’t lost back-to-back games with their full roster of players in 2013, as indicated by ESPN Stats & Info:
It’s easier to credit that statistic to circumstance or coincidence than it is to allow it to guide the determination of which team has a Game 7 edge. Still, there's no denying either team’s resilience or strategic adjustments following a loss.
Adjustments may not completely explain how each team has battled back after losses, but direct responses to the opposition's scheming certainly have something to do with the alternating wins.
Both teams have used bigger and smaller lineups at different points of the finals. Defensive sets and assignments have shifted, the latest example being Miami putting the focus on Danny Green, who scored just three points in Game 6.
Though Gregg Popovich and Erik Spoelstra will both do all they can from the sidelines in the series finale, the deciding factor may end up being the Heat's momentous energy following their gut-punching Game 6 win and the luxury of deciding the season on their home court.
Winning on the road in a Game 7 of the finals isn't easy. Per NBA writer Chris Tomasson, the last time it happened was in 1978:
There’s no script that says the Spurs can’t win in Miami, though. They proved capable in Game 1 of the finals, and they should have won at AmericanAirlines Arena in Game 6.
As obvious as this might sound, the production of each team’s core could be the difference. So much depends on whether or not Tim Duncan will dominate again, as he did in the first half on Tuesday, or if Green can again find openings behind the three-point line.
Does Tony Parker have another NBA Finals MVP left in his legs? Will Ginobili again shake his postseason struggles and shine as he did in Game 5?
The Heat have their own questions. Miami needs James to play as he did in the fourth quarter of Game 6, when he scored 16 points on 7-of-11 shooting in commanding fashion.
Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh will need to embrace their roles as supporting superstars, and Ray Allen and Mike Miller must convert their open looks from beyond the arc.
Really, there are too many variables to predict an edge in Game 7.
The Heat control the momentum, and a league-best record in the regular season has given them the privilege of deciding the championship on their floor. Meanwhile, the Spurs have the game’s top coach and superstars who may be playing for their last chance at a title.
If there's an edge, it’s a slight one for Miami based only on a home-court advantage that hasn’t proven overwhelming for San Antonio.