Any championship series that goes seven games immediately ascends into another level of memorable greatness. And each one will forever bask in the warm glow of the question, “Where does this one rank among the best?’
But when talking about the 2013 NBA Finals, we might have actually witnessed the best the league has to offer, or will have to offer for years to come. Over the course of seven games, the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs battled through countless storylines and intriguing matchups, culminating in an unforgettable Game 6 and a worthy Game 7 that was competitive and close until the end, which is all any fan can really ask for.
The year’s Finals had an all-time best pedigree from the start.
The Spurs, led by the quiet, steady and unrelenting triumvirate of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli for what seems like eternity, were looking to put a cap on one of the most dominant eras in professional sports history.
The Heat, meanwhile, fought through unrelenting expectations, diminished skills and bizarre, lackadaisical play to reach their third consecutive Finals appearance.
But these were things almost to be expected. It was the unexpected that made this a series for the ages.
Three consecutive blowouts. The emergence of Danny Green and then his startling disappearance. The baffling up-and-down play of Manu Ginobli. LeBron James’ ability to rely on his jump shot in Game 7. Tim Duncan’s agonizing emotion after missing a game-tying layup and tip-in late in the fourth quarter of Game 7.
Stop for a breath…
Chris Bosh’s redeeming Game 6 defense and subsequent legacy-killing play in Game 7. The Spurs’ poor ball-handling and uncharacteristic turnovers. LeBron James’ epic minute of play in Game 2. Tony Parker’s Game 1 heroics. Dwyane Wade’s resurgent play that proved he is not, in fact, a liability, but the same game-changing Wade we’ve all come to know. Gary Neal and his this-must-be-a-misprint 24 points in Game 3. Shane Battier with an unheralded but tremendous Game 7. The coming-out party for Kawhi Leonard.
The list goes on, but every game – every quarter, every minute – had its own headline, and every game was compelling. Even the blowouts had the characteristics of two heavyweights giving each other their best, and both teams responded with heavy counter-punches of their own, beating each other down until one final bout decided it all.
This was the kind of matchup that was meant to go seven games. It wasn’t some passing of the torch. It wasn’t a mismatch, and it was hardly a redemption-oriented Finals for either team, as both have proven their worth.
This was a matchup between two teams that was based solely on pride. The Heat won that battle, but the aging Spurs gained more respect than ever which, in the brutal aftermath of a Game 7 loss, is something that will mean more with time.