MIAMI – It was unfamiliar territory for a very mournful-looking Tim Duncan. Hard for the San Antonio Spurs forward to verbalize. It'll likely be even harder to cope with later on, especially if he never gets back to the NBA Finals.
Duncan and the Spurs had to win just one of two games to claim the 2013 NBA championship. One victory for a fifth title. Instead, the Spurs' franchise cornerstone tasted defeat for the first time in the NBA Finals after a deciding 95-88 loss to the Miami Heat in Game 7 on Thursday night.
"Missing a layup to tie the game," Duncan recalled. "Making a bad decision down the stretch. Just unable to stop Dwyane [Wade] and LeBron [James]. Game 7 is always going to haunt me."
No one will question Duncan's effort and play as he finished Game 7 with a team-high 24 points, 12 rebounds and four steals while sitting for only five minutes. But he couldn't care less about what the box score said. What pained him were his last two short post-shot attempts that didn't fall when they were desperately needed to keep San Antonio alive.
The Spurs were down 90-88 when Miami's Mario Chalmers gave them a huge break by missing two free throws. The ball ended up in the 6-foot-11, 255-pound Duncan's hands in the post with the Heat's slender 6-8, 220-pound Shane Battier guarding him. Odds for one of the greatest post players in NBA history looked good. Real good.
But Duncan missed a 4-foot hook shot and a put-back lay-in. Afterward, the typically stoic big man slid out of character by slapping the floor with both hands in frustration and then hanging his head in disappointment. The Heat scored the last five points to repeat as NBA champions.
"That's [frustration] out of me just missing a bunny," Duncan said. "Got by Shane and had a layup to tie the game."
Said Battier: "That's a shot Tim Duncan usually makes eight out of ten times. For whatever reason that shot didn't drop right then. I'm very thankful. It wasn't because of my defense. Just missed it."
Spurs guard Manu Ginobili said the nightmarish Game 6 overtime loss haunted him until the finale arrived. Ginobili said that the loss will bring him pain the rest of his life – a feeling Duncan surely now shares with his teammate.
"To be in a Game 6 up one and two chances to win an NBA championship and not do it, that's tough to swallow," Duncan said.
[Related: Heat take what's theirs in Game 7 vs. Spurs]
About the only good news for the Spurs was Duncan saying he will honor his contract. The 37-year-old is slated to make $10.3 million in each of the next two seasons and said he wasn't retiring. That certainly means coach Gregg Popovich will be back, too. Duncan, however, had no clue if Ginobili will ever play for the Spurs again.
When asked if he would address if he would retire or not, Ginobili said: "No, it's not the moment. I'm very disappointed, very upset. I really can't say anything."
Even if Ginobili heads home to Argentina for good, Duncan and Spurs have the talent to get back to the Finals next year. The emergence of starting small forward Kawhi Leonard as a budding star, the stellar shooting of 3-point specialist Danny Green and an evolving true center in Tiago Splitter give San Antonio a young and solid nucleus around Duncan and Parker. Reserve forward Boris Diaw likes playing for San Antonio and will likely exercise a $4.6 million option to return next season if the interest is reciprocated, a source said.
Duncan has everything by Finals standards, with four NBA titles and three Finals MVP awards. But after losing in the title series for the first time, he is also now dealing with a unique pain. That pain can only be soothed with another championship run.
Watch Tim Duncan's crucial misses below:
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