Duncan has won four NBA championships with the Spurs. His lone Finals loss came to James and the Heat last year after the Spurs were seconds away from winning Game 6 to close out the series.
The Spurs have said all season they moved on from the heart-wrenching loss. But after eliminating the Oklahoma City Thunder with a tense 112-107 overtime victory in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals, Duncan admitted the Spurs have some unfinished business to take care of against the Heat in the 2014 NBA Finals.
"We're happy that it's the Heat," Duncan said. "We'll be ready for them. We've got some experience, obviously, from last year against them. And we'll go back and look at some film.
"And we've got that bad taste in our mouths still. Hopefully, we'll be ready to take it this time."
Duncan and the Spurs have won four NBA titles in 1999, 2003, '05 and '07. San Antonio seemed poised to add a fifth title when it took a 94-89 lead with 28 seconds remaining in Game 6 of the 2013 Finals. Many Heat fans had already departed American Airlines Arena and NBA officials began pulling a yellow tape around the floor for the championship trophy presentation. Ray Allen's 3-pointer changed everything, helping force overtime, where the Heat won and then took a 95-88 victory in the decisive Game 7.
"It's something that probably won't leave anybody's mind," Green said. "A couple plays here and there could've changed the outcome of us having a ring and being champions instead of thinking about it every day."
Said Duncan: "We were ready last year and we just couldn't get over the hump."
The Spurs played like a team seeking redemption through much of this season. They had the NBA's best record at 62-20 to take the top seed in the tough Western Conference. Unlike last year, the Spurs will have home-court advantage in the Finals under the new 2-2-1-1-1 format.
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The Spurs' trio of stars – Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili – have long been battle-tested. But for many of their younger players, including Danny Green, forward Kawhi Leonard, guards Patty Mills and Cory Joseph, and center Tiago Splitter, last year was their first trip to the Finals. Veteran forward Boris Diaw, who scored 26 points in the Game 6 victory, said he's better prepared for the Finals after playing in it last season. The Spurs also have added another shooter in guard Marco Belinelli.
"Last year was many guys' first time to the Finals," Green said. "We're lucky enough to go back.
"…There is still a lot of work to be done, and we won't be satisfied until we accomplish our goal. And that's to be the last team standing."
Duncan and Ginobili took time for a long celebratory embrace after the Spurs clinched Saturday's victory. Missing was Parker, who didn't return for the second half because of soreness in his left ankle. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said Parker told him eight minutes before the game that his ankle was bothering him and he was having problems cutting on it. Parker originally sprained his ankle in Game 4 and re-aggravated it in Game 5.
Parker had eight points on 3-of-6 shooting, two rebounds and no assists in 19 minutes before Popovich told him at halftime he was done. Joseph started the second half for Parker and was important in helping the Spurs take the lead in the third quarter.
Parker "showed a lot of guts to do what he did," Popovich said. "But at halftime I talked to him. He stiffened up a little bit and I just made the call."
Parker sat on the bench with an ice bag on the back of his foot in the second half for a short time. He was not in the locker room when the media were allowed in after the game and was not made available to speak.
"We will find out more," Spurs general manager R.C. Buford said of Parker, who averaged 14 points and 5.5 assists in two games against Miami this season. "We got five days."
Assuming Parker is healthy, Duncan is confident in the Spurs' chances to avenge the Finals loss. There's no doubting their motivation.
"I'm proud of the team for just being ready, just not letting that weigh on us and using it as an excuse for anything," Duncan said. "We're back here now and we want to get it done this time."