By the Blouin News Sports staff

Popovich and James go head-to-head

by in Basketball.

San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich knows he has to be better in Game 7. (Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich knows he has to be better in Game 7. (Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

The NBA will soon have its 2013 champion. In Game 6, the San Antonio Spurs were about 30 seconds from earning their fifth title in since 1999, but missed free throws, poor rebounding and questionable rotations by coach Gregg Popovich allowed the Miami Heat to hit two miraculous three pointers to tie the game and send it to overtime — where they eventually forced Game 7.

It was a game for the ages, one that will go down as one of the most exciting in NBA Finals history. And it came at a good time for the NBA; the Spurs/Heat finals had otherwise been a rather boring series. However, the collapse by one of the most fundamentally sound teams the NBA has seen in the past 20 years was a far bigger surprise than LeBron James and Ray Allen’s heroic three point shots to force overtime. And if it were any other team but the Spurs who had collapsed, the series would be as good as over.

Only three times has a road team won a Game 7 in the NBA Finals. And that hasn’t happened since 1978 when two teams that don’t even exist anymore, the Washington Bullets and the Seattle SuperSonics, were in the finals. But if any team is capable of pulling off such a feat, it’s the 2013 San Antonio Spurs. Their core of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginóbli have played in Game 7’s before, and they wont be intimidated by a less than riotous Miami fan base.

Popovich knows he is partly to blame for the Game 6 loss, and that reality alone should further his ability to out-coach and outsmart the much younger and less experienced Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. His ego and pride, which showed at the end of the game when he sat both Parker and Duncan on separate occasions as some sort of statement that the team and its system was more important than any one individual player, might have to be put aside in Game 7. Duncan will likely play every last minute, if he can. And Parker, too. Ginóbli will have to play just a tad better than his Game 6 showing where he produced only one less turnover, eight, than total points. His -21 plus/minus rating in a three-point loss was hard to overcome. Adding to that, Spurs neophytes Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green — arguably two of the best reasons the Spurs have gotten this far — finally showed their youth in Game 6. Green was 1-7 shooting and hit just one of his five three-pointers; he produced a plus/minus of -12. Leonard had a great all around game, scoring 22 points and collecting 11 rebounds with three steals. But his missed free throw at the end of the game which would have given the Spurs a four point lead, and would have virtually guaranteed their championship — revealed that being 21 trumps being a career 80% free throw shooter.

If the roles were reversed, and the Heat were put in the situation the Spurs have found themselves in, there would be nearly no one who’d believe in the Heat collecting themselves for a tough Game 7. And in the final minutes of Game 6, that showed. LeBron James seemed defeated and lacking interest when the game appeared to be over. Dwyane Wade sat the majority of the second half of the fourth quarter, handing over the title of second best player on the Heat roster to Chris Bosh. And Bosh, who has averaged only 13.8 points per game against the bigger Tim Duncan after a series in which he averaged only 11 points per game against the even bigger Roy Hibbert, has shown that he isn’t the player capable of elevating his game against some of the league’s bigger and better post players.

But the Heat have LeBron James, the best player on the planet. And at times, he is capable of doing everything for a team on his own. He could easily come out in Game 7, knowing that they were handed Game 6 and given new life, and take home his second NBA title with little help from his teammates.

One thing is certain heading into Game 7 Thursday: the NBA will crown its 2013 champion. But there are a few other near certainties you can expect; Popovich will come out with a veteran approach and do everything right by his team to win Game 7, and LeBron James will be the Miami Heat’s leading scorer, rebounder, distributor and overall leader.

Game 7 basically comes down to one matchup: Gregg Popovich vs. LeBron James.