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Spurs set sights on title

6/15/2014

By Al Iannazzone

By Al Iannazzone

McClatchy-Tribune

SAN ANTONIO -- As much as the Spurs have put the dizzying and deflating 29 seconds of last year's gut-wrenching Game 6 of the NBA Finals behind them, it is a driving force that has them on the brink of the title.

What happened in that game, and the emotions the Spurs felt after being unable to capture the championship that appeared right in their hands, will be the inspiration for San Antonio to close out Miami this time.

"We just have to think about last year," Tony Parker said. "We don't need more motivation than that."

After back-to-back blowout wins over the two-time defending champion Heat in Miami, the Spurs lead the series 3-1. Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich can hoist the championship trophy for the fifth time with a win here in Game 5 tonight.

Thirty-one teams in NBA Finals history have tried to erase a 3-1 deficit and win a series and all 31 have failed. LeBron James and the Heat are thinking about making history. The Spurs are thinking about making sure what they let happen last year doesn't happen again.

"It will definitely come up," Duncan said.

The Spurs led that series 3-2, and no matter how you look at it, it was a monumental collapse.

They were up by 13 in Game 6 in Miami and were up four with the ball in the closing seconds. Then the team that executes better than anyone completely unraveled.

Manu Ginobili missed a free throw with 28.2 seconds left with a chance to make it a six-point lead. Kawhi Leonard botched a foul shot with 19.4 to go when he could have made it a four-point game.

Then James missed a three-pointer, Chris Bosh got the offensive rebound and passed it to Ray Allen for the game-tying three after the yellow security ropes were being set up in preparation for the trophy presentation.

The Spurs lost in overtime, then lost Game 7 and have been living with the pain of not being able to slam the door.

"We know the caliber of team they are and we have a lot of respect for what they're able to do," Duncan said. "They're able to throw it into another gear and they're going to do just that."

The Heat will have to dig deep and give James more help than he has received in this series. The Spurs' three wins have been by a total of 55 points; the Heat enjoyed a two-point victory in Game 2, with James scoring 35 points.

Sure, the series may be different if James hadn't cramped up and been able to finish Game 1 after the air conditioning stopped working in San Antonio's AT&T Center. But the way the Spurs dominated these last two games, they have shown they're a deeper, more balanced and better executing team.

Sometimes the best team is better than the best player.

"I do know the numbers," James said. "It's never been done before. But we're still a confident bunch even though our heads are lowered down right now."

Not as low as the Spurs' heads were a year ago, and they seem to be on a mission to not let that happen again.