John Clay: Contrasts, story lines make Spurs-Heat Game 7 a must-watch

San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker (9) and Miami Heat forward LeBron James (6) collide during the second half of Game 6 of their NBA Finals basketball series, Tuesday, June 18, 2013 in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker (9) and Miami Heat forward LeBron James (6) collide during the second half of Game 6 of their NBA Finals basketball series, Tuesday, June 18, 2013 in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky) ASSOCIATED PRESS

I'm not a huge NBA fan, but let's be real here.

How could you not love this?

Thursday night is Game 7. The NBA's ultimate one-and-done. It's all on the line.

When the San Antonio Spurs attempt to shake off their brutal overtime loss in Tuesday's epic game and face the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals on Thursday, it will mark just the fourth time in the past 20 years the league has needed a seventh game to decide its champion.

Houston beat New York in seven in 1994. San Antonio beat Detroit in seven in 2005. The Los Angeles Lakers beat Boston in seven in 2010. That's it.

Even the rarity of the event might not mean much if the previous six games had not been so compelling, the story lines so deep, and the contrasts so rich.

I begin every NBA season with the goal of being more involved. I vow to watch more games. I promise to keep a closer tab on league events. Then life gets in the way. There's the end of college football. There's the start of college basketball — lots and lots of college basketball.

By May, however, most of that has peeled away, leaving the NBA playoffs, which has an annual habit of drawing me back into David Stern's web.

Whether it's Kevin Durant or Kobe Bryant — for which I have a grudging but growing respect — or Dirk Nowitzki or Kevin Garnett or (fill-in-the-blank) there is plenty of talent and teamwork and good basketball to behold.

Until Tuesday night's white-knuckler, these Finals may not have been memorable for close games, but they have been memorable for their contrasts.

San Antonio is an old-style team put together with draft choices and Europeans. The Spurs are old-guard warriors, owners of four titles.

Miami is the "Big Three" team spearheaded by LeBron James' "The Decision" and its promise of multiple titles.

That bleeds through to the way each team plays. San Antonio has the "Big Fundamental" in Tim Duncan, an artful dodger in Tony Parker and tremendous role players. Miami has the game's best player in James, the ailing superstar that is Dwyane Wade and third wheel Chris Bosh. It's teamwork vs. stars.

What's been interesting to me is the chess match. Don't let anyone tell you there is no coaching in the NBA.

Miami's Erik Spoelstra, deserving of more credit than he receives, has juggled Chris "Birdman" Andersen in and out of the lineup and has gone to starting the once-forgotten Mike Miller for his three-point shooting.

Grumpy Gregg Popovich turned Game 5 in San Antonio's favor when he started the struggling Manu Ginobili, who ended up being the star.

Game 6 was a different story. Ginobili was a turnover machine. Danny Green couldn't make threes. Popovich caught heat from second-guessers for benching Duncan on two late possessions — Miami grabbed offensive rebounds on both — and for not calling a timeout late to get Parker back in the game.

Not that those of us on Time-Warner Cable saw all of the dramatic Tuesday/Wednesday finish, mind you. At 12:07 a.m., WTVQ's screen went blank and the station ran a previously scheduled test of the emergency alert system. A similar thing happened to Time-Warner subscribers in Louisville, though the picture remained on the screen.

Anyway, afterward, Pop was Pop.

"I get 'em on the bus," the coach said when asked how he would get the Spurs ready for Thursday. "It arrives at the ramp over here. We get off the bus. We go on the court and we play. That's how we get ready."

As someone rooting for the Spurs, I reach back to the Reds for hope. In 1975, the Big Red Machine lost to the Boston Red Sox in an epic Game 6 of the World Series on Carlton Fisk's iconic home run.

The next night, Cincinnati got off the bus at Fenway Park and beat Boston to win the seventh game of that World Series.

Who wouldn't look forward to Game 7?

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