Philadelphia, PA – The San Antonio Spurs had one hand on the Larry O'Brien Trophy Tuesday night.
The other hand should've been on either a defensive rebound, or in LeBron James' or Ray Allen's face.
Up five with 28.2 seconds left in regulation, the Spurs couldn't corral a defensive rebound. James buried a three, Allen followed suit. The Miami Heat won in overtime.
Now, the Spurs have to beat the Heat, in South Beach for a Game 7, gutted, gassed and grieving.
"We were a few seconds away from winning the championship, and we let it go," said Manu Ginobili. "A couple of rebounds that we didn't catch, a tough three by Ray, a couple of missed free throws, it's very tough. A very tough moment.
He should be. He was a principal character in a horrendous late collapse, marred by strange decisions and a lack of closing out games that is a hallmark of the best NBA franchise in the last 20 years.
Rare is the instance to question Gregg Popovich. He's got four rings and is a mad scientist when it comes to maximizing players.
In Game 6, especially late, the scientist's experiments blew up in his face.
Ginobili missed a free throw to give the Spurs that five-point lead. Popovich replaced Tim Duncan with Boris Diaw. It was during that sequence that the Heat bounced the ball around, and got it back to James for the first 3-pointer.
Kawhi Leonard missed one free throw and Duncan once again sat. A scrum occurred on the Heat's end, and Chris Bosh poked it to Allen for game-tying 3- pointer.
So, why exactly was Duncan, a 14-time All-Defensive player, including this season, and the second-leading active rebounder in the sport, riding pine?
"It's what we've done all year...in a situation where we were going to switch a lot of things," Duncan said afterward. "And just unfortunate the way it happened.
"But there's no questions there."
Then, with a one-point deficit and almost 10 seconds to go in overtime, Parker was on the bench and the play was called for Ginobili. He promptly turned it over (maybe he got fouled, but maybe he took four steps). Allen made two foul shots and presto, we have a Game 7.
Why was Parker, still the game's elite penetrating guard, who made two gigantic buckets with less than a minute to go in regulation, not on the floor?
"I was cramping a little bit at the end of the game," acknowledged Parker. "But I'll go with whatever Pop decides."
If Parker can't go, he can't go. His hamstring can tear at any time. What's questionable is, why call Ginobili's number?
He was amazing in Game 5. He was equally dreadful in Game 6. Ginobili finished with nine points, eight turnovers and a plus-minus of minus-21 on Tuesday.
"I had a very good game last game, and today I just couldn't maintain it," said Ginobili. "I was very insecure -- well, I had a career high in turnovers in a really bad moment. It really helps to make me feel terrible."
Lest we forget that Duncan had 25 first-half points and only five the rest of the way. He scored his last point with 4:31 to go in the third quarter. Where was the urgency to get him the ball?
This was as uncharacteristic a Spurs performance as you could imagine. The group looked deflated in post-game press conferences, which is expected and understandable. They'll cry in their pillows Tuesday night, but will be back ready to go in Game 7.
"We have no choice. We have no choice," said Parker. "We have to bounce back. We have to realize we have another great opportunity."
That they do, but history goes against them a bit.
The last five NBA Finals to go to a Game 7 have all gone to the home team. Granted, the Spurs haven't lost back-to-back games with a full compliment of their roster in a very long time, and they won Game 1 in Miami, but this is a tall task.
How do they prepare?
"Get them on a bus, it arrives at the ramp over here, we get off the bus, we get on the court and we play. That's how we get ready," said Popovich.
But here's reality -- the Spurs blew Game 6 with shotty decisions by that same man. They blew Game 6 with poor free-throw shooting late and poor rebounding.
So when the bus arrives at that ramp, and the Spurs get off the bus, get on the court and play, they have do a better job in Game 7.
That one hand on the Larry O'Brien Trophy is gone, maybe never to be so close again.