With his team well within striking distance at halftime Saturday night, Coach Gregg Popovich made a strategic decision.
San Antonio Spurs point guard Tony Parker was experiencing soreness in his left ankle, so Popovich opted to keep the team’s leading scorer in the playoffs on the bench for the second half.
Popovich realized no matter how things went during the rest of Game 6 of the Western Conference finals, his team held the ultimate trump card: Game 7 at home.
The Spurs won’t need that cushion after a stunning second-half surge and some late-game heroics from Tim Duncan gave them a 112-107 overtime victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Duncan put the Spurs ahead by scoring seven consecutive points, including a turnaround jumper that gave them a 110-107 lead with 19.4 seconds left. Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant missed a three-pointer and Boris Diaw made two of four free throws in the final 15 seconds.
San Antonio also got a big lift from Kawhi Leonard, who blocked Russell Westbrook’s layup with 43 seconds left.
The Spurs will host the Miami Heat in Game 1 of the Finals on Thursday, giving them a chance to avenge last season’s devastating loss in the championship series. They were 28.2 seconds away from clinching the title in Game 6 before the Heat rallied from a five-point deficit to force a Game 7. Miami then captured a second consecutive championship.
Diaw scored 26 points off the bench and Duncan had 19 for the Spurs despite sitting out nearly four minutes midway through the fourth quarter.
Home was finally where the heartache was after five previous games in which the hosts won with stunning ease. Westbrook had 34 points and Durant 31 for the Thunder, who wiped out a 12-point deficit early in the fourth quarter to force overtime.
The final 15 seconds of regulation included shades of the Spurs’ collapse in Game 6 of the Finals against the Heat last season.
After Durant slipped and lost the ball, Ginobili picked it up and was immediately fouled. But he made only one of two free throws to give San Antonio a 101-99 lead with 15 seconds left.
Westbrook made two free throws to tie the score after getting fouled on a drive to the basket, and Ginobili missed a mid-range jumper at the buzzer.
San Antonio had lost its last nine games on the Thunder’s home court, including its previous five playoff games.
Not even a rocket scientist could explain the trend of the home team winning every game in this series in blowout fashion before Saturday.
Popovich, who divulged before the game that his coursework at the Air Force Academy had included aeronautical and astronomical engineering, said he could not decode the phenomenon.
“Nobody has an answer to something like that,” Popovich said.
San Antonio’s third quarter was also inexplicable.
The Spurs scored 37 points in the quarter without their starting point guard after scoring no more than 29 in any previous quarter in the playoffs. They scored seven points in the final 32.9 seconds, including a four-point play by Danny Green in which he was fouled by Durant.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun