With his team well within striking distance at halftime, Gregg Popovich made a strategic decision.
San Antonio Spurs point guard Tony Parker was experiencing soreness in his left ankle, so his coach 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 his team ahead by scoring seven consecutive Spurs points in overtime, including a turnaround jumper that gave them a 110-107 lead with 19.4 seconds left. Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant missed a potential tying three-pointer and Boris Diaw made two of four free throws over the final 15 seconds.
"I just wanted to make a play," Duncan said, "and after making a basket I just kind of got some confidence going and went back to it again."
San Antonio also got a big late lift from Kawhi Leonard, who blocked Russell Westbrook's layup with 43 seconds left and finished with 17 points and 11 rebounds.
"He's probably the future of the Spurs," Popovich said, "partially because everyone else is older than dirt."
The Spurs will play host to the Miami Heat in Game 1 of the Finals on Thursday in San Antonio, giving them a chance to avenge last season's devastating defeat. They were 28.2 seconds away from clinching the title in Game 6 before the Heat rallied from a five-point deficit and went on to win Game 7 to capture a second consecutive championship.
Diaw scored 26 points off the bench and Duncan had 19 points and 15 rebounds for the Spurs despite oddly sitting out nearly four minutes midway through the fourth quarter.
Popovich said Parker told him at halftime that the ankle he had sprained in Game 4 and aggravated in Game 5 had flared up, inhibiting his movement.
"I didn't want him to be a hero because if he was 50% or less it was probably bad for the team," Popovich said. "It was a tough decision whether to play him. He wanted to go."
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, but the duo also combined for 14 turnovers.
Oklahoma City still managed to wipe out a 12-point deficit early in the fourth quarter to force overtime, with the final 15 seconds of regulation including 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 Ginobili 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.
Popovich said he could not decode the phenomenon."Nobody has an answer to something like that," he 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 here 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 © 2014, Los Angeles Times