By Julian Linden
MIAMI (Reuters) - The San Antonio Spurs' worst nightmare became a reality when they lost the decisive game of the NBA Finals to the Miami Heat on Thursday.
The agony of their 95-88 defeat in Game Seven of one of the most exciting NBA Finals in years was made all the worse in the knowledge they could just as easily have won the title themselves.
The Spurs were just seconds away from clinching a fifth NBA championship in Tuesday's Game Six when Miami pulled off a miraculous escape.
San Antonio led by five points with 28 seconds left in regulation but went on to lose in overtime. With momentum on their side and homecourt advantage for Game Seven, Miami made the Spurs pay for their lapse by snatching the title.
Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich was gracious in defeat, saying Miami deserved their win.
"It's no fun to lose, but we lost to a better team," Popovich told a news conference. "And you can live with that as long as you've given your best. And I think we have. We just didn't play well."
Popovich, who led the Spurs to four previous championships, conceded that his team had missed their opportunity in Game Six but said he could not be more proud of his players.
"It was a great series, and we felt that. I don't know if 'enjoy' is the right word, but in all honesty, even in defeat, I'm starting to enjoy what our group accomplished already.
"And you need to do that, to put it in perspective."
Tim Duncan played on each of San Antonio's four championship winning teams and had never lost a Finals series before Thursday.
The 37-year-old led his team with 30 points in Game Six and 24 in Game Seven to keep his team in the hunt but he missed a hook shot and follow-up attempt under the basket in the final minute with his team trailing by two.
The Spurs were unable to score again as Miami pulled away.
"The obvious word is 'disappointing.' It was a tough end to the game. I made some bad decisions, missed some shots," said Duncan.
"I don't know what to say. Just give credit to the Miami Heat. LeBron (James) was unbelievable. Dwyane (Wade) was great. I just think they found a way to get it done.
"We stayed in the game. We gave ourselves opportunities to win the game, we just couldn't turn that corner. They made more plays down the stretch, bottom line."
Tony Parker, who managed only 10 points in the decisive game, said the loss was harder to take because of the circumstances.
"It's tough to come so close. Those last two games are tough, especially Game Six," said the Frenchman.
"Obviously, we're really disappointed. We had a great opportunity in Game Six, and tonight we did a great fight, but just couldn't get over the hump. That's life, sports."
San Antonio's Argentinian shooting guard Manu Ginobili said he struggled to raise himself for the series decider after the disappointment of Game Six.
"I still have Game Six in my head," he confessed. "Today we played an okay game, they just made more shots than us.
"Being so close and feeling that you are about to grab that trophy, and then seeing it vanish is very hard.
"I think that if we would have lost both games like this I would have be a little more up but it's a tough feeling."
(Reporting by Julian Linden; Editing by Frank Pingue)