Was that one of the most enjoyable N.B.A. Finals you have ever seen? It was for me. And I am sure it was fun for everyone in Cleveland who’s still sore at LeBron James for ditching them for South Beach so many years back.
The series was so fun because it was sort of a sequel to last year’s N.B.A. Finals when LeBron and Co. broke the hearts of the San Antonio Spurs in what seemed to be the Spurs’ series to win. In last year’s Spurs-Heat Finals, San Antonio had a 3-2 lead in the series until a set of unfortunate circumstances seemed to take their championship away in a matter of moments late in Game 6. There’s no need to relive the details of last year’s Finals. All we need to say is the Spurs had a championship in their grasp and let it slip away into the hands of King James. It was painful for me to watch – and I am no Spurs fan.
Fast-forward to this season and we all knew that LeBron and the Heat would be the team to beat again. Despite most of the Spurs players saying they’ve forgotten about the past, you could tell from their drive and intensity that last year’s Finals loss still burned deep inside them. So what did we get in this year’s Finals? A guarantee from the Spurs’ Tim Duncan that they would have no problem taking care of the Heat. What happened? They had no problem taking care of the Heat. Tim Duncan’s prediction was spot-on, and they simply beat the hell out of the Heat in five games. It wasn’t even close.
It was on Sunday, in Game 5, when the Spurs won their fifth N.B.A. Championship in Duncan’s 17 years with the organization. The final score of the game was 104-87, which on paper looks like a blowout. although in reality, the Spurs had to work back from a 22-6 deficit early on in the game. What I liked about the win was that coach Gregg Popovich didn’t lose his cool and change his meticulous game plan. He stuck to it and his team stuck to it.
After the Heat got off to that hot 22-6 start in Game 5, ABC’s coverage included their “Wired” segment with coach Popovich mic’d up.
“Just remember, we have to do this together,” Popovich told his team. “We’re starting to look like we’re moving the ball a little bit more on offense. It’s all that has to be done at that end. The great part is we got all night long to take care of a bad start, but we do it by doing what we normally do.”
While it sounds kind of corny, Popovich’s team-first coaching style is what made this series so fun. In a way, the N.B.A. Finals matchup this year was un-sexy team-style basketball versus exciting, in-your-face basketball put on by LeBron James, who is the world’s best basketball player. Could the Spurs’ somewhat boring pass-the-ball, take-your-time offense beat the explosive James and the Heat? In the end, LeBron could only do so much. The team who played as a team won, the team full of individuals lost. It doesn’t always happen that way.
As CBSSports.com’s James Herbert reported, the Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard was “brilliant” on both offense and defense and was named the Finals Most Valuable Player. In Game 5, he shot 7 of 10 from the field and finished with 22 points and 10 rebounds. The 22-year-old guarded James like a savvy veteran, performing really, really well under the Finals pressure.
Ginobili put up 19 points in Game 5. Backup point guard Patty Mills put up 17 points and went 6-for-10 shooting. And as Herbert pointed out, his 14 third-quarter points were close to the entire Heat’s 18 third-quarter points.
The point here is that the Spurs have depth and a blue-collar work ethic. There is no one star on the team. Sure, they have Tony Parker and patriarch Tim Duncan but they know more than anyone that winning isn’t about them. It’s about taking your time, spreading the ball around and scoring. Eventually, their scoring method becomes unstoppable as LeBron and Co. found out.
LeBron wasn’t that bad on Sunday. We’ve seen LeBron single-handedly bring the Heat back from the dead in the past and I half expected him to do so on Sunday. James had 31 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. He was certainly good but not good enough to make up for the mediocrity of the rest of the Heat. Together, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh scored 24 points on 26 shots. Ray Allen missed seven of eight shots. Simply put, LeBron’s greatness proved to be not enough to beat the entire Spurs team.
So what happens next? Now with the post season complete and the Spurs winning another championship, all eyes are turning to LeBron James to see where he’s going to be playing next. Will he stay in Miami? Perhaps he’ll go west an join a terrible Los Angeles Lakers team? Back to Cleveland? Or what about the Knicks?
If LeBron does stay in Miami, how will the salary cap be handled? Can Miami find space to bring in the talent LeBron needs around him to win another championship. What about Carmelo Anthony? Is he willing to take a pay cut and share the ball more if he makes the move to Miami? Is that even a possibility?
The future of LeBron is the biggest story in the N.B.A. right now and that’s because LeBron has the ability to bring a mediocre team into championship contention. I suspect LeBron will stay in Miami for at least one more year and will see who Pat Riley is able to bring in to support him. If it doesn’t work, he’ll pack his bags and go somewhere else next year.
Meanwhile, the Spurs, who are aging yet have plenty of future potential, are going to continue to fly below the radar and build a basketball team that knows how to play championship team basketball. After witnessing the latest N.B.A. Finals, I think Popovich and the Spurs organization have found the formula to win championships. I expect more of them in their future, even after Duncan retires. Duncan, unlike LeBron, is not the Spurs’ one-man-show, and that’s why they are so good. Could LeBron’s greatest days be in the past? I’d say so.