Spurs recover, learn how to finish
The bittersweet moment has hit us, and I have to admit …. it’s more than gratifying.
It’s been said over and over since last June, but Duncan should realistically have six. You tell me the odds of a team being up five points with 28 seconds left — and losing. Things happen, and that’s what we love about sports. It’s unfortunate, but this one could have tied the legacy of Michael Jordan, and Timmy could have found himself 6-for-6 on the grandest stage.
In the early stages on Sunday, everyone would’ve uttered this series is going back to Miami.
22-6 to start the game was on LeBron James‘ agenda, and he was the sole reason. The problem with the Heat since last Sunday — Game 2 — has been their inability to start off with a spark, and give themselves a chance early on. That issue was fixed in Game 5, with Miami jumping on the Spurs with a seven-point advantage after the first quarter.
If there’s one thing you should have learned after this series, and even the Conference Finals, it’s that basketball is a game of runs. Sure, Game of Thrones was the series most people were turning to last night when this became a blowout, but there’s no better feeling than watching surgical execution. That’s what San Antonio brought in four games this series, only allowing LeBron to single-handily win Game 2.
Of all the ruckus in this series, which moments screamed the loudest?
Wade’s knees may be physically able to go four more years, but he has zero lift in them.
He can’t operate any of his signature moves, hasn’t been able to successfully euro-step in the fastbreak this season, and hasn’t delivered any statements in these Finals. He’s turned into strictly a mid-range jump shooter, and there’s nothing wrong with that. He can be hellacious with that as the primary option. But he’ll never be D-Wade from 2012 again, and LeBron knows that more than anyone.
Free agency decision are coming, but the swirl can’t take away from the celebration — and appreciation — of these San Antonio Spurs.
The Lakers, Celtics, and Bulls may be the first-class organizations in terms of championship gold, but San Antonio earned their spot on that Mt. Rushmore. In reality, they did that a while back. 15 straight seasons with at least 50 wins, and a fifth title since 1999.
What was rather intriguing about this journey for the Spurs was the action behind the scenes.
After a disheartening loss, typically coaches will hit the reset button, and force his players to do the same. Each year is different, and you don’t want any distractions from the previous. That doesn’t hold true for Gregg Popovich.
During the first day of practice this season, Popovich had his players break down the film of Game 6′s loss at Miami. Disgusted, distraught, and ready to move on, the players had to sit through it. The mistakes had to be limited if they were to redeem themselves. Crazy enough, Popovich didn’t leave it there.
He constantly reminded his team of it throughout the year. Not every day, as Tim Duncan would likely strangle him by December. But, it was enough to where the message was received, and they did a better job of closing out games.
Think about it: Each game during this year’s Western Conference Finals was a blowout, except the five-point win in Game 6. When they put their foot all the way down on the pedal, it would turn out to be a glorious finish for these Spurs. Same case with the NBA Finals, where all four of San Antonio’s wins were 15+ point winning margins.
Winning on the road was a point of emphasis for this season, and the regular season was their study guide. With Popovich teaching and coaching them to 30 road wins (five more than any other team in the league), they prepared. The Spurs were tested before the playoffs even arrived.
Throughout the first three rounds of the postseason, it looked as if their road success was being questioned. Before the Finals, San Antonio was 3-5 away from home, with the five losses coming with an average losing margin of 7.2 points. They obviously switched the gears once June struck, clobbering Miami on the road to really take this series by the neck.
San Antonio, with speedbumps, stormed through these Playoffs with one of the more impressive paths we’ve seen. Although they lost seven games along the way, the point differential of +9.3 was astounding.
Remember, the 2001 Lakers (led by Shaq and Kobe) feasted on teams in the playoffs and only lost one game in the playoffs. It only took 15 wins to claim the title back in the day, but that’s still the most dominant postseason put together by a team.
However, if you lined up Michael Jordan’s 1996 Bulls, that 2001 Lakers bunch, and the 2014 Spurs, you wouldn’t be disappointed to choose one.
Legacy …. the one thing we love and hate to discuss
With the Spurs, the ball moves on a string and doesn’t stick to a superstar’s hands. That’s why I would take San Antonio over any team — including Magic Johnson‘s showtime Lakers — in NBA history. Duncan certainly isn’t any Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with a sky-hook, but he’s just as aggressive and finesse on the block, and he’s even better at protecting the rim.
Even if Duncan does hang it up this offseason, it’s been a hell of a career.
In all honesty, it’s probably the best career in history from a perspective of winning. Kareem has an argument for that, but you look at Duncan’s production with one organization, one coach, and the fact that he’s still rim-protecting against the league’s best athlete (LeBron) and it’s a little clearer.
Where does Duncan go down in terms of players from his generation?
It’s too tough to give a definitive answer. Kobe Bryant completed the task of five championships four long years ago, but hasn’t had a deep playoff push since. In terms of sheer skill and what one can do on the court, Bryant is still the greatest player of that generation. Duncan was drafted the year after Bryant, and won a title shortly after falling into the Spurs’ arms at No. 1.
Nobody will view Duncan as a guy that belongs in the discussion with Jordan, simply because he’s a frontcourt talent. Those aren’t appreciated as much as the more explosive players this league has seen, and it’s why the comparisons to Jordan are always with Kobe and LeBron. It’s a shame, but it’s not changing. Wing players are more flashy, have a better shooting touch, and are more likely to go on 50-point barrages.
Perimeter players draw fans into the game, and supply the entertainment. Post players of Duncan’s caliber just supply team basketball and generate a ton of wins.
Last summer, I broke down the Top 10 players in my capsule of NBA history. People surely have their share of agreements and disagreements, but a correction needs to be made.
Duncan has solidified himself as one of the seven best players to pick up a basketball, and you can only hope he goes out on top. I’ll have Duncan replace Bill Russell at No. 7, despite having six less championships. By the way, why is it just amazing every time you say Russell has 11 rings? It’s too many, but I digress.
Duncan’s offensive skill, to me, is head and shoulders above Russell, but the defensive comparisons are just another story. Russell averaged a ludicrous 22.5 rebounds per game throughout his career. This was also the stone age, when they didn’t record blocks.
The level of competition, especially what Duncan has to deal with today in the Western Conference (the devilish path) differs when you discuss Duncan and Russell.
From 1956-69, Russell was a beneficiary of a league without freakish athletes of LeBron’s caliber, sharpshooters such as Ray Allen and Reggie Miller, or physical boulders like Shaquille O’Neal. It was without a doubt physical, but Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, and Oscar Robertson created such a gap between any other star playing in the era.
These boring, old, nonathletic, and incapable Spurs just thrashed America’s favorite basketball team, and the league’s most important star. If you want to look at it that way, this was the best thing that could happen for the league.
Sure, we all love dynasties. I think about Dallas ending the most recent try for a Lakers 3-peat, and I get sick every time. I’m sure Pat Riley will do the same, but he has nothing to be ashamed of. If the group stays together, their competition in the East enforces the idea that they’ll make it five straight Finals appearances.
The NBA needed a champion that isn’t predicated on one star, or a group of them. Look at all the young, rising fans that are using the league as a starting point for their basketball careers. You see it all the time. Kids emulate LeBron, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and all the exciting guys they watch during the season. Maybe some will start to acknowledge the Spurs as the pinnacle of selfless basketball, and perhaps catch a glimpse at how the whole roster is a brotherhood.
Since people are always going to love the explosiveness and excitement more …. the Spurs also have that on the upsurge.
He was just named Finals MVP, and is biggest reason San Antonio finds themselves back here next year.