The San Antonio Spurs are the NBA champions for the fifth time in franchise history and they did it in a way that no champion before them ever did.
In beating the Miami Heat 104-87 in Game 5 of the NBA Finals Sunday night, the Spurs became the first team in Finals history to win three straight games by 15 points or more, which is impressive enough.
But in an age of isolation and hero ball, the Spurs did it differently.
During the regular season, eight different Spurs averaged at least 20 minutes per game and a ninth player, Patrick Mills, averaged 19—a surprisingly deep rotation for a championship squad.
By contrast, the Heat in 2013 had six players average 20 minutes a night and in 2012 that number was seven.
But it was at the upper end of the distribution that the nature of the rotation became evident.
The previous low minutes per game leader for an NBA champion was Duncan with the 2007 Spurs, who averaged 34.1 a night.
In the postseason, when the benches supposedly get shorter and the rotations tighter, the Spurs still didn’t have a player average more than 33 minutes a night—Duncan averaged 32.7.
During Miami’s title run in 2013, LeBron James played almost 42 minutes a game, just for comparison’s sake.
The previous low minutes per game total in the playoffs for an NBA champion was 36.2 by Magic Johnson of the 1985 Los Angeles Lakers.
Heck, in the 1962 playoffs, Bill Russell averaged 48 minutes per game for the Boston Celtics. The Celtics played five minutes of overtime in the entire playoffs, to give you an idea of how rare it was for Russell to come off the floor that postseason.
And the Spurs’ philosophy of giving up good shots to get great ones certainly worked.
The Spurs shot 46.6 percent from 3-point range … in the series against Miami. The Heat shot 47.2 percent overall and were outscored by 14 points per game—the largest margin ever in the Finals, breaking the record held by the 1965 Celtics, who clubbed the Lakers by an average of 12.6 points per game in the Finals.
Is it going to change the way teams are assembled? Is it going to change the way the game is played? After all, nothing gets copied quite like success.
But the San Antonio blueprint would be a hard one to follow.
For starters, you’d have to find star players willing to play for well less than market value.
Tim Duncan made a shade more than $10.3 million this season. Tony Parker made $12.5 million, also far less than market value.
The only other eight-figure player on the roster was Tiago Splitter (yes, Tiago Splitter) at $10 million.
Part of that, of course, is the downside of publishing player salaries.
These are hyper-competitive people, by nature, and when most athletes will claim it’s not about the money when they sign these enormous contracts, in their mind they really believe that.
To them it really isn’t about the money in most cases, not directly anyway.
It’s about Player X making whatever he makes and, well, I’m better than Player X, so I should make more than he does. It’s salary as a declaration of relative worth.
Duncan and Parker went against that grain. Maybe their example will make it more common. But I doubt it.