Sunday, June 15, 2014

Spurs Hammer Heat

The Spurs wrote the latest chapter of their dynasty by beating the Heat in five
There will be no three-peat for the Miami Heat. For the fifth time since 1999 but first since 2007, the San Antonio Spurs are NBA champions.

I said it three years ago when the Mavs brought down the Heat, so I might as well say it again: all is right with the world.

It only took five games for the Spurs to dispatch their star-studded opponents, who appeared thoroughly overmatched in the final three games of this series. The Heat barely put up a fight, losing by 19 and 21 on their home court, then getting blown out of the AT&T Center in a must-win Game 5. They were steamrolled by Greg Poppovich's finely tuned machine, which was firing on all cylinders and outplayed Miami in every aspect. San Antonio had the edge in rebounding, passing, defense, outside shooting, post play, and depth. Top to bottom, the Spurs were the superior team, and it showed.

It was evident during the regular season, when they won 62 games and had the NBA's best record. It was confirmed throughout the postseason, as San Antonio outlasted Dallas in seven games, then Portland in five, and finally OKC in six to earn another trip back to the NBA Finals, where they were defeated by Miami in seven games last year after blowing a five point lead late in Game 6, the basketball equivalent of Mookie Wilson's grounder scooting through Bill Buckner's legs.

It took the Red Sox 18 years to get back to the World Series after Buckner's gaffe. It only took the Spurs one year. Motivated by their soul-crushing defeat, they stormed back for retribution and redemption, hushing any whispers of decline and closing championship windows along the way. San Antonio possessed the drive, desire, and determination necessary to survive a grueling regular season and two-month postseason, asserting their dominance at every turn.

Which is not to say Miami wasn't driven to three-peat, something that hasn't been done since Phil Jackson coached the Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant Lakers to three straight titles from 2000-2002. But the Heat clearly coasted during the regular season, winning eight fewer games than the Spurs and settling for the second seed in the East, biding their time until the postseason rolled around. Sure enough, they kicked it into high gear once the playoffs started, sweeping Charlotte, breaking Brooklyn in five and edging out Indiana in six. The Heat seemed to be hitting their stride at the perfect time and were favored to win their rematch with the Spurs, even though San Antonio had home court advantage*.

Speaking of home court advantage, Miami did not lose a playoff game on their home court this year until the Spurs came to town and blasted them by 40 points in the two games combined. So much for that.

The most shocking outcome of this series was that Miami was outscored by 76 points in the five games (15.2 per game, including their Game 2 win). I can't imagine anyone saw San Antonio's aging Big Three outplaying Miami's Big Three to such a degree. Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker were all at the top of their games. LeBron James, cramps aside, was the best player in this series (as expected), but Dwyane Wade crapped the bed and Chris Bosh was merely good. All too often it felt as though James was taking on the entire Spurs team by himself, and as great as James is he proved with the Cavs that he's incapable of winning a championship without help. Nobody can.

But what really doomed the Heat was the stellar play of Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs' complementary players. The Finals MVP obviously had an exceptional series on both ends of the court, but he had plenty of (somewhat unexpected) help from the likes of Patty Mills, Danny Green, and Boris Diaw. The Spurs gelled, and it was truly magnificent to watch. Nobody seemed afraid of the moment and everyone stepped up when needed.

The Heat, however, received no such heroics from their own role players: Norris Cole, Mario Chalmers, Rashard Lewis, and Chris Andersen were nonfactors for most of the series. Ray Allen hit plenty of shots, but not enough to sway the final outcome. San Antonio's depth was too much for Miami to handle, and so the Heat were done in by their dearth of quality options off the bench. Say what you want about Erik Spoelstra's coaching ability, but he was outgunned and outmanned in these finals.

So when the Spurs executed as flawlessly as they did and played great basketball for long stretches of time, the Heat couldn't compete. Their flaws--poor interior defense, iffy outside shooting, lack of depth--were exposed and, as the lopsided scores of Games 3, 4, and 5 indicated, became painfully obvious. From the start of the season to the end of it, San Antonio was the better team. And, as is so often the case in team sports, the better team won.

No comments:

Post a Comment