The San Antonio Spurs, who just a year ago suffered one of the most demoralizing and deflating losses in NBA Finals history, are back on top after soundly defeating the Miami Heat in Game 5, 104-87. The win gives Gregg Popovich, Tim Duncan, and the rest of the Spurs franchise their fifth title since 1999, and secures San Antonio’s place as one of the great dynasties in NBA history.
The game tonight looked like it was going to be all about LeBron James, who—in a performance reminiscent of his 45-15-5 in Game 6 of the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals against the Celtics—stormed out to 17 points in the first quarter and helped his team jump on top of the Spurs 22-6 just seven minutes into the game.
As it turned out, that would be the high point of the game for Miami.
As they have been doing all series, the Spurs remained calm and simply trusted their system. And wouldn’t you know it? They fought their way back into the game and with 4:47 remaining in the second quarter took the lead on a three-pointer from Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard. San Antonio’s comeback was triggered largely by Manu Ginobili, who buried the memory of last year’s abysmal Finals once and for all by scoring 14 points during the rally, best symbolized by this emphatic slam right in Chris Bosh’s face:
The third quarter began with some uncharacteristically sloppy play, with nobody scoring until Ginobili made a pair of free throws with 8:52 to go. From there, it was all San Antonio as the Heat simply had no answer for the Spurs’ offensive barrage. Over a four minute stretch in the middle third of the quarter, the Spurs went on a 16-4 run that opened up their lead from seven to 19, effectively sealing the game. In a surreal role reversal from a monster block last year, San Antonio’s Thiago Splitter absolutely stuffed Dwyane Wade as the Heat guard attempted to finish at the rim:
The rest of the third quarter and all of the fourth was merely a formality, with Erik Spoelstra waving the white flag with 6:30 to go as he removed James from the game for good and conceded defeat to the vastly superior Spurs. LeBron certainly had nothing to hang his head about; he finished the night with 31 points on 10-for-21 shooting, also grabbing 10 rebounds and handing out five assists. He was excellent all Finals, scoring 141 of his team’s 458 total points for a staggeringly unbalanced total of 31 percent (compared with just 25 percent during the regular season).
James’ supporting cast simply failed him. Both Wade (4-for-12, 11 points) and Bosh (6-for-14, 13 points) struggled with their consistency yet again in Game 5, and their inability to provide a true second scoring option played a huge role in sinking the Heat.
The other glaring difference between last year and this year was the defense. The Heat often looked a step slow, and it showed on the stat sheet. San Antonio averaged 105.6 points per game during the series, compared with 97.7 last year. While some of the credit must go to the Spurs, it’s also apparent that Wade and Ray Allen are both liabilities when attempting to guard pretty much anybody, and Miami’s lack of a strong interior defender caused them huge problems in the paint against the likes of Duncan, Splitter, and even Boris Diaw.
And, speaking of the Spurs, James himself said it best in his postgame press conference: “That’s how team basketball should be played.” San Antonio won a title thanks to a truly unselfish style that saw them get key contributions from pretty much everybody on their team. Leonard emerged as a star in winning the MVP, averaging 17.8 points and 6.4 rebounds per game during the Finals, shooting an extraordinary 61 percent from the field.
It was a truly magical season for the Spurs, and one that will help Duncan and Popovich, especially, mentally recover from their loss last year. The future of the aging Spurs roster is a question every offseason, but it seems highly likely they’ll be back next year to defend their title. After such a marvelous display of basketball, we’re certainly hoping that they are.
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