The San Antonio Spurs once again displayed superior team play to show just how overpowering an offense you can mount against a "Big Three"-centered opponent, en route to another rout of the Miami Heat, 104-87, Sunday night at San Antonio's AT&T Center. The win earned the Spurs the 2014 NBA Finals title, four games to one - their fifth since 1999.
The tandem on top of the Spurs' roster, head coach Gregg Popovich and team leader Tim Duncan, have been there for all of those trophies and for them, it's vindication of their selfless system of play that should finally have them emerging from the large shadow the Heat have cast over them the past four years. Starting point guard Tony Parker and reserve guard Manu Ginobili have themselves earned four rings over that span, and together with Duncan, they have provided the resilient core that has inspired younger players like NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, guard Patty Mills and forward Danny Green - all of whom had outstanding performances during the championship round.
The Spurs squad, very much like their head coach, is understated; they do their talking on the court. Miami head coach Erik Spoelstra put it best when he said following the game, "They played exquisite basketball this series and in particular these last three games and they are the better team. There's no other way to say it."
For the Heat, LeBron James showed up again in a big way - always seemingly playing his best when the team's back's against the wall - scoring a double-double with 31 points and 10 rebounds to go with five assists. He almost outscored the combined remainder of Miami's starters, who could only manage a total of 32 points. But once again, the San Antonio bench outplayed and outscored the Heat reserves, 47-24 - led by Ginobili's 19 and Mills' inspired 17 points off the pine, including five 3-pointers.
Series MVP Leonard scored his own double-double, with 22 points and 10 rebounds, and hit three of four from beyond the 3-point arc. Miami as a team hit only seven threes in 25 attempts (28%). But as much as his offense was key in Game 5, Leonard has perennially been the best defender of James who, as Miami's playmaker, could never really direct a good team scoring rhythm during the series. As had typically been the case during earlier rounds of the playoffs, Miami regularly answered scoring runs by opponents with runs of their own. But against Leonard and teammate Patty Mills, who smothered Miami guard Ray Allen during this game - holding him to only five points - the scoring hurdles were just too high for the Heat. And the exclamation point for the Spurs defense had to have been the massive stuff of James late in the game by Tiago Splitter, as James was charging the rim for a dunk.
It has been suggested that as much as team play has been a major factor in this championship, the cultural diversity of the Spurs has added another forceful dimension to their ultimate success. For example, Tim Duncan is a native of the US Virgin Islands; Manu Ginobili is from Argentina; Patty Mills is an Australian of Aboriginal descent; Tony Parker and Boris Diaw are French; Tiago Splitter is from Brazil, and reserve guard Marco Belinelli is from Italy. The deftness with which head coach "Pop" Poppovich has meshed these disparate athletes into a single unit, while making a point of emphasizing their diversity in the locker room, is an important lesson for all organizations in how to succeed.
In the press conference following the game, teammates James and Dwyane Wade respectfully answered questions about the Spurs, who they praised liberally; however, they were both mum when it came to their own impending free agency. On the other hand, the Spurs will have to be concerned about their veteran core of Duncan, Parker and Ginobili. The former San Diego State star Leonard is likely the heir apparent to Duncan's leadership; but San Antonio, like Miami, will have to start looking at younger talent if they want to keep their place at the top of the NBA.