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NBA Finals Game 5: Redemption And Coronation

By Jeff Koch on June 16, 2014.

Miami 87, San Antonio 104
Spurs win series 4-1

The demons have all been slain, the last ghost has been exorcised, the journey has drawn to its glorious close, the cycle complete: the Spurs are once again NBA Champions.

After a sluggish start that revealed the Heat’s last gasp, the Spurs woke up and worked their way back into the game. After being down as many as 14 early, they had closed the gap by the middle of the second quarter, going ahead for good on a Leonard pull-up 3 in transition. Every moment after that felt like prologue to the ending buzzer.

But even in a game played mostly as formality, the Spurs showed every bit why they are champions, and why this has been a 4-year journey as much as a 2-year journey as much a single season journey. We forget as fans, but last year’s title run was built mostly on having the best PG and best C in the league, surrounded by hot shooting (and several lucky breaks in the playoffs). We think of this team as an extension of last year’s, but really, it’s a response to it. A growth from it, a desire to come back better, not come back luckier. Parker and Duncan were the tent poles last year, the rising tide that lifted all boats. Both had slightly worse seasons, yet the team was so much stronger. The team got down in a hurry, and Pop had no fear to pull most of his starters. It was Manu, Tiago, and Patty that got the Spurs back into this final game, the same 3 players that killed the team last year, got played right out of the rotation last year, and was never good enough to crack the rotation this year.

For 3 solid quarters, in fact, Mills was the best PG in the game. And those same 3 (Manu, Tiago, and Patty) sparked the back-breaking run in the 3rd quarter that saw a huge Splitter block on Wade and a flurry of 3-pointers from the 2 guards.

It was a total team effort, and this is a team for the ages.

No really, this is a historically great team. Those first (bizarre) 6 games against the Mavs obscure it a bit, but the Spurs just had a record-breaking post season. They shot–as a team–52.8% in the Finals, a record. They outscored Miami by a total of 70 points in the series, an average of 14.0ppg, also a Finals’ record. And their total point differential in the Playoffs was +214, also a post-season record. Starting from Game 7 against Dallas, they only had to win one relatively close game (the Game 6 clincher against OKC) and posted a 13-4 record, a 76% winning percentage. They just absolutely obliterated this post-season, all with a leading scorer (Tony Parker) averaging just over 17ppg (a modern post-season low) and no player averaging more than 33 minutes (Duncan leads the way at 32.7).

Coupled with all of this offensive brilliance was a return to the defense that has defined this team for 2 decades. It’s hard to put up the defensive numbers to match the turn of the century teams: pace is too fast, rules have changed to assist offenses, and players have just gotten so much better. But you can still see it, still feel it in your gut when it’s happening. And the Spurs had several of those ‘in your gut’ defensive performances this post-season, culminating with their two best in the last 2 games of the year. The Heat blitzed the Spurs for 29 points in the first quarter. But once San Antonio got the game back under control, it was over for the Miami offense. Over the next 24 minutes, the Heat scored a total of 29 points–11 in the second and 18 in the third–before “exploding” for 29 again in the 4th, most of which was meaningless garbage time highlighted by Michael Beasley. Over those same 2 middle quarters, the Spurs scored 55 points.

That’s your series in a nutshell. The Spurs were better on offense, better on defense, deeper, quicker, smarter, hungrier, and just played harder and better. The Heat are known for their trapping and switching defense, but the Spurs are too smart and too good not to figure it out given enough time. The Heat rely on the transcendent talents of one all-time player and 2 great players to run their offense, but the Spurs are too smart not to force the Heat to make different choices and into uncomfortable positions. The Heat have never had a Plan B, because Plan A was always great. The Spurs have no plan, just a system. The system completely obliterated all of the Heat’s best-laid plans.

So we arrive at redemption. This ring completely makes up for last year. Last year is done for me. Over. Fin. Ray Allen’s 3 will no longer haunt me; Duncan’s two misses at the rim (and consequent slapping of the court in anguish) are erased. They now become part of the process, of a road only made longer. I truly believe that the Spurs don’t win this year had they been victorious this year. The near-miss, the desire to get back, the hunger and the haunting, the push to be even better all come about because of last season’s disappointment. Duncan said so after the game: this makes last year OK. Parker echoed the same thought: I wouldn’t change a thing that happened, the journey. We were only getting one of these two. This one is made doubly as sweet for how hard it was, and how much richer the journey was. We got two full seasons out of one ring.

There are so many enduring moments from the post-game last night. Kawhi’s primal scream, perhaps his first show of emotion ever. The embraces with Spurs past. Every player draped in his home country’s flag. Duncan, on Father’s Day, holding his two kids, in tears. And Pop’s moment, sitting all alone at the end of the bench, as the clock winds down, the fans on their feet in ecstasy, in quiet reflection, taking it all in, then dropping his head into his hands, overcome by the emotion of it all, the entirely of the moment. As Spurs fans, we’re blessed to root for family, having this team in our lives for so long. It’s these moments of tenderness, of humanness, that make us love them even more.

And then, coronation. The Spurs are champions again. 7 years after their last title and 4 years removed from the first mounds of dirt being shoveled on their grave, they arrive at the mountaintop one more time. Duncan and Pop have 5 each, legacies secure. Parker and Ginobili have 4 each, mind-boggling if it didn’t feel so right to all of us. The franchise is the standard bearer for excellence across two decades, a roster and organization filled with talented and humble and smart and passionate and good people. The Spurs once again have the crown that marks them as the NBA royalty they’ve always been.

And in all of this redemption and coronation and legacy building, we find Kawhi Leonard. Personal redemption from last year’s Finals (that missed FT); coronation on the sport’s biggest stage, being pegged as the best player in the series on a floor filled with All-Timers; and the beginning of his own legacy. Pop and Duncan were my entree into the Spurs back in the late 90s, and I was blessed to stumble across one of the great teams of all-time and get to root for essentially the same people for going on 2 decades. For years I’ve wondered what would become of my fandom when these people I truly loved were gone. But with Kawhi we’re seeing the next generation of Spur blossoming, and he has the chance to extend the legacy and the dynasty not only on the court, but in our hearts.

For a night, all the pain had disappeared. For a night, we were kings, yet again. For a night, the past and the future met in the present, holding trophies and intertwining legacies, looking far back at glories past, scanning far forward imagining triumphs to come. For a night, the Spurs were the best basketball team in the world. And we get to root for them.

I love this team.

Go Spurs Go.

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