By Flint Wheeler
Now that I have your attention, let’s give some respect to the champs whose surprisingly quiet Championship run places this year’s Spurs among the best teams in NBA history!
Armed with one of the deepest rosters in history and rare team chemistry, the Spurs set a new standard for what professional basketball could and should be.
Championships are so hard to win that any team wouldn’t willingly limit their options. Few know this better than the Spurs, who have won championships with defense, teamwork and a rare collection of stars and role-players all doing whatever it takes in any particular game to ensure victory.
And then came their latest triumph, won by a collection of smart, skilled players whose teamwork elevated the game to an art form. No one said more clearly then Miami star LeBron James after the Spurs completed the most lopsided rout in Finals history on Sunday, crushing the Heat in five games by an average margin of 14 points.
“That’s how team basketball should be played,” he said. “It’s selfless. Guys move, cut, pass. You’ve got a shot, you take it, but it’s all for the team and it’s never about the individual. That’s their brand of basketball, and that’s how team basketball should be played.”
The Spurs completed the regular season as the first team in NBA history without a single player averaging at least 30 minutes. They were the first team to enter the postseason with nine players averaging at least eight points since Boston in the mid-1960s.
And despite the lack of star power, the Spurs had the eighth-highest scoring margin in postseason history at 9.3 points per game. The seven teams ahead of them are all historically revered, including the 1985-86 Celtics (10.3); the 1995-96 Bulls (10.6) and the 1986-87 Lakers (11.4).
Twelve of the Spurs’ last 13 playoff victories over those opponents came by at least 15 points, an NBA record for a single postseason.
Eight players averaged at least 7.3 points in the playoffs, with Kawhi Leonard — their sixth-leading scorer per 100 possessions during the regular season — becoming the youngest player since Magic Johnson to win Finals MVP.
“We’re a true team, and everybody contributes,” Parker said. “Everybody did their job. We did it together, and that was the whole key this season.”
It stood in stark contrast to the Heat, whose star-powered approach collapsed spectacularly in their fourth straight Finals appearance. As their run suggests, it’s still a viable model. But with James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade sucking up nearly the entire salary cap, the Heat had mere crumbs to flesh out the rest of their roster. That didn’t prevent them from winning two straight championships. But it finally caught up to them against the Spurs, who had seven of the top nine players in the series as measured by Player Efficiency Rating.
“They picked us apart,” Chris Bosh said. “They made us question what we were doing. They played faster, they played stronger, they played together, and they played like they wanted it more. They dominated us.”
More impressive than their statistical dominance was the sheer beauty with which these Spurs played; a collective elegance rarely seen on NBA courts.
The Heat — whose coach, Erik Spoelstra, described the Spurs’ performance as “exquisite” — certainly had no chance. Witness their 21-point defeat in Game 3, in which the Spurs had 21 possessions with at least five passes compared to their one. For the series, the Spurs passed the ball nearly 500 more times in five games, a basketball symphony that mesmerized even its participants.
“Sometimes I felt like saying, ‘Wow, this is sweet. It was really fun to play like this. I think we played at a really high level. We shared the ball maybe as never before,’ said Spurs Shooting Guard Manu Ginobli.
He continued by saying, “Seeing how involved and how important everybody that was part of the team felt made it even more special. So, again, I’m really proud of this championship. I’m at a real high right now. I feel so happy and lucky to be on this team.”
“I’ve never been more proud of a team, nor have I ever gotten as much satisfaction from a season in all the years I’ve been coaching,” Coach Popovich said per ESPN.com’s Marc Stein.
We can only hope the rest of the NBA takes note. Not everyone has the veteran experience and the depth of the Spurs. But teams can still aspire to their standard. For James is right — this is indeed the way basketball should be played.