Monday, June 16, 2014

San Antonio Spurs: 2013-14 NBA Champions

Summing it up
The Spurs started Game 5 of the Finals poorly at the AT&T Center, giving coach Gregg Popovich an unsettling flashback to one of the worst moments in franchise history. Much like their collapse in the 2012 Western Conference Finals, they were sluggish and stagnant, a far cry from consecutive beatdowns at Miami in which they elevated the game to artistic levels.
“I told my team we looked exactly like we did two years ago when we won the first two against OKC and then they won four in a row because we stopped moving the ball,” he said. “The ball didn’t move, it didn’t change sides. And that’s what the game looked like in the first six or seven minutes of the game.”
The Spurs trailed the Heat by 16 at that point, and visions of a return flight to Miami and squandered control were looming. But unlike last year, when fate conspired to steal the championship from their grasp, they simply would not be denied, crushing the Heat by 37 over the next two quarters and cruising to a 104-87 victory that capped their fifth championship and the most lopsided Finals triumph in NBA history.
The Spurs did lose a game in the series, winning 4-1. But their 14-point average margin of victory over those five games was a championship series record, as was their 52.8 team shooting percentage. That it came at the expense of the Heat, whose 4-3 victory in last year’s series continued to torment the Spurs well into this season, made it all the better. It said something about the depth of that heartbreak, and the achievement of getting back and earning redemption, that Tim Duncan said it was the most satisfying of his five championships dating back to 1999.
“It is sweeter than any other,” said Duncan, who became the first player to start for three different championship teams in three decades. “Whether it be because of the time frame, because I’m coming towards the end of my career, because I can have these two (his children) here and really remember it and enjoy the experience, all of those things make it that much more special.”
Having been beaten like no other team in the Finals, the Heat could only lavish praise on the team they devastated last year to win their second straight championship.
“We got smashed,” Chris Bosh said. “They exposed us. They picked us apart. They played the best basketball I’ve ever seen.”
Said LeBron James, “That’s how team basketball should be played. It’s selfless. Guys move, cut, pass. You get 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.”
Even Manu Ginobili, so single-minded in his pursuit of another title that he said he couldn’t sit still to even read during the Finals, admitted getting caught up in the artistry of the Spurs’ play.
“There were some possessions on the court and seeing what was going on, some others on the bench, I was so proud,” he said. “Sometimes I felt like saying, ‘Wow, this is sweet.’ It was really fun to play like this.”
And, of course, to win and atone for last year’s defeat.
“To be so close last year, it was very cruel,” Tony Parker said. “But that’s the beauty of sport. Sometimes it’s tough. And sometimes it can be beautiful like today, because it shows a lot of character of the team to take a loss and to come back the following year and win the whole thing.
“It just makes the journey even more worth it. It was worth all the pain. It’s so sweet to win a championship the way we did. I would change nothing. It makes it even better, the fact that we had to go through that, to go through a tough loss, and to be able to come back.
“It just makes the journey even more worth it.”
Player of the game
Popovich wasted little time inserting bench captain Ginobili — less than three minutes, in fact. Yet the Spurs’ poor start got even worse, spiraling to a 22-6 deficit with five minutes left in the first quarter. That’s when Ginobili went to work, scoring six of his 19 points during a 12-0 surge that started the Spurs’ turnaround. Ginobili got into it with Miami counterpart Shane Battier to draw an offensive foul, then exchanged elbows with Chris Andersen on the ensuing timeout.
Rather than shrink, Ginobili lives for such confrontations. He later lifted off for a poster dunk in Bosh’s face as the Spurs padded their lead late in the first half, well on their way to victory. Ginobili averaged 14.4 points and shot 50 percent in the series, a huge performance after committing a total of 12 turnovers over the last two games of last year’s Finals.
“I’m not skilled enough to explain properly how we feel,” he said. “It was a tough summer. We all felt guilty. We all felt that we let teammates down. But we work hard. We got (back) to this spot, and we didn’t let go.”
The turning point
The game was barely seven minutes old, with anticipation of a championship celebration still thick in the air, when the Spurs found themselves on the wrong side of a 22-6 broadside. They responded in kind, destroying Miami’s lead and whatever was left of its collective psyche with an extended 59-22 surge spanning nearly two full quarters. The Spurs led by 21 at that point, and never fewer than 14 the rest of the way as they earned their fourth victory of at least 15 points in the series, and 12th in the entire postseason to extend their NBA record.

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