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Spurs Win Fifth Title, Cementing Dynasty Across Decades

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BullNBear52 Member Level  Monday, 06/16/14 04:47:36 PM
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Spurs Win Fifth Title, Cementing Dynasty Across Decades

SAN ANTONIO — The arena rumbled. It was only the first half on Sunday night, but there was already a growing sense of inevitability with each passing possession. Having withstood the best that LeBron James could offer, the Spurs were closing in on another championship.

Tim Duncan backed down an opponent before throwing in a baby hook. Manu Ginobili raced end to end for an emphatic dunk that nearly blew the top off AT&T Center. And James, the Miami Heat’s resident superstar and the best player on the planet, was rendered powerless by the Spurs’ slow march to history.

With their 104-87 win in Game 5 of the N.B.A. finals, the Spurs celebrated their fifth championship in 16 seasons as black-and-silver confetti fell from the rafters. San Antonio turned the series into a coronation by winning four of five games, including the last three, with the bonus of snuffing Miami’s well-publicized quest for a third straight title in the process.

“We’re a true team,” Tony Parker said.

Kawhi Leonard, who was named the finals’ most valuable player, finished with 22 points and 10 rebounds. Ginobili added 19 points, and Duncan, in his 17th season with the team, had 14 points and 8 rebounds.

The victory was even sweeter for the Spurs given their not-so-distant history with the Heat. In last year’s finals, the Spurs had a 3-2 series lead before it all slipped away: They blew a late lead in Game 6, then lost in Game 7. Many questioned whether the Spurs — who were not getting any younger — could muster another run.

“Last year’s loss was devastating,” Coach Gregg Popovich said. “I’ve said many times, a day didn’t go by where I didn’t think about Game 6.”

The Spurs responded by posting the league’s best record before storming through the playoffs. Their rematch with the Heat was fine art with a basketball: the passing, the footwork, the skill, the teamwork. If the Heat were a high-wire act without a net (James was the unfortunate performer on the trapeze), the Spurs were ballet dancers.

“They played exquisite basketball this series,” Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra said. “They are the better team. There’s no other way to say it. They played great basketball, and we couldn’t respond to it.”

James had a game-high 31 points. Dwyane Wade, hampered by bad knees and an injured hamstring in the regular season, struggled for the second straight game, finishing with 11 points.

“Nothing,” Wade said when he was asked if he was suffering from any physical limitations. “Just struggled a little bit.”

The loss was a dose of reality for James, who faces an uncertain off-season. James, Wade and Chris Bosh — Miami’s Big 3 — can all opt out of their contracts and become free agents. They have won two titles together and were hoping for a third, but the Spurs exposed some weaknesses.

They were on display in the third quarter, as the Heat missed their first seven shots. They looked sluggish on defense, too. The Spurs’ Patty Mills (17 points) blew past Miami’s baseline defenders for a reverse layup, then made two 3-pointers. Ginobili followed with a 3-pointer of his own for a 21-point lead, and the party was on.

That the Heat had seized a 16-point lead in the first quarter made the Spurs’ victory more impressive. San Antonio outscored Miami by 33 points the rest of the way.

“This is the sweetest one,” said Parker, who had 16 points in the win.

But while the championship was certainly about Duncan, Ginobili and Parker — their fourth title together in 12 seasons as teammates — it also underscored the coaching acumen of Popovich, the importance of the Spurs’ scouting department and how seamlessly the team incorporates new parts.

Consider Leonard, 22, a swingman who was acquired in a draft-day trade from the Indiana Pacers in 2011. Popovich has already anointed him the future face of the franchise, and in the last three games of the finals — all convincing wins for the Spurs — the future seemed to be now.

“It just feels like a dream to me,” Leonard said.

Consider also Boris Diaw, a formidable post presence whose old-school game should require him to wear sweatpants. He joined the Spurs last season as a reliable reserve and did his job without complaint before emerging as a dynamic starter in these finals.

“We’ve given him more of a prominent role, and he’s responded well at both ends of the floor,” Popovich said before the game.

It was pure Popovich: pragmatic to the point of near detachment. The Spurs have a system in a place. The system means making sacrifices. The system means winning games. The system means collecting championships.

It was a trying series for James. In Game 1, he cramped up when the air-conditioning system went out at AT&T Center. In Game 2, he turned one of his ankles. Back in Miami, the Heat lost Games 3 and 4 by a combined 40 points. For the series, he averaged 28.2 points while shooting 57.1 percent from the field.

“Obviously,” James said, “I didn’t do enough.”

Before the game, James said he wanted to be more aggressive, and it was an understatement. He was everywhere in the first quarter. He dunked in transition. He blocked layup attempts. He rebounded and defended and captivated the crowd. Nothing was going to come easily for San Antonio, James wanted to make sure of that.

When Wade missed on a runner early in the first quarter, James was there for a putback dunk that gave the Heat an 8-0 lead. The Spurs, so solid with their shooting throughout their series, missed their first five field-goal attempts. Later, after Ginobili barely grazed the front of the rim on a long jumper, James capitalized with a 3-pointer.

Spoelstra had made some changes of his own, starting Ray Allen in place of the struggling Mario Chalmers. Allen made a 3-pointer that extended Miami’s lead to 22-6.

The Heat finished the first quarter with a 29-22 lead, and it was due almost solely to James, who went 5 of 7 from the field, sank all five of his free throws, scored 17 points and grabbed 6 rebounds. His teammates scored 12 points on 4-of-12 shooting.

The game turned in the second quarter, though. James cooled, and the Spurs took advantage. Leonard drilled a 3-pointer to give the Spurs their first lead, 37-35.

Ginobili, too, found his form, following Leonard’s 3-pointer with an up-and-under layup. James punctuated that sequence by slamming the ball against the court, a sign of things to come. The Spurs had a 47-40 lead at halftime, and it continued to grow.

It was too much, even then, for the Heat to overcome. The Spurs were not letting this one slip away, not again.


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