In the immortal words of Keith Sweat ‘Who can beat the San Antonio Spurs? Nobody! Who could save LeBron last night? Nobody! Who can help D.Wade’s gimpy knees? Nooobody baaaby!” The dust has cleared and the San Antonio Spurs sit atop the mountain as the 2014 NBA champions, making it the fifth title for Coach Gregg Popovich and the Spurs franchise. That tally may not seem like a whole lot, but winning an NBA championship is a herculean task for everyone would have accomplished it. Only the Los Angeles Lakers and the Chicago Bulls have won more rings than San Antonio since 1976. The Boston Celtics have matched the Spurs in titles since that date.
How did it come to this? Were the stars aligned? Was it a full moon or just father time telling a considerably older Miami Heat team that they no longer were the biggest, baddest guys in professional basketball? Perhaps a little bit of both. As Game 5 commenced in San Antonio, LeBron James came out the gate like a man possessed. He wss dunking on folks’ heads, hitting pull up for threes, bowling over helpless defenders on the way to the basket, and The Shadow League was just sitting there like ‘Awww, snap. King James has arrived’. He would score at will in the 1st quarter and his team carried a seven point lead into the 2nd quarter with James leading the way with 17 points and 6 rebounds. That’s around the time everything went awry. The Spurs went on to take the 2nd quarter by a score of 25-11 and went into to halftime with a seven point lead.
Miami Heat fans likely weren’t sweating a measly single digit lead, right? Not when they have the best player in the planet on their team. Also, D. Wade hadn’t gotten off yet and Chris Bosh was a no-show early too. These players are making upwards of $19 million a season and are NBA champions themselves. There was no way they would take this laying down right? Well, they weren’t actually lying on the floor but they might as well have been sprawled out like a rug the way they allowed the San Antonio Spurs to walk all over them.
As was the case in three of the previous four games, the Spurs kept the Heat off balance with a blend of precision passes and three point shooting as they shot a blistering .462 from downtown. Kawhi Leonard would continue his streak of inspired play as he scored 22 points and grabbed 10 rebounds on his way to winning the NBA Finals MVP. Last season Manu Ginobili was absolutely horrible in the NBA Finals, even the biggest Manu fans can admit that. But this year he seemed determined to make up for that and the 19 points he scored in Game 5, as well as the posterizing dunk on Chris Bosh, was indicative of a player reborn on the biggest stage of professional basketball.
Guard Tony Parker, arguably the best Spurs player during the regular season, was stymied for much of the game, but his offensive struggles never seemed to matter. At the beginning of the 4th quarter the Spurs were up by 19 and TP was shooting 1-10 from the field. He would heat up considerably, leading the Spurs in scoring with 14 points in that stint and finish the game with 16 points. And where would musings of a fifth San Antonio Spurs title be without Tim Duncan? The ageless wonder is 38-years-old and the heart and soul of the Spurs. He finished the game with 14 points, 8 rebounds and 2 blocks and looked better in this post season than he has in five years.
What of the vaunted Heat? Well, LeBron James did show up for most of the series, with his cramp in Game 1 being the only exception. But despite what everyone was saying, playing through a leg cramp is literally impossible as every stride will be accompanied with pain. Afterward the Game 1 cramping, LeBron would drop 35, 22, 28 and 31 respectively. All this talk about LeBron James not being up to the task needs to be stymied, but Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh clearly didn’t answer the bell. Not sure whether Wade’s knee was inflamed or what, but if he’s out there stinking up the arena with a bum wheel then he needs to be held accountable for his ineptitude. Chris Bosh was a no show as well, and he has no injury history to speak of; however, his intestinal fortitude has been the subject of much speculation in the past. Zero points in Game 7, 10 points in Game 6, 16 points in Game 5 of the 2013 NBA Finals would have all been forgiven had he shown up in the 2014 Finals. Unfortunately, he did not show up when it truly mattered. Perhaps it was Coach Erik Spoelstra’s offense game plan that relegated him to being a jump shooter or maybe it was mental, but Bosh is not a closer. On paper, his Finals average of 16.4 points per game isn’t that bad. But he averaged 11 points in the last three games and rarely seemed to score when his team absolutely needed him to.
All-in-all, these NBA Finals might have been the first five-game sweep in league history as the Spurs bested the Miami Heat in every category. Bench scoring was lopsided in favor of San Antonio and Miami’s lack of a productive point guard placed an added burden on LeBron and an aging D. Wade to create their own offense and facilitate simultaneously. However, at the end of the day, the Spurs were just the better team. Point blank, period. Historically, the NBA is big on dynasties. The Lakers have had several dynasties as well as the Boston Celtics and MJ's Chicago Bulls. But this phenomenon is not just a basketball thing. While some would say the definition of a professional sports dynasty is measured by the number of championships won over a certain period of time, others would argue that a true franchise dynasty is measured over the entire span of that team’s existence. For the Spurs, five titles in 15 years ranks them as an all-time franchise even though none of their titles have ever come back-to-back. They should now be mentioned in the same breath as the Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Yankees, winning organizations that have multiple championships, great players, tradition and storied histories. They are an example of sustained excellence for over a decade, with an adoring fan base and league wide respect.
For that, a Shadow League salute is warranted.