After Spurs' revenge, Heat might be too hot for Miami

by Michael Leonard | Sports Editor Published:

It took a team as despised and envied as the Miami Heat to get America to finally embrace the San Antonio Spurs.

The Spurs 4-1 series win in the NBA Finals drew huge television ratings. It also cemented the legacy of Tim Duncan and Greg Popovich as one of the greatest player/coach combinations in NBA history.

Duncan/Popovich belongs in the same discussion as Michael Jordan/Phil Jackson, though not quite at the level of Red Auerbach/Bill Russell.

Still, this win gives Duncan the distinct honor of winning NBA title in three separate decades. Not even Russell can claim that.

Duncan already was a lock for the Basketball Hall of Fame. With apologies to Karl Malone, his place as the greatest power forward in the game's history is pretty much unassailable now.

It might be hard for those who think a team needs to three-peat to earn the status of "dynasty," but what the Spurs have done over the last 15 years -- with a changing cast of characters aside from Duncan and Popovich -- is no less significant.

Five titles in 15 years is nothing to sneeze at. The only reason the number isn't higher is because of a constant stream of "super teams" like the Heat during that tenure.

Basketball purists everywhere love the Spurs for the same reason that Madison Avenue advertisers hate them.

Despite the presence of Duncan, the Spurs have always been greater than their parts.

Tony Parker was San Antonio's leading scorer in the Finals at 17.4 points per game. That's the lowest scoring average by a winning team's leading scorer in Finals history.

How then did San Antonio win by a Finals record 14.5 points-per-game margin over the Heat? They did it the Spurs way.

Duncan, Parker, Manu Ginobili and Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard all averaged better than 14 points a game.

San Antonio shot 52.8 percent from the field -- and didn't care who was making the shots.

And, of course, the Spurs played great defense. Anyone not named LeBron James was effectively rendered a non-factor by the Spurs inside-out defensive posture.

If you don't make jump shots, you don't beat the San Antonio Spurs.

What the Spurs resurgence proves is what the NBA marketing machine has tried to distract us all from since the early 1980: Basketball is a team game.

Of course, there are powerful forces -- particularly in advertising -- determined to deny this fact.

The narrative they want out of the Finals is simple: "LeBron blew it!"

I can't believe I'm about to defend the guy, but LeBron James is not the reason the Miami Heat lost the Finals.

The narrative coming into the Finals would be this would be a battle of who's better: Miami's top three players or San Antonio's top 10 players.

Instead, the series turned into a redux of what happened so often in the 1960s when the Boston Celtics ran into Wilt Chamberlain: The better team beat the greatest player in the world.

Deadspin.com wrote that LeBron got more support from his Cleveland Cavaliers teammates in the 2007 NBA Finals than his Miami teammates this year.

That the likes of Drew Gooden and Daniel Gibson couldn't get it done in 2007 against the (much younger) Spurs was understandable.

That Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh failed utterly in 2014 is not.

LeBron averaged 29.6 points and eight rebounds a game in the Finals.

The leg cramps that benched him at the end of game one were no joke -- no matter how much Facebook and Twitter tried to make them that way.

In short, anyone who believes the Heat lost the Finals because of LeBron James has no idea what they're taking about.

"Jordan would have played through leg cramps and found a way to win!"

Jordan had Scottie Pippen in his prime riding shotgun through all of his six championships -- and he never made it to four straight NBA Finals.

Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh and the rest of the Miami Heat failed their superstar, not the other way around.

Of course, because it's LeBron, the focus post-Finals is not on what the Spurs will do to try to go for title No. 6, but on whether the Heat experiment is about get blown up.

Listening to many pundits, LeBron is heading for The Decision 2.0 after opting out of the final year of his Heat contract.

Will it happen? Who knows? Based on how bad I botched his original move to Miami, I'm not going to hazard a guess.

If he comes back to Cleveland, I will rejoice, but I'm not getting my hopes up.

In the end, LeBron James will be loved or hated by the multitudes, while Tim Duncan will rarely get an emotional response outside of Texas.

On another level, however, Tim Duncan may never be widely adored, but he always will be respected as will the Spurs.

No matter how much the hype machine hates San Antonio's anti-superstar system, this most recent title is proof it works.

Email: mleonard@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9442

Facebook: MLeonardRPC

Twitter:@MLeonard_RPC

Want to leave your comments?

Sign in or Register to comment.