It was a series for the ages, one that actually delivered on everything the NBA Finals have always promised.
One thing was abundantly clear throughout: The two best teams in basketball were playing for the title.
We all know what happened. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade played the way we expected them to play while Miami's role players, specifically Shane Battier, stepped up, and the defense clamped down in the end.
Even more importantly, however, are the takeaways for the future that this series offered. We learned something very important about each team in this epic clash and they are the things that will leave both organizations happy, as well as their fans.
San Antonio Spurs: Kawhi Leonard Ensures the Spurs a Bright Future
There’s no way that Kawhi Leonard is only 21 years old. The grandest stage the NBA has to offer generally isn’t known as a coming out party for youngsters, not unless your name is Magic Johnson.
Yet that’s exactly what it was for the future of San Antonio.
Yes, Leonard missed a critical free throw at the end of Game 6 that could have put the game away. If we learned anything from the last two games, however, it’s that players of all ages and prestige can temporarily wilt from the pressure the Finals brings.
It was everything else about Leonard that was so impressive. It’s no surprise that after the clock ran out at the end of Game 7 on Thursday night, James immediately made a beeline for Leonard and embraced him in a long hug, most likely sharing words of wisdom and congratulations on a hard-fought series.
After all, it was Leonard who tortured James all series long on defense, forcing him to dig further than he’d ever had to before. Leonard pushed James to his absolute max. Their postgame embrace seemed eerily reminiscent of the 2007 Finals, only instead of Tim Duncan consoling James, it was James’ turn to do the same for Leonard.
Throughout the Finals, Leonard proved to be the most consistent of all the Spurs, playing with the type of passion and energy that ultimately defines a champion.
It was more than just the defense on James that he provided, too. He proved to be a ferocious rebounder, an instinctive defender in helping out and a reliable spot-up shooter. He even showed his ability to take defenders off the dribble and create his own shot.
Leonard is no James, we all know that, but the future is very bright for the young small forward of the Spurs. This will not be his last trip to the NBA Finals. Players that play the game the way he does tend to make their mark on NBA history.
As heartbroken as he was when his favorite player, George Hill, was traded, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is undoubtedly pleased with the treasure he was awarded in return.
Miami Heat: Talks of Breaking Up the Big Three are Clearly Foolish
I don’t understand why I should even have to attempt to dispel any talk of dismantling the Heat, but when Miami was down 3-2 earlier in the Finals, that was all the rage among NBA circles.
Back-to-back championships tend to bring everyone back to earth. Chris Bosh had a bad playoffs, we get it. Dwyane Wade is sadly deteriorating before our very eyes and at times doesn’t seem like the ideal fit next to James. But, umm, did I mention they won back-to-back championships?
Any team would gladly trade their troubles for those of the Heat.
Rather than finding a way to break up their Big Three, the Heat organization should do everything within their power to ensure that all three opt in at the end of the 2013-14 NBA season.
As badly as Bosh played, he provided key plays throughout the series that enabled his teammates to seize victories. His key rebound that led to a Ray Allen three in Game 6 comes to mind.
The Big Three have been granted an opportunity that other stars only dream of around the league: the chance to play with players of their own caliber. The results, obviously, have been everything they could have hoped for.
To break that up because of a bad playoff run would be a folly unmatched in NBA history.
No, rather than breaking up the best team in the world, the Heat should instead look to strengthen their roster even more.
As long as their three core players are content with their roles, that should not be a problem. We’ll see, however, if Bosh can continue to be content with his ever-diminishing role.