San Antonio Spurs Exemplify the Beauty of Team Basketball

Matthew SchmidtFeatured ColumnistJune 17, 2014

SAN ANTONIO, TX - JUNE 15: Kawhi Leonard #2, Tony Parker #9, Tim Duncan #21, Manu Ginobili #20, and Patty Mills #8 of the San Antonio Spurs celebrate with the Larry O'Brien trophy after defeating the Miami Heat to win the 2014 NBA Finals in Game Five of the 2014 NBA Finals on June 15, 2014 at AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)
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What you witnessed Sunday night was the stuff of fairy tales. Beyond fairy tales, actually. It was so extraordinary that Hollywood would never, ever script it. Disney would say it was a bit too happy-go-lucky for its taste. Even Theodor Seuss Geisel would have second thoughts of inserting this incredible story into one of his beloved children's books for the fact that it was too unrealistic.

And that's what makes this all so special.

We will forever remember the unforgettable, heartwarming and tear-jerking image of the normally stoic Tim Duncan sobbing while holding his two kids after he and his San Antonio Spurs thrashed the Miami Heat, 104-87, in Game 5 of the Finals, earning the future Hall of Fame big man—and the Spurs franchise—a fifth NBA championship. On Father's Day, no less.

"We'll do it this time," Duncan prophetically said after his team ousted the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Finals.

After such a devastating loss to the Heat in 2013, San Antonio made it its mission to get back to the Finals and right its wrongs, to wash away the pain from its gut-wrenching losses in Games 6 and 7 against the Heat last year, or, at the very least—in the postgame words of Duncan—make the defeat "palatable."

Tony Parker shared similar sentiments.

"That's why I say it's the sweetest one," said Parker, via Joe Garza of Yahoo! Sports, referring to the fact that this 2014 title is his favorite of the four the Frenchman has now captured. "It's just unbelievable to win seven years ago and be so close last year, it was very cruel, but that's the beauty of sport. Sometimes it can be tough. And sometimes it can be beautiful like today."

Redemption? For sure. And as they say, revenge is a dish best served cold.

Make no mistake about it: Beneath the soft, charming exterior of the Spurs beats the hearts of cold-blooded killers. They made it clear all along that they wanted another shot at LeBron James and Co., and they didn't just want to defeat them—they wanted to pound them into submission.

Even more, each of San Antonio's wins came by 15 points or more and by an average of 18. Its only loss came by two, and you really have to wonder how in the world the Heat were able to win Game 2.

The Spurs offense shredded Miami's defense to a degree we have never seen in NBA Finals history, and for the basketball purist, it was simply amazing to watch.

Oh, and 12 of San Antonio's 16 playoff victories came by double figures, an NBA record.

Even more amazing is the fact that those 12 wins came by 15 points or more, so there were no "cheap" double-digit affairs mixed in there.

It's funny, because while this run of restitution seemed magical for the Spurs, it was really anything but magical physically and statistically.

I generally dislike "best team of all time" arguments because there are so many factors at play, but you can't help but think that this San Antonio ballclub is one of the best groups we have ever seen, and that was hardly by sorcery.

The Spurs ruthlessly decimated the Heat with their depth, picture-perfect ball movement and pinpoint shooting, the combination proving far too much for the now former back-to-back champions to handle.

San Antonio was so deep that it was able to build a double-digit lead in the third quarter despite Parker being scoreless at the time. So deep that the Finals MVP was essentially undecided until the fourth quarter of the clinching game.

ESPN's J.A. Adande explains it well:

The fact that the Finals MVP was open to debate until the moment Mr. Russell himself came on stage to hand out his namesake trophy speaks to the Spurs' balance. It could have been Boris Diaw (whom they picked up as an overweight castoff from the Charlotte Bobcats in 2012, by the way) even though he never had a double-digit scoring game in the series. It could have been Duncan, who happened to notch his NBA record 158th playoff double-double during the Finals.

But it was Leonard who went for 20-plus in each of the final three games, who provided the athleticism the Spurs needed, who had Duncan gushing "I'm honored to be on this team right now" as if Leonard, not himself, was the franchise cornerstone.

Trying to pick the MVP of the 104-87 Game 5 clincher was almost as tough as choosing a Spur for the series. Leonard had 22 and 10 rebounds. Patty Mills hit five 3-pointers, scored 17 points and made a strong bid for the honorary Tyronn Lue Award, which goes to the upcoming free agent who earns the biggest contract with his play during the NBA Finals.

But this game really belonged to Ginobili, who resurrected the Spurs after they fell behind by 16 points at the outset. At one point, when the Heat looked like they were going to make this a game and quite possibly a series again, Ginobili came in and quickly produced two of the Spurs' first three baskets. The second, a 3-pointer, resulted in a Spurs' timeout and a big Ginobili fist pump. The Spurs were on their way back.

And it wasn't just San Antonio's offense that was dominant. How about its defense holding Miami to under 90 points in Games 4 and 5? Plus, the Spurs did not allow the Heat to crack 100 points once in the series.

SAN ANTONIO, TX - JUNE 15: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the San Antonio Spurs and NBA Legend Bill Russell pose with the Bill Russell NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award after Game Five of the 2014 NBA Finals against the Miami Heat at AT&T Center on June 15, 2014
Joe Murphy/Getty Images

Gregg Popovich and the Spurs had Heat coach Erik Spoelstra desperately searching for answers from Game 3 on, but the answers simply weren't there. In one final, futile attempt at saving Miami's season, Spoelstra started Ray Allen in Game 5 and didn't send the struggling Mario Chalmers into the game until the second half. He even gave Michael Beasley some burn with the Heat down 20.

Whether Spoelstra was looking for some kind of a spark with Beasley or all but waving the white flag is up for debate, but the fact that we even saw Beasley in the Finals clincher speaks volumes about how much San Antonio befuddled Miami.

That this series wasn't even mildly competitive should not diminish what basketball fans saw before their eyes over the course of this past week and a half.

Ever since James and Chris Bosh joined Dwyane Wade in South Beach during the summer of 2010, the general thought was that you had to have a group of All-Stars to win in this league, that the Heat were going to run through the NBA until another "superteam" formed, and that's what makes all of this so "beautiful," as Parker put it.

Indeed, we did see a "superteam" in this series, but it wasn't the type you would expect.

It was a ballclub full of experienced veterans and scrappy shooters that casually picked apart Miami's Big Three. Yes, Duncan, Parker and Manu Ginobili are all future Hall of Famers, but to say that all three are perennial All-Stars at this stage of their careers is a stretch at best.

SAN ANTONIO, TX - JUNE 15: Manu Ginobili #20, Tony Parker #9, and Tim Duncan #21 of the San Antonio Spurs celebrate with the Larry O'Brien trophy after defeating the Miami Heat to win the 2014 NBA Finals in Game Five of the 2014 NBA Finals on June 15, 201
Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

This was a classic team effort and one that provided plenty of hope to NBA fans that just because your favorite team is not loaded with superstar talent does not mean that it doesn't have a shot at a championship.

That was made clear in the first quarter of Game 5 when James and his boys jumped out to a 22-6 lead, playing with the kind of ferocity that we had become so accustomed to seeing since LeBron inked a deal with the Heat four summers ago.

San Antonio chipped away at the lead and, finally, a little more than halfway through the second period, Kawhi Leonard drilled a pull-up three-pointer in transition to put the Spurs up by two.

They never lost that lead, and when Ginobili drove the lane and threw down a vicious tomahawk dunk over the top of Bosh to make it 42-35 Spurs, you just knew that the game, the Finals, were over. And over they were, as Manu and friends outscored Miami 98-65 after the early 16-point deficit.

As the Finals ended, the hopes of NBA fans everywhere grew. That true, purposeful teamwork can outshine—no, decimate—star power.

We don't know what the future holds for San Antonio or Miami, but what we do know is that the Spurs may have established a new (and old) blueprint for how to win championships.

"They played exquisite basketball this series and in particular these last three games and they are the better team. There's no other way to say it," said Spoelstra, via Sam Amick of USA Today.

Exquisite basketball, indeed.

And also downright beautiful.


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