The San Antonio Spurs stand atop the basketball world again. They are champions of the NBA for the fifth time after beating down the Miami Heat on Sunday, ending Miami’s two-year reign and throwing into question their future.
No questions remained about which team deserved to win the best-of-seven series after San Antonio blasted the Heat for the third game in a row, 104-87. The Spurs won the series 4-1, with 22-year-old forward Kawhi Leonard being named the MVP after another stirring performance of 22 points and 10 rebounds.
“(Leonard) is a great learner and he’s super competitive, has a drive to be the best that’s really uncommon in our league,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “He walks the walk. I mean, he’s there early, he’s there late. He wants more. He wants me and the coaches to push him. So I just talked to him about not being in that defer sort of stage. The hell with Tony Parker, the hell with Timmy (Duncan), the hell with Manu (Ginobili) … you play the game. You are the man.”
Miami’s Dwyane Wade: “It’s like (Leonard) just played free. … He’s the future of this team.”
“The first two games, he didn’t play so well,” the Heat’s LeBron James said about Leonard. “I thought he attacked more in the last three games, shot the ball extremely well.”
James had less of a supporting cast than Leonard did. Wade never looked healthy. Chris Bosh was a nonfactor. And the Heat’s bench was outplayed in every facet. It turned out that the Spurs easily avenged last year’s bitter Game 6 defeat against Miami that cost them the championship.
“I’ve said many times, a day didn’t go by where I didn’t think about Game 6,” Popovich said. “So I think, just in general, for the group to have the fortitude that they showed to get back to this spot, I think speaks volumes about how they’re constituted and what kind of fiber they have.”
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra could not deny the Spurs’ dominance. “They played exquisite basketball this series and in particular these last three games, and they are the better team,” he said. “There’s no other way to say it.”
No telling what the future holds for Miami now. Wade will not likely return to the elite status of player he once was. The rest of the roster needs refurbishing. Talk of James, Wade and Bosh making financial sacrifices to lure upcoming free agent Carmelo Anthony certainly will heat up.
But those are Miami’s issues. The Spurs are to be celebrated for functioning as a team, with multiple players — lesser-known talents Boris Diaw and Patty Mills –making significant contributions. Duncan has played 18 years in the league and may consider retiring with his five titles. But Parker has a lot more left and Leonard is a mere babe who likely will get better after his standout performance on basketball’s largest stage.