Published on June 15, 2014
San Antonio Spurs hold up the the Larry O'Brien NBA Championship Trophy after Game 5 of the NBA basketball finals against the Miami Heat on Sunday, June 15, 2014, in San Antonio. The Spurs won the NBA championship 104-87.
AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
Published on June 15, 2014
Confetti falls after Game 5 of the NBA basketball finals between the San Antonio Spurs and the Miami Heat on Sunday, June 15, 2014, in San Antonio. San Antonio won the NBA championship 104-87.
AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
Published on June 15, 2014
San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker, left, shoots as Miami Heat forward Chris Andersen defends during the first half in Game 5 of the NBA basketball finals on Sunday, June 15, 2014, in San Antonio.
AP Photo/David Phillip
SAN ANTONIO — From their low moment in the NBA Finals, back to the top of the league.
The San Antonio Spurs turned the rematch with the Miami Heat into no match at all.
The Spurs finished off a dominant run to their fifth NBA championship Sunday night, ending the Heat's two-year title reign with a 104-87 victory that wrapped up the series in five games.
A year after their heartbreaking seven-game defeat, their only loss in six finals appearances, the Spurs won four routs to deny Miami's quest for a third straight championship.
"Hard to believe, isn't it? Manu Ginobili said. ''We played at a really high level."
Kawhi Leonard, named the finals MVP, had 22 points and 10 rebounds for the Spurs. San Antonio added this title to the ones the Spurs won in 1999, 2003, '05 and '07. They nearly had another last year, but couldn't hold off the Heat and lost in seven games.
San Antonio rebounded from an early 16-point deficit by outscoring the Heat 37-13 from the start of the second quarter to midway in the third.
The celebration the Heat cancelled last season was on by the early second half Sunday.
LeBron James had 17 first-quarter points to help the Heat get off to a fast start. But it wasn't enough. He finished with 31 points and 10 rebounds for the Heat, who lost their spot atop the NBA to the team that had it so long.
The Spurs won four titles in nine years, but hadn't been back on top since 2007, making Foreigner's "Feels Like the First Time'' and appropriate song choice after the final buzzer.
Tim Duncan and coach Gregg Popovich have been here for all of them, and it was the fourth for Tony Parker and Ginobili, who with Duncan are once again the reigning the Big Three in the NBA.
"Just a great team and we do it together,'' Parker said.
Bosh finished with 13 points and Wade just 11 on 4-of-12 shooting for the Heat, providing James nowhere near the help he needed.
The painful conclusion to last year served as the fuel for this one, powering the Spurs to a 62-win season that topped the NBA and led to a rematch with Miami, the NBA's first in the finals since Chicago beat Utah in 1997-98.
Round 2 went to the Spurs, but both teams will challenges to navigate for a rubber match.
San Antonio will face questions – as it has for years – about the age of its core, and whether Duncan, Ginobili and Popovich want to stick around. The Heat will brace for the potential free agency of James, Wade and Bosh, and will need younger, fresher pieces around the three All-Stars if they all stay.
But this moment belongs to the Spurs. Playing a methodical style for many years that was predicated on throwing the ball into Duncan made San Antonio respected, but never beloved. The Spurs were TV ratings killers, casual viewers finding them not much fun to watch.
But Popovich opened up the offence a few years ago, making the Spurs an easy-to-like, tough-to-beat group that thrives on ball movement and 3-point shooting.
"You showed the world how beautiful this game is,'' Commissioner Adam Silver told the Spurs during the postgame award ceremony.
A decade and a half after winning their first title in 1999, when Duncan was in his second season, the Spurs remain the NBA's model organization, a small-market team that simply wins big and hardly ever does it with a high draft pick. Instead, the Spurs found players overseas or in other organizations who would fit the Spurs' way of doing things and mesh with the Duncan, Parker and Ginobili, the winningest trio in post-season history.
That included Leonard, acquired in a draft-night trade with Indiana after playing at San Diego State, and Patty Mills, an Australian national who scored 17 points off the bench.
No team has overcome a 3-1 deficit in the finals, but the Heat were confident they could keep this season going, Bosh saying earlier Sunday that the Heat were going to win.
It appeared they would do it easily the way the game started, with James coming out with force on offence and shutting down Parker on defence as Miami went ahead 22-6.
But it didn't last.
While it took San Antonio a little while to get warmed up, the Spurs eventually made it look stunningly easy again _ much to the delight of the home crowd, with fans standing, chanting and dancing much of the second half.
Notes: It was the Spurs' 12th win by 15 or more points, most ever in a post-season. The Spurs outscored opponents by 214 points in the post-season. ... Miami had won 11 straight series, tied for the fifth-longest streak in NBA history.
Kawhi Leonard could have been devastated by losing last season's NBA Finals.
Instead, he vowed to get better.
Just think – the San Antonio Spurs' youngest star is only getting started. He's a champion now, with the Spurs beating the Miami Heat 104-87 on Sunday night in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, finishing off a 4-1 triumph. And after watching the Heat celebrate last season, Leonard was the pick as MVP of the series, accepting his award from 11-time champion Bill Russell.
When Commissioner Adam Silver announced Leonard as the MVP, he was mobbed by his teammates and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich roared with laughter, knowing Leonard would have to do what he hates most _ talk about himself.
"Right now, it's just surreal to me,'' Leonard said. "I have a great group of guys behind me.''
Leonard had 22 points and 10 rebounds, his third straight big game in the series. He fouled out in the fourth quarter, which was barely noticed after the job he did helping keep LeBron James in some sort of check over the final three quarters.
When it was over – actually, a few seconds before it was over – James led a group of Heat players down to the Spurs' bench for the first round of congratulatory hugs.
The first one he gave, and rightly so, was to Leonard. It was James taking the trophy from Russell in each of the last two seasons, after Miami's titles.
This time, the night belonged to Leonard, a 22-year-old who the Spurs have long thought was the heir apparent to the Big 3 of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker.
The Big 3 in San Antonio is still championship-good.
But their key guy now might be Leonard, who just took over this series.
"They just told me, 'Keep being aggressive,''' Leonard said.
He listened. And they won – and he became the youngest Finals MVP since Tim Duncan won it for the Spurs in 1999.
James went to the bench midway through the fourth quarter, took a seat and covered his eyes with his left hand.
His night was over.
His reign atop the NBA, also over.
The only thing James plays for is championships and this season, he didn't get a chance to grasp the Larry O'Brien Trophy. A 31-point, 10-rebound effort wasn't enough to get Miami past San Antonio on Sunday night.
So for the first time since June 21, 2012, the Heat are not NBA champions. This four-year run with James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh together has seen huge success – a league-best 283 wins, four straight trips to the NBA Finals to join only the Celtics and Lakers as franchises to pull off that feat, plus two NBA championships.
They've won 71 per cent of their games in these four seasons.
Here's something that might sound surprising: The Spurs have been better over that stretch, winning 73 per cent of the time.
And now, ready or not, here comes the summer of possible Miami discontent.
James, Wade and Bosh can all opt out of their contracts and become free agents. They'll likely all tell the Heat their plans by June 29, or two days before the free-agency window opens. Shane Battier is retiring, his career ending after 13 seasons on Sunday night. Just about everyone else, including Mario Chalmers – who came off the bench for the first time in three years Sunday – is a free agent.
Just about every spot on the roster could be up for grabs. Backup point guard Norris Cole is under contract for next season and little-used centre Justin Hamilton has a partially guaranteed deal, though he expects to be in Miami.
There are huge questions. Wade missed about one-third of the regular season for maintenance and injuries, and clearly laboured as the NBA Finals wound down. James had a monster finals, and the Heat still lost in five games – so now the biggest issue facing Miami will be how to get him the help he needs to vie for more titles.
That is, if James even stays. He has given no indication he's leaving. He hasn't said he's staying, either.
"I'm in a good place in my life,'' James said Saturday. "It's basketball ... the greatest sport in the world. I love it. It's done so many great things for me, but it's just basketball. It's just basketball. I go all into it. I give everything to this game.''
James announced before the game that he would change his typical approach, which was his way of saying that he was going to be more aggressive from the outset and not worry so much about getting teammates involved in the early minutes.
"Follow my lead,'' he told teammates before they took the floor.
It worked. For a while, anyway.
James had 17 points and six rebounds in the first quarter, plus a spectacular chase-down block on one end and a 30-footer to beat the shot clock at the other. Miami led 22-6 in the early going, holding the Spurs to their longest scoreless start of the season. Everything was looking like the Heat got to script the way the opening minutes would go.
And then, thud.
Like so many other times in these finals, the Spurs went on a run and just kept running. By midway through the second quarter, San Antonio had the lead. Early in the third, it reached double digits. Midway through the third, it was up to 21 – which, at that point, marked a staggering 37-point turnaround from the opening moments.
In the end, the Heat became the 32nd team unable to overcome a 3-1 deficit in the finals, even though there was no storyline that James would have savored more than being the team to buck that trend.
"Why not us?'' James asked Saturday.
The Spurs were that good. That's why not.