Spurs dominate Heat one last time, run away with Game 5 to win 2014 NBA title


SAN ANTONIO — Dominant is the word that will be used most often when people remember the 2014 NBA champions.

The Spurs put together a third straight masterful performance over the Heat to run away with a 104-87 Game 5 victory, and the only difference between this one and the way that the last two games in this series played out is that the rout took a little longer than usual.

Getting off to a fast start was Miami’s emphasis, with LeBron James and Erik Spoelstra both mentioning it specifically during their pregame remarks. “Follow my lead,” James told his teammates in the huddle before they took the floor, and he delivered with a magnificent first quarter performance that, at least for the first 12 minutes, could not be stopped.

James scored at will from inside and out, finishing with 17 points, 6 rebounds and two blocked shots — one of the spectacular variety — in helping the Heat get out to a seven-point lead by the end of the first quarter.

San Antonio, meanwhile, was getting open looks that the team was unable to knock down early, despite Miami’s much more active defensive presence. In the second, all of that would change.

The Spurs began to get stops and sped up the pace, and put together a monster of a 17-2 run that lasted four and a half minutes. By the time Ginobili threw down a dunk in traffic and drained a long fading three, San Antonio had turned a seven-point deficit into an eight-point lead.

“Why that happened is because the guys have character,” Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said afterward. “They play the game the way we ask them to play it. They don’t get too excited if they’re doing well, and they don’t get too down if things are going badly.  They just try to execute.”

James was 0-for-2 from the field in the first six minutes of the second, which were wasted minutes considering the Heat weren’t running the offense through him or looking to him to continue to take control.

This isn’t on James, however, as he got virtually no help from his teammates. Wade and Bosh were the only other Miami players to score during a dismal 11-point second quarter, chipping in just six and two points respectively.

And all of this happened with Tony Parker and Danny Green not hitting a single shot on a combined 11 first half tries.

San Antonio put its foot on Miami’s throat in the third, extending the lead by displaying the type of offensive brilliance that’s been evident throughout the bulk of the series. The Spurs put up 30 points in the period, with the dagger sequence coming when Tiago Splitter blocked a dunk attempt from Wade at the rim with 6:11 remaining. That was followed up with a three-pointer from Patty Mills in transition, and two more threes (one from Mills and one from Ginobili) on the next two possessions which pushed the lead to 21 points.

The fourth quarter was simply an extended coronation.

Kawhi Leonard was named Finals MVP, after finishing this one with a team-high 22 points and 10 rebounds on the heels of rock solid performances in his team’s last two wins.

“He listens and he’s a great learner and super competitive, and has a drive to be the best that’s really uncommon in our league,” Popovich said of Leonard. “He walks the walk. I mean, he is 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 deferment or that defer sort of stage. The hell with Tony, the hell with Timmy, the hell with Manu, you play the game. You are the man. You’re part of the engine that makes us go.”

“I do not call his number,” Popovich said. “Everything he did was just out of the motion and out of offense, and he’s learned it well. In the future, obviously, we’ll use him a lot more on an individual basis. But it’s not really our style, and he appreciates that.”

James did all he could for the Heat in finishing with 31 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, but he couldn’t do it all by himself. He will remain the game’s best player in the eyes of most, but the Spurs solidified themselves as one of the all-time great teams — and the undeniable NBA champs.

“They were the much better team,” James said. “That’s what team basketball and that’s how team basketball should be played. You know, it’s selfless. Guys move, cut, pass, you’ve got a shot, you take it, but it’s all for the team and it’s never about the individual. That’s the brand of basketball, and that’s how team basketball should be played.”

51 Questions: Do the Phoenix Suns finally have a playoff formula?

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PBT is previewing the 2015-16 NBA season by tackling 51 big questions that we can’t wait to see answered once play tips off. We will answer one a day right up to the start of the season Oct. 27. Today’s question:

Do the Phoenix Suns finally have a playoff formula?

It has been five years since the Phoenix Suns made the playoffs, tying the franchise record for longest playoff drought. It’s the fourth longest active drought in the NBA (Timberwolves at 11, Kings at nine, and Pistons at six).

Think about it this way: The Magic, Sixers, and Jazz have been to the playoffs more recently than the Suns.

Phoenix hasn’t bottomed out on a rebuild, they’ve actually been pretty good — they surprised everyone and won 48 games two seasons ago, then had 39 wins last season when things went very wrong and injuries crushed the team after the All-Star break. However, in a deep Western Conference pretty good isn’t good enough.

Suns management and ownership wants that to change. They want back in the playoff dance. Now.

It’s why they went hard after LaMarcus Aldridge this summer, coming in a surprising second to a Spurs team that nobody was likely to catch in that chase.

This summer the Suns made other moves to address needs. They went out and got Tyson Chandler as a free agent. The first reaction was he was there to provide a shot blocking and defensive quarterbacking, two things the Suns sorely lacked. However, just as importantly, they needed a vocal locker room leader, a vacuum that was part of the problem in Phoenix’s implosion last season.

The Suns also needed shooting, they went out and got Mirza Teletovic and drafted Devin Booker.

It’s easy to think the Suns regressed because they lost a lot of talent since the last trade deadline — Goran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas, Gerald Green, Brandan Wright — but they believe the pieces they have now fit together better.

Phoenix believes it can make the playoffs; it thinks it finally has the right formula.

Maybe. They will be in the mix. But a four things have to happen to make that a reality.

First is Chandler has to lead a defensive renaissance on this team. Last season they were average, 17th in the NBA in defensive efficiency, but Chandler can help change that. First, he gives them defensive rebounding that they lacked. He gives them a quarterback that they needed to call things out and have everyone on the same page (reports of how he talks on defense are already pouring out of camp). And he helps protects the paint — that means Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight, and P.J. Tucker can pressure the ball more and take risks out on the perimeter knowing Chandler can erase some mistakes.

The second is an obvious one: Bledsoe and Knight need to be able to work well together. They are going to share playmaking duties, and both are going to spend time working off the ball, both need to be ready for that mental adjustment. We haven’t seen that much yet, we need to see how it works out.

Third, there needs to be shooting to space the floor. Bledsoe is a penetrator who is a career 32 percent from three, while Knight shot just 31.3 percent from three after being traded to the Suns (likely due to ankle injuries that required off-season surgery). Those two men will be running the pick-and-roll with Chandler, who sets a good pick, rolls hard and can finish, but doesn’t have shooting range. The Suns other two starters are likely P.J. Tucker, who is not a huge threat from three but shot a respectable 34.5 percent from there last season, and Markieff Morris, who is a career 32.8 percent from three.

If I’m an opposing defense, what’s to keep me from going under picks and packing the lane against the Suns? Phoenix needs Knight to return to the guy who is a career 36 percent from three, they need Morris to improve from the outside, and they need guys like Teletovic and Booker to play key minutes and space the floor at times.

Fourth, and finally, they need the potentially volatile mixture of an unhappy Morris and a coach in Jeff Hornacek in the last year of his contract not to combust. Everyone is saying all the right things at the start of camp, and this is why guys like Chandler and Ronnie Price were brought in, but there is the potential for things to go sideways, especially if some early losses pile up.

The biggest hurdle for the Suns in ending their playoff drought is they are in the Western Conference.

Even if all four of things mentioned above go right for them — if they run and hit more threes plus play better defense — this is likely a 45 win team (give or take a few, and probably take). The problem is that in the West that may not be enough. Barring injuries, there are likely seven lock playoff teams in the West — Spurs, Warriors, Clippers, Rockets, Thunder, Grizzlies, and Pelicans. That leaves the Suns battling teams such as the Jazz, Mavericks and maybe the Kings for that final playoff spot. It may take more than 45 wins, and things are going to have to break the Suns’ way to get there.

Maybe Robert Sarver gets his way and the playoff drought ends this season, it’s more likely than snow in Phoenix this winter. But I wouldn’t bet much on either happening.

LeBron says “get it done” message was for both Cavaliers, Thompson

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Everything LeBron James does and says gets magnified and scrutinized.

So when he put out this photo on Instagram standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Tristan Thompson and the caption “get it done” it seemed a message to the Cavaliers.

Get it done!!!! Straight up. #MissMyBrother @realtristan13

A photo posted by LeBron James (@kingjames) on

LeBron clarified that on Sunday, saying this has become a distraction, and the message was for both sides to bend, as reported by Dave McMenamin of ESPN and Chris Haynes of the Plain Dealer.

When Thompson didn’t sign the qualifying offer he surrendered a lot of leverage, the Cavaliers don’t have to raise their five-year, $80 million offer — but reportedly they still would, a little. Thompson and his agent Rich Paul have pushed for a max contract, but that’s not happening.

At some point, the two sides will come to an agreement. For the Cavaliers, this is a distraction, their star is unhappy with that, and ultimately if they are going to make a title run they need the energy and rebounding Thompson brings (even if it is just off the bench). For Thompson, he can’t make up a year of lost salary, he has to come in and start getting paid at some point.

The two sides will get it done. Eventually. Likely before the season tips off.