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

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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.”

DeMarcus Cousins says right now he wants to play in 2020 Tokyo Olympics

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 17:  Demarcus Cousins #12 of United States reacts in the first half while taking on Argentina during the Men's Quarterfinal match on Day 12 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Carioca Arena 1 on August 17, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
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Four years in the NBA is a couple of lifetimes away. GMs get paid to try and plan that far out, but the constantly shifting sands of the NBA — injuries, player improvement, new talents coming into the league, players changing teams, not to mention front office/ownership changes — make that a nearly impossible task. Nothing is set in stone that far out.

But if four years, DeMarcus Cousins wants to be playing for Team USA in the Tokyo Olympics. Here is what he told Gary Washburn at the Boston Globe.

“I’m open to [coming back for Tokyo 2020]. I’ll be older then, so it depends on how my body feels. As of right now, where I’m at, absolutely, I’m open to it,” he said. “I think people don’t understand [how hard this winning is]. They see the guys on the roster and they think automatically, they’re supposed to win. This [international game] isn’t our game. This isn’t the way we play. This is an adjustment for every guy on the roster.

“No matter how much time there is, if guys can come together and mesh and play with some type of chemistry, you’re going to win games. It’s been proven in the past. We’ve had some of the most talented teams in the past and we didn’t win, so it’s not as easy as people think it is.”

I’m sure everyone on that team, save for Carmelo Anthony, is saying the same thing about returning for the next Olympics right now. We’ll see how things play out. C0usins certainly struggled to adjust to what is a foul in international ball (not to mention the inconsistent officiating) and spent much of Rio in foul trouble, but he was a monster in the gold medal game.

On another note, Cousins is right, the USA players face unreasonable expectations. They are unquestionably the most talented team in the Games, but with that and the history of USA Basketball they are expected to do more than win, they are expected to dominate. The 2016 team in Rio went undefeated and won gold, but because they had three tough games won by 10 or less — good Australian, French, and Serbian teams —, there was a lot of “what is wrong with Team USA?” talk.

The 2020 team will likely be even more talented — Cousins and Kevin Durant could well be joined by guys who skipped Rio such as Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Kawhi Leonard, and Anthony Davis. However, the challenges will be the same: The rest of the world is getting better (watch out for Canada) and the USA will still be throwing a team together and trying to build chemistry on the fly.

But we still expect Gold.

After two years off court, Joel Embiid says he “probably” will have minutes restrictions

PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 30: Joel Embiid #21 of the Philadelphia 76ers takes a shot from the bench prior to the game against the Utah Jazz on October 30, 2015 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 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. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
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Joel Embiid could be the best player on the Philadelphia 76ers in a couple of years — many scouts had him the highest rated of all the first-round draft picks the Sixers have had in recent seasons.

But after two foot surgeries and two seasons sitting on the sidelines, we don’t know how good Embiid can be. We should find out starting in October when Embiid is part of the Sixers training camp. Embiid says he feels 100 percent, but he expects there will be restrictions on him at first, he told Jessica Camerato of CSNPhilly.com during the Sixers Beach Bash community event this weekend.

This is the smart move by the Sixers — they are not competing for a title, the games in November have minimal meaning long term, bring him along slowly and make sure he can make each step along the way. Let’s see what he can do, then worry about how much run he can get in games that matter.

It’s going to be interesting to watch how Embiid, Ben Simmons, Nerlens Noel, and Jahlil Okafor all fit together up front — and which one of them gets traded this season.

Celtics’ Avery Bradley on defense: “Kyrie Irving, none of those guys scare me”

BOSTON, MA - MARCH 09:  Avery Bradley #0 of the Boston Celtics celebrates after scoring against the Memphis Grizzlies  during the first quarter at TD Garden on March 9, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.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.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Avery Bradley was first-team NBA All-Defensive team last season, and his coach Brad Stevens lobbied for him to get the honor. Bradley picks up guys full court, pesters, and plays physical — we can debate if he is as good defensively as his reputation, but guys like Damian Lillard think he’s tough to go up against.

Bradley, for his part, says he has no fear going up against the best. Here is what he said to Tom Westerholm of Masslive.com.

“I love the challenge,” Bradley said on Friday, making an appearance at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. “I love going up against the best players. I don’t care who it is. I don’t care about getting embarrassed. I don’t care. Kyrie Irving, none of those guys scare me. I know some players in the NBA probably get butterflies before the game, but not me. I’m licking my lips. I come excited. They need to prepare for me at the end of the day. That’s how I think.”

That’s exactly the attitude you want an elite defender to have.

Bradley injured his hamstring in the first game of the playoffs last April and sat the rest of the Celtics’ one series. Then this summer his name came up in potential Jimmy Butler trade rumors (that deal never actually came close to getting off the ground). Expect Bradley to put that all behind him by the time training camp opens.

Watch highlights of LeBron James’ playoffs, Finals run

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LeBron James was dominant — the clear best player on the planet — when the Cleveland Cavaliers needed him most. That’s the reason Cleveland got its first major sports title in 52 years.

It’s the dead part of the NBA season — training camps don’t even open for a month — so why not enjoy a look back at LeBron’s amazing run to a legacy-defining NBA ring. Like you don’t have 15 minutes for this. What are you going to do, watch more preseason football?