SAN ANTONIO — In as dominant as an NBA Finals performance as you will ever see, the San Antonio Spurs catapulted their legacy up with the all-time great franchises of an era — five titles over 15 years, an unparalleled length of greatness in the modern era.
After the game the Spurs players didn’t talk much about that.
What they talked about openly was how this was cathartic. How they needed this win to remove the sting of scars from the last three years and everything that was said about them.
There was 2011 when the Spurs were the No. 1 seed muscled out of the playoffs by the Grizzlies in the first round. Clearly these Spurs were too old.
There was 2012 and games 3-6 of the Western Conference Finals when the Thunder swept them out of the playoffs, when it looked like the younger generation had passed the Spurs by.
Then there was the most painful cut of all — 2013 Game 6 of the NBA Finals against Miami.
This championship exorcized all those demons.
“Last year was a tough one for all of us,” Manu Ginobili said. “We felt like we had the trophy, that we were touching it, and it slipped away. It was a tough summer. We all felt guilty. We all felt that we let teammates down. But we work hard. We thought every game in the regular season trying to get better to have the same opportunity again.
“We got to this spot, and we didn’t let it go.”
This was more than just revenge, more than just about the yellow rope coming out and Ray Allen hitting a three. For the Spurs this was years of working, evolving the roster and offense, the focus on process, of buying in, of playing basketball “the right way,” of preaching sacrifice and selflessness in a league where salaries can be determined by numbers.
It all paid off in the grandest of ways.
The San Antonio Spurs absolutely owned the two-time defending champion Heat through the final three games of this series. The better team was never in doubt.
Tim Duncan has become the first player to be a starter on a championship team in three different decades (1999, 2003, 2005, 2007 and now 2014). He went from being the 23-year-old Finals MVP to the 38-year-old who still averaged 15 points and 10 rebounds in the NBA Finals.
But legacy was not the motivation so much as erasing pain. Specifically the loss to the Heat last year. Every Spurs player mentioned it, as did coach Gregg Popovich.
“Last year’s loss was devastating. 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.”
“It’s been a long time, but it makes it even sweeter,” Tony Parker said. “That’s why I say it’s the sweetest one because it’s just unbelievable to win seven years ago and to be so close last year, it was very cruel, but that’s the beauty of sport. Sometimes it’s tough. And sometimes it can be beautiful like today, because it shows a lot of character of the team to take a loss and to come back the following year and to win the whole thing.”
Those scars may remain on the Spurs, but you won’t notice them as you are blinded by the five flashy, diamond-studded rings. Those five rings leave a legendary legacy for the Tim Duncan-era Spurs.
But that’s not what they were feeling Sunday night.