Youth may ultimately have been served, but age earned a lot of respect.
Yes, the younger and more athletic core of the Miami Heat won another NBA title, but the older core of the San Antonio Spurs reminded everyone just how beautiful well played team basketball can look like. And how far it can take you. They reminded everyone what a great organization looks like. They no doubt have Hall of Fame players on the roster, but it really works because those guys play their roles just like everyone else. They are a coach’s dream.
They remind us of why we love the game — not the dunks and the ankle-breaking crossovers, but the extra pass and the smart cut. Why we love basketball the sport, not just it’s parts.
Yet somehow and all too often, the Spurs get overlooked. They get counted out. “They’re too old, this is the year it all fall apart.”
Despite San Antonio’s four titles from 1999 to 2007, somehow we tend to look right past the Spurs these days. They are not the sexiest team in the room and too often as fans we focus too much on players and teams who haven’t accomplished 1/10th of what San Antonio has.
However, in these Finals they reminded us they were one of the best. Even in defeat.
“That was the toughest series we have ever been in,” Heat coach Erik Speolstra said.
“For our part, I couldn’t love our guys more,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said after the game. “What they accomplished this year is something nobody would have ever expected. And they showed a lot of mental toughness and a lot of good play to get where they got. And I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
What the Spurs did for much of this series — and almost did in Game 7 — is withstand the runs of the Heat. San Antonio showed real mental toughness. Miami’s athleticism is too much for every other team in the league for stretches, yet the Spurs never wilted like everyone before them. The Heat tried to get runs going in Game 7 — Popovich said LeBron James and Dwyane Wade played Hall of Fame games — but each time the Spurs answered. Until at the closing moments of the last two games their legs just had nothing left.
Yet don’t discount that they were there, right in it.
Tim Duncan had 24 points and 12 rebounds just two days after a 30-point showing. He torched Chris Bosh with counter moves and reminded everyone he is the greatest power forward ever. Manu Ginobili played much better than his game 6, with 18 points, but he had couple key turnovers late. Tony Parker was clearly slowed.
More than their stars, the Spurs front office always finds the guys who can step in and step up. There was 21-year-old Kawhi Leonard scoring 19 points while having to cover LeBron. Danny Green had huge games earlier in the series. Gary Neal hit some big shots, including a ridiculous banked three pointer in Game 7. I’m sure he called bank on that, but this is not a game of H-O-R-S-E.
By the end of Game 7 the Spurs were gassed. It was obvious. Parker had to sit; Duncan missed a bunny to tie the game. Their legs were gone and Miami’s weren’t.
“Well, I thought they gave everything,” Popovich said. “That was a tough Game 6. And I think they showed a lot of poise, a lot of mental toughness to come back today and play as hard as they did.
“I don’t think we played very well, but we played hard. We gave it everything we had. They did a pretty good job of forgetting what we let go in Game 6.”
A number of Spurs players after the game talked about Game 6, where they led by 10 points to start the fourth quarter and by 5 with: 28 seconds left. That’s the game that they felt they let slip away (they did). That’s very understandable. A bounce here, a break there and they could have been celebrating.
But it was not to be.
Right after a loss like this one, saying they earned a new measure respect sounds a little hollow. But it’s not. This is one of the great teams, great core groups of its era. In an age of lob for dunks making the highlights, the Spurs showed everyone what good, clean basketball looks like and why it is most likely to take you all the way to the NBA Finals.
The Spurs were not flashy, they were just smart and tough, with a nice mix of chemistry on the side.
We should appreciate that for how rare and special it is. We should give the Spurs their due.