San Antonio Spurs beat Miami Heat in finals series to win NBA championship
San Antonio Spurs cauterised the wounds of twelve months ago by claiming their first NBA championship since 2007 with a crushing win over Miami Heat.
It was elegance with a serrated edge, as the Spurs recovered from a slapdash start to win 104-87 in a clinical, yet feverish, display that underlined their superiority and dethroned the reigning NBA champions, denying Miami their third title in three years.
What was shaping a week ago to be the second successive, evenly balanced and see-saw NBA finals between these teams instead proved shockingly one-sided, as Miami were squelched for the third time in six days and lost the best-of-seven series by four games to one.
How quickly the storyline has mutated from talk of a Heat ‘three-peat’ to now-inevitable questions about whether this defeat marks the end of an era. Miami’s Big Three, LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, all have contract opt-out clauses and could leave, remote as the possibility seems.
After Miami levelled the series at 1-1 following a close game here seven days prior, San Antonio eviscerated them twice in south Florida, producing purple patches to expose the Heat’s defensive black holes.
The Texans won the third game by 19 points then shot 57% from the field in game four, a 107-86 victory in AmericanAirlines Arena. The numbers were less gaudy in this contest, though they hit 46% of their three-point attempts, with Australian Patty Mills five-for-eight.
Ahead of the tip-off a fan outside the arena held a placard reading “Le team versus LeBron”. It was a fair enough summary of the series, with the Spurs’ passing game stunningly effective, above all in games three and four, orchestrated by the predictably excellent Tony Parker and aided by the less-heralded craft of his fellow Frenchman, Boris Diaw.
James received meagre support from most of his team-mates throughout this series: Miami’s bench players were virtual ciphers, with Mario Chalmers especially poor and the side clearly missing the veteran influence of Mike Miller, who left after last year’s finals.
Still, any analysis of what went wrong for Miami ought to be prefaced by an assessment of what went right for the Spurs: pretty much everything. Evidently fuelled by the agony of losing a series twelve months ago when the trophy was almost within their grasp, they also had the teamwork, technique and experience to turn their quest for revenge into a reality.
This is the Spurs’ fifth NBA championship in franchise history, all won since 1999; a record that, if they had more glamorous players and were in a higher-profile city, would earn them more regular comparisons with great American champions in various sports from recent generations such as the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Lakers and New England Patriots.
San Antonio was less than 30 seconds from winning the 2013 series in game six. Miami required an equally dramatic, though longer-term turnaround this year, since no side has ever come back from a 3-1 deficit in the finals.
Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra shook up his starting line-up, giving Ray Allen the start ahead of Chalmers. It seemed an inspired move, as the home side endured a dire few opening minutes, fallling 6-0 down with 3 minutes and 19 seconds gone and prompting Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich to call a time-out.
It got worse, with the Heat up 19-5 midway through the first quarter. With Kawhi Leonard impressive once again and providing a couple of three-pointers, the Spurs reduced the deficit to seven points at the end of the quarter. James had 17 of Miami’s 29 points, ultimately top-scoring with 31. But as in previous games, it was apparent that once the Spurs shifted into higher gears, the Heat did not have the power to keep pace.
The Spurs were missing simple shots but insidiously squirmed their way back into the game, with James returning to Earth and Leonard in fine shooting form. The 22-year-old’s third three-pointer of the night put San Antonio two points to the good with less than five minutes remaining in the half and prompted an eardrum-busting, sustained bellow of delight from the crowd. Everything’s bigger in Texas, including the decibel counts.
James scored only three points in that quarter and the Spurs brought a seven-point advantage into the second half. James had scored 20 points – half his team’s total.
The situation became even graver for the visitors in the third quarter, as San Antonio opened up a 59-42 lead with 6 minutes left and the celebrations when shots were sunk started to look as exuberant on the court as they were in the stands.
Three three-pointers in short order, two from Mills and another from Manu Ginobili, put the Spurs 21 points up and a scoreline reading 77-58 entering the final quarter looked to have insulated them from the possibility of any echo of last year’s late, late heartbreak.
The Heat offered some token resistance, pulling back to within 14 points with about ten minutes to go. But this was to be San Antonio’s night, San Antonio’s series, and after that devastating third quarter, everyone knew it. The only question left was who would be the series MVP. It was answered moments after the ticker-tape fell from the roof and the gleaming trophy was raised aloft, when Leonard’s name was announced and the crowd had yet another reason to go wild.