Before the game on Wednesday, J.A. Adande wrote an excellent piece on ESPN.com chronicling Gregg Popovich's thoughts about the end of the 2013 season, the ensuing championship run in 2014, and how to understand and appreciate success in general. Popvich had so many gem quotes in this piece that I highly encourage you to read the full article. A bit that stood out to me was when Popovich explained how he and the team moved on from the devastating Finals loss in 2013:
"What we didn't want to do is have them have the notion that the basketball gods got us. 'Ah, jeez, that one bounce here or we missed a free throw or we didn't get that offensive rebound. It's just the way it was supposed to be.' Well, no, it's got nothing to do with the basketball gods. You're in charge of yourself. There are always things you can do better.
"It's a game of mistakes. That's why people score, because you make mistakes. So let's figure out what we could have done, and that makes us a better team. We went through every single play of Game 6 and Game 7. We made them sit through it. We didn't yell and scream at 'em or berate 'em or anything. We were very businesslike. 'Here's where we didn't give help. Here's where we didn't rebound or put five men on the board.' So we understand it's on us. And now you can move forward. It's on us to see what we can do to get back into that same position. Can we or can't we?"
-- Gregg Popovich on his approach to getting over the loss of the 2013 Finals
We know that Popovich used that series as a match to ignite the flame for 2014. The Spurs, like the self-aware machine people like to compare them to, recognized their own mistakes, adapted, and improved. There were no excuses made; no crutches to rely on. San Antonio knew that their own errors had caused their pain, and they worked hard to prevent that from happening again. In 2014, as a result of this work; they played more crisply, more efficiently, and with more purpose. In the postseason, they ran through the teams that stood in the way of them claiming the 2014 title.
LeBron James was a member of the Miami Heat team that thwarted the Spurs' hopes in 2013, and then yielded to San Antonio's will in 2014. Through his wins and losses in those Finals series, he knows how much it means for a team to have a collective willingness to admit and resolve their faults. Now, he is trying to take that knowledge and apply it in his return to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Like any team, the Cavaliers have faults. They are young, mostly inexperienced, and have lots of new pieces to try and fit together. They have a coach that had major success in Europe, but will have to get used to the NBA game. They have all the makings of an offensive juggernaut, they will have to figure out ways to stop opponents as well. Unlike the Spurs last year, the Cavaliers do not have some sort of heart-breaking loss to put their pursuit of a title into overdrive this year. However, if they follow LeBron's guidance, they'll be in a good place.
Wednesday's game looked nothing like the Finals preview it was hyped as. Both teams are far removed from what they could be, and each needs to grow in different ways. But if both squads can find ways to minimize their weaknesses and maximize their strengths, I couldn't be surprised to see them meet up again in the summer.
Boris Diaw - 19 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds, 3 steals, 1 block
Diaw was everywhere on the floor for San Antonio. This is the best he's loooked looked since last year's playoffs. He scored on slower defenders, spaced the floor well, made smart cuts, and engineered some ball movement that was reminiscent of the last time the Spurs matched up against James. It was an exceptional performance.
NUMBERS ON THE BOARD
- 50: Points in the paint for Cleveland. (Still miss you, Tiago.)
- 34: The combined shooting percentage from LeBron James and Kevin Love.
- 23: Points scored by Anderson Varejao. In a game with LeBron James, Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and Kawhi Leonard; Varejao had the game-high. Sure. Makes sense.
- The ball movement that we became accustomed to seeing from the Spurs in the 2014 Playoffs made an appearance on Wednesday. There were multiple plays where San Antonio was able to whip the ball around at their discretion, catching Cleveland off-guard for easy buckets. With that being said...
- The Cavs defense looked a lot better than it has for a bulk of the season. Yes, they got caught out of position on multiple plays, but they did play a physical style that especially worked in the post. Whenever the Spurs went to Duncan down low in the second half, either Varejao or Love would make the possession difficult for him, often resulting in a tough shot or a turnover. It's one bright spot in an area where the Cavs haven't had many.
- Poor, poor Joe Harris was not ready to defend that final Spurs ATO (After Time Out) play that lead to Manu Ginobili's basket that put San Antonio ahead by four. The play began with Ginobili passing to Parker on the right wing, and then seeming to clear out down the key as Harris trailed. But, as Parker passed to Duncan on the right elbow, Ginobili sealed Harris behind, leaving him wide open for a Duncan pass and layup under the basket.