What seemingly started out as an experiment to see if a franchise could bounce back from a disappointing ending to the season last year turned into nine months of some of the greatest basketball the NBA has ever seen from a single team. The Spurs' style of play was even creative and beautiful enough to (mostly) erase the "revenge" narrative that was placed on this years' Finals. We were no longer watching San Antonio exact their vengeance on Miami, one year removed from the Game 6 disaster.
Instead, we found ourselves watching the basketball equivalent of Michelangelo paint, Mozart compose, Hemingway write, and Malick direct. What defeated the Heat was not just competitive, vengeful play by San Antonio -- it was pure brilliance. It was artistic class that will redefine the standard of what a "team" is able to look like. The Spurs are basketball's Everest, and franchises will forever kill themselves attempting to claw their way high enough to reach the summit.
In Game 5, the Spurs put away the Heat 104-87 in San Antonio while setting an NBA Finals record for shooting 52.8% from the field all series long. Kawhi Leonard lead the team with 22 points, with Manu Ginobili and Patty Mills right behind him scoring 19 and 17 points, respectively. LeBron James lead the Heat with 31 points, but Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh were the only other members of the team scoring in double figures.
The first quarter started off rocky for the Spurs. Miami jumped to an 8-0 lead in the first 3:30, forcing San Antonio miss their first six shots from the field. The Heat were very quick and aggressive with their rotations on defense which forced the Spurs to constantly search for an open look. It wasn't until 8:25 left in the first quarter that Tim Duncan got awarded a couple of free throws which turned into the teams first two points. After a few more easy buckets from the Heat, Kawhi hit a three for his team's first FG of the night with just over 7:00 to go in the quarter. At that point, the lead was 13-5 in favor of Miami.
LeBron made sure, early on, that everyone knew he wasn't going to let San Antonio waltz their way to the championship podium. James was aggressive on both ends of the court, scoring 17 first quarter points (5-of-7 FG) and looked to be on his way to one of those "unstoppable" nights. Some transition buckets from LBJ and a dish to Ray Allen for a three made the score a little worse before it got better, 22-5.
In came Manu with some early minutes to help get the scoring going for San Antonio. Ginobili quickly got a bucket and a foul, hit a three, and found Kawhi open for another three to get his team going on a nice little scoring run to close the gap. Patty Mills would follow for a three of his own, capping a 12-0 run, and cutting the deficit to 4, 22-18, with just under three minutes to go in the first. Miami would pull away a little more before the first buzzer, and took the lead heading into the second quarter for the first time in the series, 29-22.
From that point on, San Antonio punched it into "championship" mode. On the very first possession of the second quarter, Boris Diaw found Kawhi curling off of a screen at the elbow for a God-honest, legit, Lob City worthy alley oop dunk that made finally made Spurs fans able to say "Ok, now I've seen everything." What followed was the Spurs taking advantage of some serious mismatches against the Miami bench, and the Heat not able to continue their aggressiveness on defense. Kawhi continued to hit jumpers and Duncan hammered Udonis Haslem down a the post, who never really stood a chance.
The Spurs had cut the lead to one, 35-34, when Kawhi grabbed a rebound and took it down to the other end of the court, himself, where he nailed a spot up three pointer grabbing the lead for San Antonio for the first time with just under 5 minutes to go in the second. It was at that moment that the entire AT&T Center erupted in a euphoric celebration that seemingly knew that the lead would not change hands again. This was the moment everybody in America knew the Spurs weren't going to lose this game.
What followed was some of the most inspired, eye-watering basketball by our guys that I can remember seeing. The Spurs went on a 14-0 run which was capped off by an emphatic Manu Ginobili dunk over Chris Bosh in traffic, pushing the Good Guy's lead, 42-35. The half would end with San Antonio up 47-40, outscoring the Heat 25-11 in the second quarter alone.
After a slow start for both teams, the Spurs began yet another scoring run against the defending champs; this time with the help of Patty Mills. San Antonio began the quarter outscoring Miami, 9-2, before Tiago Splitter's authoritative block on Wade's dunk attempt sparked back-to-back-to-back three pointers for the Spurs. The threes by Mills and Ginobili pushed the lead to 14 with just over 5 minutes to go, and essentially established the difference in the scores for the rest of the game. The third quarter ended with a 77-58 lead for San Antonio with the Larry O'brien trophy getting polished and ready for the presentation.
The fourth quarter was as close to a victory lap as a basketball team can have in a seven-game series. The difference between the scores hovered around 16 points the entire 12 minutes, with Tony Parker finally coming alive to hold it there. Parker, up to the beginning of the fourth, had been 1-for-11 on the night which meant that San Antonio was able to dismantle the Heat without much help from their only All-Star. But in the fourth quarter, Tony essentially took it upon himself to make sure the lead didn't slip, scoring 14 fourth quarter points before coming out of the game in the final minutes.
Nothing was more tear jerking than watching Tony, Timmy, and Manu get subbed out of Game 5 as the crowd showered them with love and praise. As they came out, one by one, we saw three future Hall of Famers joyfully love each one of their teammates before finally making it a point to embrace each other at once. The trio that has one more playoffs games than any trio in NBA history added one more victory to the record books, but nothing seemed more special to them than to spend that moment fully embracing each other. They've done something no three humans have ever done in history, and they looked as if they wouldn't have chosen anybody else to do it with than each other.
As the Spurs finally finished off the Heat, 104-87, and joined each other on the podium to accept the Larry O'brien trophy, each foreign player donned their home country's flag. When Kawhi's name was announced as the NBA Finals MVP, every player on the team knew it was going to the right guy. Kawhi, all smiles, accepted the award and put together more full sentences than I think we deserve.
This was an amazing season, capped off with amazing team play in the Finals that can never be replicated -- unless they do it again next year.
Thank you, Spurs.
More Finals coverage to come on PtR.
For the Heat's perspective, check out Hot Hot Hoops.