It wasn’t a sweep, but it sure felt like one. Despite the Miami Heat having a great start and LeBron James trying to do everything in his power to keep the finals series alive, the San Antonio Spurs ran away with game 5, winning 104-87 behind another great game from Kawhi Leonard, the Finals MVP, to claim their fifth NBA title, also getting their revenge for last year.
The Spurs outscored the Miami Heat by 14 points in the finals, the largest point differential in finals history. They won their last three games by 17 points or more, never once letting the Heat reach 90 points, while they themselves never scored less than 100 except for game 2 in the series. For what should have been another epic battle between two titans of basketball, there turned out to be only one actual giant in this series.
The Heat played desperate basketball early on. LeBron James led the way with some incredible defense, the rest followed. He finished the game with 31 points and 10 rebounds in another impressive effort for him when it comes to elimination games. However, the moment it became the job of role players and the bench to carry them through, the Miami Heat collapsed and couldn’t get back on the pace they were.
Manu Ginobili finished the game with 19 points, and he was the man who brought the Spurs back in the game. After the Heat surged to a 29-22 lead, they were outscored 55-29 in the next two quarters, giving us one long period of garbage time in which their bench finally got an advantage over the Spurs, all giddy from the upcoming celebrations on the bench. For the Miami Heat, it was all about doom and gloom on the other end, thinking about the present and the unknown future.
Leonard scored 22 points, making it an impressive finish for someone who isn’t yet 23. He shot 7-of-10 from the floor and added 10 rebounds. His defense on LeBron James wasn’t close to perfect, but compared to anyone else, he did a great job. The difference can be seen by these numbers: With Leonard guarding James, 19% of his touches resulted in a field goal attempt. When he wasn’t, 33% of James’ touches ended up being a field goal attempt. James was also held without a touch on 33% of the Heat’s possessions when Leonard was guarding him.
It’s not about shutting him down, but about making it as difficult as possible for the best player in the NBA. A team that was built to win now and not last for a very long time made it to four consecutive NBA finals, but for now, fell short of doing something very few have achieved in league history. The Spurs have their core three for a very long time, but have made the right adjustments around them to put them back on the top of the pantheon.
This was a super display of offense and defense from the Spurs. In their winning effort, shooting 46.2% from beyond the arc and turning the ball over only eight times, but also by keeping the Heat on 40% from the field and 28% from beyond the arc, keeping Dwyane Wade away from the paint and turning Chris Bosh into someone who hardly has any impact on the game, missing all five 3-point attempts to finish with 13 points and average just 11.3 in the final three games. Wade averaged 10.5 in the final two games, scoring 11 in game 5.
The Spurs made history with their offense in the finals: A 118.5 offensive rating while shooting an effective field goal percentage of 60.4%, both the highest since the 3-point line was introduced in the 1979-1980 season. Finally, after a few years of constantly being referred to as the team that plays beautifully but can’t find the pragmatism and balance on both ends of the floor to finish the job, Popovich found the right blend.
So as the Miami Heat hit another summer filled with rumors and self examination regarding their project and its future, the San Antonio Spurs feel young and hungry. Why stop here when this team seems more than ready to continue. You never know what a summer does to an old body like Duncan and Ginobili, not to mention Tony Parker suffering more and more from injuries. But in this empire Gregg Popovich has built, it takes more than just one player breaking down to tear down a team that is one of the more dominant we’ve seen in a very long time.