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Aug 29th

Spurs' team chemistry dominates NBA Finals

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nba finalsIn the 2013 NBA Finals, the proverbial "fat lady" stepped to the mic at the close of game 6, smiled and waved at the crowd, then opened her mouth to belt out the closing tune.

Miami Heat veteran guard Ray Allen then proceeded to cover her open mouth with the leather from a basketball shot for the ages. In the 2014 NBA Finals the fat lady was woken from a leisurely nap and rushed from the green room to sing before she could warm up. An epic battle was expected from this year's finals rematch, yet a sound, steady (4-1) series beat down was the result.

The San Antonio Spurs doused the Heat with the basketball version of fresh water – ball movement and teamwork. That teamwork was evident on both offense and defense, spelled out in the form of a 104-87 series clinching victory on Father's Day.

The early exit put a temporary crimp (or cramp) in the projected greatness of Lebron James. While James remains the most impactful player in today's NBA, stories of sitting out early in finals' 4th quarters due to cramps and hopelessness seem incongruent with the folklore of the NBA's historic alpha males.

It was particularly disappointing to see James exit the final game with over six minutes left, and a solid, but not insurmountable 18-point deficit. A comeback of that sort would have been exhilarating, but not unheard of. What was heard from James in the pre-game huddle was, "Follow my lead." Whether baseball, boxing, badminton or any other sport, the alpha male wisdom says to go down swinging, not sitting on the bench with arms folded and five minutes left in the game.

On balance, James' teammates delivered a supporting performance reminiscent of his former Cleveland Cavalier teammates; as no other Heat player scored more than 13 points in the final game. Yet even more on balance, the Spurs were completely dominant.

That dominance came from all phases of the game, including coaching. It was previously silent reserve guard Patty Mills that took the final game over in the 3rd quarter with 14 points during a seven-minute span. Strategically it seemed that Mills outburst was ideally timed to ultimately counteract the opening game onslaught of energy by the Heat, who led 22-6 with five minutes left in the 1st quarter. By halftime that energy faded to reality, with the Heat staring down a seven point deficit (47-40). Then Mills' 3rd quarter barrage put the game away.

The reality was that the Spurs were a better team. While none of James' supporting cast followed him in great play – James ended with 31points, 10 rebounds, and 5 assists – the Spurs danced the ball around for high percentage shots, from starters and role players alike. Defensively, solid rotations were steadily made to disrupt the Heat's ability to display their own offensive fluidity.

Spurs small forward, Kawhi Leonard, played the role of "emerging young star" in this tale of redemption, which also saw him awarded with the Finals MVP trophy. And while his 17.8 point, 6.4 rebound averages in the series were fairly unspectacular by typical MVP standards, it was his lead role in defending James that tipped the spotlight in his direction. During ceremonial interviews, rather than proposing his leadership, Leonard embraced thanks for how the entire team pushed him to be his best.

The Spurs were poised at all points during the season and playoffs following their shocking loss one year ago. Championship teams often display the greatest overall chemistry, but the Spurs have also been the most consistent organization from top to bottom, for the past decade and a half. I believe that has something to do with their Hall of Fame forward/center, Tim Duncan, whom just completed his 17th season, with his fifth championship (1999, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2014).

While his teammates have mildly fluctuated, it is Duncan at the center of the franchises success. Duncan's mother died from breast cancer in 1989, but her hum of encouragement for young Timothy went as such.

"Good better best, never let it rest, until your good is better, and your better is your best."
 

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