2014 NBA Playoffs

Top 10 playoff performances of 2014

 By Joe Boozell

Michael Jordan against the Jazz. Reggie Miller against the Knicks. Larry Bird against the Lakers. Magic Johnson against the Celtics.

The NBA playoffs are where legacies are formed. And while any true basketball fan enjoys a night of hoops in January, the playoffs are where the NBA lights shine brightest. Last year’s postseason was as entertaining as ever, as five of the eight first-round matchups went to a Game 7.

Those games — and others throughout the playoffs — featured their fair share of heroes.

As such, let’s look back on the 10 best individual performances from the 2014 playoffs.

10. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio spurs
Game 5, NBA Finals – 20 points, 14 rebounds, 3 blocks


VIDEO: Kawhi Leonard’s all-around play in Game 5 helps clinch the title for the Spurs

It’s almost as if the Spurs are above individual accolades, and by pure numbers alone, there were better postseason performances than Kawhi Leonard‘s Game 5 of The Finals. However, Leonard’s impact goes beyond the box score, as the rangy forward fits perfectly into San Antonio’s offense and happens to be one of the best guys in the league at stopping the best guy in the league, LeBron James. LeBron may have scored 28 points, but he was a team-worst minus -21 for Miami. Meanwhile, Leonard was a plus-23 for San Antonio and logged a team high 39 minutes.

9. Damian Lillard, Portland Trailblazers
Game 6, first round of the Western Conference playoffs – 25 points, 6 rebounds, 6-10 3FG


VIDEO: Relive Damian Lillard’s game-winning basket against the Rockets

Damian Lillard posted a solid stat line of 25 points and six rebounds in the Blazers’ Game 6 clincher against the Rockets, but that doesn’t begin to tell the whole story. What the whole story would tell you, coincidentally, is that Lillard literally clinched the series for the Rockets with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer. The shot was the first since 1997 to end a playoff series (John Stockton accomplished the feat then — ironically against Houston, too), and thanks to the clutch factor, Lillard lands on our list.

8. LeBron James, Miami Heat
Game 2, NBA Finals – 35 points, 10 rebounds, 14-22 FG


VIDEO: The Starters discuss LeBron James’ monstrous Game 2 in The Finals

The only thing more painful than a LeBron James cramp is, well, what the opposing team has to endure following a rough night from The King. After his Game 1 cramping episode, James erupted for 35 points and 10 boards in Game 2 of The Finals. This proved to be the only game the Heat would win in the series against the daunting San Antonio Spurs, as the former MVP sunk all three triples he attempted in a 98-96 Miami victory.

7. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
Game 7, first round of the Western Conference playoffs - 27 points, 10 rebounds, 16 assists


VIDEO: Russell Westbrook dominates the Grizzlies in Game 7 of the first round

Questions about Russell Westbrook’s ability as a facilitator were silenced momentarily after Game 7 of the Thunder’s first-round series against the Grizzlies. Westbrook’s 16 assists tied a franchise playoff record set during the team’s Seattle days by Nate McMillan in 1987. It was also Westbrook’s second triple-double in a three game span.

6. Paul George, Indiana Pacers
Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals - 39 points, 12 rebounds, 7-10 3FG

 
VIDEO: Paul George runs wild in Game 4 against the Wizards

After bursting onto the scene in the 2013 playoffs, Paul George flashed superstar potential in the 2014 playoffs. This was especially true in Game 4 against the Wizards, who watched George notch 39 points, 12 rebounds and sink seven 3-pointers. George also spent plenty of time guarding Washington speedster John Wall, holding him to a 4-for-11 shooting night. 

5. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals – 39 points, 16 assists, 5 assists


VIDEO: Kevin Durant pours in 39 points in a Game 6 West semifinals win

No, Kevin, YOU are the real MVP. Although Kevin Durant had an up and down postseason, he certainly had moments when he proved why he captured his first MVP award in 2013-14.  Durant was his usual efficient self as he sank more than half of his shot attempts, made all of his free throws  and was 5-for-8 from long range. KD also posted a game-high 16 rebounds to go with his 39 points.

4. LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trailblazers
Game 2, first round of the Western Conference playoffs – 43 points, 8 rebounds, 18-28 FG


VIDEO: LaMarcus Aldridge dominates the Rockets in Game 2 of the Portland-Houston series

Going into their series against the Rockets, the Blazers were intent on guarding LaMarcus Aldridge with Terrance Jones, not wanting to bring rim-protector Dwight Howard away from the cup. That strategy ultimately sold Aldridge short, who ran rampant the first two games of the series by turning in two consecutive 40-point performances. Aldridge became the first player with consecutive 43-point games in the playoffs since Tracy McGrady did it in April 2003.

3. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
Game 4 of the Western Conference finals – 40 points, 10 assists, 5 steals

 
VIDEO: Russell Westbrook does something that Michael Jordan last did in 1989

Perhaps he was rejuvenated by the improbable return of Serge Ibaka, or perhaps Russell Westbrook is simply one of the most talented players around. Either way, Westbrook had his way with Tony Parker in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals, notching 40 points, 10 assists and five steals. He is the first player to accomplish that since Michael Jordan did it in the 1989 NBA playoffs as the Thunder cruised to a 105-92 win.

2. LeBron James, Miami Heat
Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals – 49 points, 6 rebounds, 16-24 FG

 
VIDEO: LeBron James drops a 49-point effort on the Nets in Game 4 of the East semis

In typical LeBron James fashion, The King added to his already stacked playoff resume with a 49-point effort against the Nets. Unfortunately for Lebron, he missed a meaningless free throw in the waning seconds of Game 4 that left him one point shy of notching his first playoff game of 50-plus points. Barring another return to Miami, this game would go down as the highest scoring effort of James’ playoff career with the Heat. LeBron matched his playoff career-high of 49 points that he set in the 2009 Eastern Conference finals as a Cavalier.

1. LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trailblazers
Game 1, first round of the Western Conference playoffs – 46 points, 18 rebounds, 17-31 FG


VIDEO: LaMarcus Aldridge pouts in 46 points in Game 1 of the Blazers-Rockets series

Aldridge seemed determined to single-handedly stifle the notion that the mid-range jumper is dead in today’s NBA, terrorizing the Rockets in Game 1 of their first round series with a flurry of long deuces. He went off for a franchise playoff-high 46 points and added 18 rebounds to an already impressive night. It was a career-high for Aldridge, who scored 16 of his 46 points on post ups. That total almost doubled his season average of 8.3 in that department. Despite fouling out in the extra session, the Blazers held on to beat the Rockets in a 122-120 overtime thriller.

Riley puts heat on LeBron, Big 3 to ‘stay the course … and not run’


VIDEO: Heat boss Pat Riley is calling for everyone to “get a grip” and those who stay to reinvent themselves

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Fifty-five minutes of Pat Riley unfiltered is the off-the-court equivalent of watching a Game 7 of The Finals go to triple overtime. You don’t want a miss a second of the action.

The Miami Heat’s boss was in rare form this morning in his postseason news conference, explaining where the Heat stands now after losing in The Finals to the Spurs and where they are headed with the huge decisions looming for the Big 3 of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in advance of free agency this summer, should they choose to opt-out of their current deals and test the waters.

Riley’s message to them all was clear. But he might as well have FaceTimed LeBron or at least hit him on Skype when talked about the need to “stay the course” and not “run for the first open door.”

Wade and Bosh have already expressed publicly their desire to stay in Miami and continue a partnership that has produced four straight trips to The Finals and two title-winning campaigns. LeBron is the only one who has not hinted publicly about which way he is leaning.

Riley mentioned all of the great dynasties of the past and how many if not all of them failed more than they succeeded in their annual quests to win titles. He spoke of how hard the process can be and of the certain trials and tribulations that accompany the triumphs for those teams that stick together in their quest for Larry O’Brien trophies.

“This stuff is hard,” Riley said. “And you’ve got to stay together if you’ve got the guts. And you don’t find the first door and run out of it.”

That’s tougher love than most men in Riley’s position are comfortable using. But most of those men don’t have the experience, backrground or list of accomplishments Riley has. Riley vowed to do whatever it takes to keep his crew together. He pointed to the Spurs and their bond that carried them from a crushing defeat in The Finals last year to a rematch this year and vengeance.

Riley called for mass reinvention, at least for everyone under 69 (his age) and the improvement from within that marked the Spurs’ spectacular run through the regular season and postseason.


VIDEO: Pat Riley talks about LeBron James and the Heat (more…)

A jab at Phil and Spurs uniqueness

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Peter Holt talks with GameTime after Spurs win title

SAN ANTONIO – Spurs owner Peter Holt couldn’t help himself, or more accurately he simply didn’t want to. The opportunity to turn the sharp stick back on Phil Jackson, San Antonio’s longtime nemesis and Spurs dynasty denier, was much, much too delicious to pass up.

The smile that spread broadly across Holt’s face and the hearty chuckle that spilled from it revealed his satisfaction in doing so. Holt, basking in the immediate glow of his team’s fifth championship Sunday night, was asked if this title is the sweetest of them all. Holt said, yes it is, although the first in 1999 will always be special, and that’s when you could start to see Holt’s face light up and the smile begin to build…

“Even though it was a shortened, asterisked season,” Holt said, now sporting a full-on grin. “Phil, Phil, Phil, Phil, we all played the same amount of playoff games, didn’t we, Phil?”

Holt was quickly reminded that Jackson was retired that season, his first out of the league following a second three-peat with Michael Jordan and the Bulls.

“Yeah, uh-huh.” Holt said. “Well, he bailed out.”

Take that, Zen Master.

Jackson never seems to miss an opening to tweak the Spurs franchise and their loyal fans about winning the title in a lockout season shortened to 50 regular-season games and failing to collect rings in consecutive seasons. Funny, here they stand yet again, with Tim Duncan and coach Gregg Popovich still commanding their posts, with another opportunity to snap up the final carrot out there.

How does Holt feel about their chances?

“Kawhi’s 22, Patty’s 25, Tony’s 32 and Tim and Manu are going to play until they die,” Holt said. “So I think we’re in pretty good shape.”

Sounds like Holt believes Duncan, 38, has no plans to ride his latest trophy into the sunset. Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard sits on the cusp of stardom and Patty Mills, a key role player, is a free agent but could be  back. Tony Parker has already announced that he won’t play for France in the FIBA World Cup later this month, which has to be music to Holt’s ears, and Manu Ginobili, who turns 37 in a month, played this postseason as if 27.

The credit for the Spurs’ sustained success cascades from Holt to general manager R.C. Buford to Popovich and his staff to the Big Three and the revolving role players over the years that surround them. Holt says his franchise is filled with “unique individuals.”

That uniqueness is found in the Big Three re-signing with the Spurs over the years for less than the market would bear elsewhere; in accepting Popovich’s adamancy to begin limiting their minutes seasons ago; to sacrificing roles and buying into wholesale changes in playing style and philosophy that ultimately has kept the Spurs a step ahead of the rest of the league.

“We’ve protected guys for many years minutes-wise,” Popovich said. “And I’ve said before I’ve often felt guilty because their lifetime stats are going to be worse than everybody else’s because of the way I’ve sat them over the years.”

Some players might balk, some might complain. Some might seek to find a way out. But that’s not the Spurs way.

But why?

“Because all three of us see the big picture; we want to win championships,” Parker said. “I think that’s the big key of our success here in San Antonio all those years is Timmy, Manu, myself, we never let our ego [get in the way], it was the team first and that’s the most important. I always trust Pop’s judgment. I trust the way he sees, you know, for our team the big picture to win at the end.

“So I don’t care about all that stuff, as long as we get the ring at the end, and so far he’s right.”

Spurs belong with all-time elites


VIDEO: Tim Duncan on the court after winning his fifth championship in San Antonio

SAN ANTONIO – If you ask the San Antonio Spurs about the greatest sports dynasty of our time, they’ll probably caution you not to rush to judgment.

After all, they might not be finished.

When the Spurs put the finishing touches on the destruction of the Miami Heat on Sunday, with one last whipping in Game 5 of The NBA Finals, maybe the only thing more impressive than their sheer dominance of the two-time defending champion was the simple fact that the Spurs, inexorably, keep on winning.

Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs’ taciturn forward who was named The Finals MVP, was only 7 years old when his teammate Tim Duncan raised the same trophy over his head in 1999, when the Spurs won their first title by beating the New York Knicks. Through the interim, the Los Angeles Lakers have risen and fallen and risen and fallen again, and now lie in a ditch so deep they might need more than a long rope to climb out. The Boston Celtics resurrected their past glory for a few shining seasons but have now fallen on hard times. The would-be contenders, the Oklahoma City Thunder and Memphis Grizzlies, have changed cities and, in one case, changed names.

The Spurs have changed, too, from a deliberate, rugged team built on a foundation of tough, unyielding defensive chops to a work of offensive artistry that emphasizes quickness, ball movement and 3-point shooting.

What’s stayed the same is an organizational philosophy that promotes professionalism, selflessness and sacrifice. It is those core beliefs, and the way they have been carried out over so many years, that have produced the five championships that solidify San Antonio’s case as one of North America’s greatest sports dynasties ever.

When asked by ESPN’s Stuart Scott the biggest difference between the two titles, 15 years apart, Duncan gave the simplest and most accurate answer: “Fifteen years, probably?” (more…)

For Ginobili, a slam and sweet redemption

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Play of the Day: Manu Ginobili muscles past Ray Allen and slams over Chris Bosh

SAN ANTONIO – If a year’s worth of bottled-up anger, frustration and guilt could be flushed in a single play, Manu Ginobili accomplished it Sunday night with a powerful drive against Ray Allen, finished by a thunderous, mouth-agape, left-handed throw-down over Chris Bosh.

The AT&T Center erupted with such force that shockwaves were surely felt in Ginobili’s native Argentina.

Earlier in the season, the 36-year-old Ginobili tried such a maneuver and strained a hamstring. Just a few weeks ago against Oklahoma City, he did it again and got blocked, badly, as he recalled it. His San Antonio Spurs teammates teased him.

“They actually made me promise that I wasn’t going to try that again, and I said, ‘Yes, I won’t try that again,’” Ginobili said following the Spurs’ Game 5 victory over the Miami Heat that clinched the franchise’s fifth championship and fourth of the Big Three era. “But in the heat of the battle with the adrenaline pumping and the situation — really, I don’t know what happened.

“I went hard and once I was in the air, I felt like I had a shot, and I tried.  I think it helped me, and it helped the team too to get pumped up.”

Watch the replay. Tim Duncan might never have smiled so big. He practically burst into laughter as his 38-year-old legs bounded down the floor, his giant hand giving Ginobili’s head a playful I-can’t-believe-what-I-just-saw push.

“It’s so nice. It’s hard to explain. I’m not skilled enough to explain properly how we feel,” Ginobili said in the aftermath of his 19-point, four-rebound, four-assist effort in little more than 28 minutes. “Not only me, I’m pretty sure that Tony [Parker] and Tim [Duncan] and Pop [coach Gregg Popovich] feel the same way. Last year was a tough one for all of us. We felt like we had the trophy, that we were touching it, and it slipped away.  It was a tough summer. We all felt guilty. We all felt that we let teammates down.

“But we work hard. We fought every game in the regular season trying to get better to have the same opportunity again. We got to this spot, and we didn’t let it go.”

A mess of turnovers stressed by mental and physical fatigue a year ago, Ginobili was a stabilizing force throughout this postseason. In the first round when the Spurs were caught off-guard by the Dallas Mavericks and taken to seven games, Ginobili was their best player.

Throughout the title run that then went through Portland, Oklahoma City and finally Miami, Popovich often called upon his super sixth man early in first quarters and sometimes started him in third quarters to either change momentum or sustain it. Popovich did both in Game 5.

Just three minutes, 19 seconds into Game 5, with the Heat off to an 8-0 start, Ginobili subbed in for Danny Green and immediately fed Duncan, who got to the free-throw line. A few minutes later, Ginobili drove and got fouled, completing a 3-point play. On the next possession, he drained a step-back 3-pointer, scoring six points in 21 seconds and getting the Spurs right back in the game after falling behind 22-6.

“He did a great job,” point guard Tony Parker said.

If the NBA awarded its MVP trophy to the best player over the course of the entire playoffs and not solely for The Finals — like the NHL does with the Conn Smythe award — Ginobili would be high on the list.

He averaged only 25.5 minutes a game, but was tied for third on the team in scoring, with Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, at 14.3 points a game. His 4.1 assists per game were just behind Parker’s 4.1, and he shot 39 percent from beyond the arc (41-for-105).

Ginobili, who a year ago questioned his ability to put his aches and pains behind him, sat at the dais Sunday night like a new man, proud, satisfied and a champion yet again.

“I’m at a real high right now,” Ginobili said. “I feel so happy and lucky to be on this team.”

Game 5: The Wrap


From NBA.com staff reports

Kawhi Leonard is the youngest player to win an NBA Finals MVP since Magic Johnson after the San Antonio Spurs’ Game 5 series-clinching victory over the Miami Heat. The win sealed San Antonio’s fifth NBA championship since 1999 as The Spurs avenged their 2013 Finals loss to Miami in convincing fashion. Here’s a quick recap of NBA.com’s complete Game 5 coverage:

Game 5 Coverage: Spurs 104, Heat 87NBA Finals

Analysis

NBA TV: GameTime

Video Highlights

Postgame News Conferences

Photos

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Spurs and Heat help prove that defense wins championships


VIDEO: Tim Duncan talks with the GameTime crew after the championship clincher

SAN ANTONIO – Entering the 2014 Finals, the 2000-01 Lakers were the last team to win a championship after ranking outside the top 10 in defensive efficiency in the regular season.

They still are.

The 2003-04 San Antonio Spurs, who — in a season between championships — allowed 8.5 fewer points per 100 possessions than the league average, were one of the best defensive teams in NBA history. The Spurs’ D continued to rank in the top three over the next four years, but could only go downhill after that incredible 2003-04 season. And it proceeded to go downhill every single year for eight years, until it dropped out of the top 10 in 2010-11 and 2011-12 (see table below).

Out of the top 10 is not where you want to be. Over the last 37 years (since the NBA started tracking turnovers in 1977-78), only three teams have won a championship after ranking outside the top 10 in defensive efficiency in the regular season. Twice as many champs have ranked outside the top 10 in offensive efficiency.

And though their offense had developed into a beautiful machine that ranked in the top two those two seasons, the Spurs knew they had to get better defensively.

“We thought that’s what was missing against Oklahoma City [in the 2012 conference finals],” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said a year ago, “that we couldn’t make stops when we needed to. We would call them ‘stops on demand.’ In fourth quarters and big games you have to be able to do it.”

You can’t just flip a switch in the playoffs. Habits have to be built throughout the season, so that when the time comes, you can fall back on what you have developed.

“We slipped a little bit,” Tony Parker said, “and we knew if we wanted to get back to the top, we needed to get back to where we were [defensively] when we were winning championships.”

So the Spurs went back to the drawing board in the summer of 2012. And as a team that has embraced analytics, they dug into the numbers and realized that being a great defensive rebounding team (which they were) didn’t matter if you didn’t defend shots well enough (which they didn’t).

“What we found,” Spurs general manager R.C. Buford told NBA.com last week, “were that teams who weren’t as effective defensive rebounding were still ranking incredibly high in defensive efficiency. The areas that they were focused in appeared to us to be field goal percentage defense. So we felt like we needed to go back to parts of our system that would improve our defensive field goal percentage.”

Basically, they needed to better contesting shots, both inside and outside. Easier said than done, but some shifts in personnel certainly helped. Tiago Splitter had two years in the Spurs’ system under his belt, Kawhi Leonard had one under his, and both have played bigger over the last two seasons.

In that time, the Spurs allowed just 93.4 points per 100 possessions in 1,907 minutes with Leonard and Splitter on the floor, the lowest on-court DefRtg of any two-man pair in the league that has played at least 1,200 minutes together over the last two seasons. The tandem of Splitter and Tim Duncan has protected the paint as well as any big man combination in the league. And Leonard has quickly become one of the world’s best perimeter defenders.

Their teammates and coach were quick to point out the importance of those Leonard and Splitter, but also said that there has just been a better collective focus on the defensive end of the floor over the last two years.

“[It was] just coming in here from day one in training camp and making it a priority,” Duncan said, “making them understand that every game, every film session, everything else, this is what we’re going to hang our hats on.”

“We just worked at it,” Popovich added. “I mean, it’s basketball. There is nothing magic about it. You know, we worked at it and the guys committed to it, and we got better defensively.”

With better defenders and a better focus, the Spurs went from 11th in defensive efficiency in both ’10-11 and ’11-12 to third last season. Not coincidentally, they got back to The Finals for the first time in six years and came within six seconds of winning a championship.

This season, they brought back their core (and the best defensive lineup in the league) with one more year together in their system. Though no player averaged 30 minutes per game, they again ranked in the top five in defensive efficiency. And in the Western Conference playoffs, they got those “stops on demand,” holding the offenses of both the Portland Trail Blazers and Oklahoma City Thunder well under their regular season efficiency marks and setting up a Finals rematch.

The Miami Heat have gone in the opposite direction in the last two years. After ranking in the top five defensively in their first two seasons together, the Heat ranked seventh last season and 11th this year.

Dwyane Wade‘s “maintenance program” — he played just 54 games in the regular season — had something to do with this year’s regression. But so did bad habits. The Heat’s defensive scheme can overwhelm offenses when it’s sharp, but can also get broken down pretty easily when it’s not. It was inconsistent all season, pretty darn awful at times (especially in January), and finished just outside the top 10.

It got better in the playoffs, but the champs never really put 48 minutes of great defense together. In the conference semifinals and finals, they allowed both the Brooklyn Nets and Indiana Pacers to score more efficiently than they did in the regular season. Getting through the first three rounds was about how good the Heat were offensively, especially in the fourth quarter, than an ability to get consistent stops.

That wasn’t enough in The Finals. The Heat finally ran into a team that was great on both ends of the floor. And they got slaughtered.

The Spurs’ offense, of course, was a thing of beauty. And once it got going, the Heat could do nothing to stop it. They didn’t have a great defense to fall back on. They couldn’t get stops on demand.

Their not-top-10 defense, those bad habits and that inconsistency, had come back to bite them.

“We were always trying to conjure something,” Shane Battier told Bleacher Report after Game 5. “But you can’t win a championship trying to conjure something. It has to be who you are, and it has to be pure, and that wasn’t the case for us this year.

“We just didn’t have the fundamentals to stop an offensive juggernaut like the Spurs. And we were exposed.”

But you don’t get the largest point differential in Finals history (70 points over five games) with what happens on just one end of the floor. The Spurs didn’t just eviscerate the Heat defense, they shut down what had been a ridiculously good offense through the first three rounds, particularly in Games 4 and 5, when they held the Heat under a point per possession.

“We felt confident coming into the series that we were going to be able to score,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Maybe not as much as we typically are used to, but coming off of some very good defensive teams and series in the Eastern Conference, we felt we could rely on that. But they shut us out of the paint pretty consistently.”

Don’t let anyone tell you that “defense wins championships” is just a cliché, because it has plenty of evidence — including the result of the 2014 Finals — to back it up. These were two great offensive teams. But only one had been defending at a high level all season.

As a result, they’ll be holding a parade down the Riverwalk.

Spurs defense, Tim Duncan era

Season DefRtg Rank Lg. OffRtg Diff. Playoffs
1997-98 96.2 2 102.0 -5.8 Lost conf. semis
1998-99 92.1 1 99.2 -7.1 Won Finals
1999-00 95.7 2 101.2 -5.6 Lost first round
2000-01 94.9 1 100.2 -5.4 Lost conf. finals
2001-02 96.5 1 101.6 -5.1 Lost conf. semis
2002-03 96.6 3 100.7 -4.1 Won Finals
2003-04 91.6 1 100.0 -8.5 Lost conf. semis
2004-05 95.8 1 103.1 -7.3 Won Finals
2005-06 96.9 1 103.4 -6.5 Lost conf. semis
2006-07 97.4 2 103.7 -6.3 Won Finals
2007-08 99.5 3 104.7 -5.3 Lost conf. finals
2008-09 102.0 6 105.4 -3.5 Lost first round
2009-10 102.0 9 104.9 -2.9 Lost conf. semis
2010-11 102.8 11 104.5 -1.7 Lost first round
2011-12 100.6 11 101.8 -1.2 Lost conf. finals
2012-13 99.2 3 103.1 -4.0 Lost in Finals
2013-14 100.1 4 104.0 -3.9 Won Finals

DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions

For Miami, frustration, humility, speculation and always drama


VIDEO: LeBron James and Dwyane Wade talk about the Heat’s loss in The Finals

SAN ANTONIO – The trek from the court back to the visitors’ dressing room at the AT&T Center is longer than most in the NBA. It requires Spurs opponents to slip through the tunnel at one end and then head down, beneath the stands, almost to the other end. A basic salt-and-pepper, industrial-strength mat shows them the way, behind a little iron railing.

On nights like Sunday, in the moments after their Game 5 elimination from The 2014 Finals, it’s way more perp walk than red carpet.

One by one, the Heat players, coaches and staff trod along that path, San Antonio’s on-court celebration revving up and booming through the building. LeBron James walked fast, head high, a phalanx of cameras and reporters tracking each step. Dwyane Wade came a few beats later, bare-chested, his Miami jersey gifted at some point after the final horn. They were stone-faced, revealing nothing beyond the harshness and letdown of the outcome.

Ray Allen strode by with purpose, inscrutable, deep in thoughts that surely didn’t include cheeseburgers. Then Pat Riley, looking almost wistful, resigned or ground down by the 70-point differential between his team and the Spurs (the fattest cumulative margin in Finals history). Chris Bosh paused, turned and shook hands with Heat assistant Bob McAdoo. Shane Battier spied a friend, smiled briefly and pantomimed a golf swing, a sign of his impending retirement.

None of them looked happy, obviously. None of them, however, was brought to his knees.

That, after all, is social media’s job, along with the rest of this what-have-you-done-for-me-five-minutes-from-now culture. It musters no patience, offers no comfort and certainly treats nothing sacred, particularly with this team, whose critics outnumber its fans 10-to-1, maybe 100-to-1.

However unceremonious its march into the offseason, Miami had wrapped up four consecutive trips to The Finals. The first, against Dallas in 2011, brought hard lessons and a little humility. The next two produced Larry O’Brien trophies, just like they all had pictured it. This one, three straight beatdowns still hanging in the air, had been telegraphed by slippage in the Heat’s defensive ranks and the loss (via amnesty) of Mike Miller from last year’s team.

This one carried with it some payback from the Spurs, who had been on the other side last June,and it naturally brought a skidload of questions, speculation and uncertainty.

Because this was the Heat and that’s how they roll.

So, Erik Spoelstra, have you guys underachieved? That’s how it went and that’s how it will go for days and weeks and months, now that the ol’ smoke-and-lasers pep rally back of July 2010 (“Not one, not two, not three…”) officially has stopped at two, at least temporarily.

Spoelstra referred to it as “the exaggeration that’s out there.”

“Even as painful as it feels right now, you have to have perspective,” the Heat coach said. “Even the team we’re playing against has never been to the Finals four straight years. You can’t be jaded enough not to appreciate that.”

Wanna bet? Only two other franchises – Boston and the Minneapolis/L.A. Lakers – ever had made it to four Finals in a row. But this was supposed to be about rings, not runners-up. It’s the life they chose, once James, Wade and Bosh conspired to sign with Miami four years ago and gild their resumes through a strength-in-superstar-numbers approach. (more…)

Leonard follows his path to title, MVP

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Kawhi Leonard’s Finals MVP performance

SAN ANTONIO — When the deal went down on Draft night 2011, when the San Antonio Spurs traded humble, team-oriented George Hill, a combo guard who for three seasons ingratiated himself to this team, to this city and most strikingly had found a soft spot in the heart of gruff coach Gregg Popovich, for a mostly unknown small forward with a funny name, all of San Antonio gasped.

Kawhi who?!

Even in the Spurs’ draft room, the decision to pull the trigger was hardly a unanimous, feel-good swap.

“It felt like we were going to get our ass chewed because we just traded the coach’s favorite player,” Spurs general manager R.C. Buford said on Saturday, reminiscing on the eve of Game 5.

Three years later, the folks in the Alamo City have popularized a different phrase for the player whose mannerisms, work ethic and determination fit this franchise like a glove.

Kawhi not?!

And on Sunday night inside the raucous AT&T Center, Kawhi Leonard, equally as humble as Hill and more reserved than even team patriarch Tim Duncan, forcefully answered that question with a third consecutive authoritative performance. He fatigued LeBron James with relentless defensive pressure and dominated in multiple ways on the offensive end.

Leonard’s 22 points and 10 rebounds led the Spurs to a 104-87 victory, a third straight blowout and the final one that ended the Heat’s two-year reign. It completed the Spurs’ season of redemption after last year’s heartache in South Beach and returned the Larry O’Brien Trophy to South Texas for the first time since 2007.

When Leonard stepped to the free-throw line in the first quarter, 18,581 fans instantly chanted “M-V-P! M-V-P!” A few hours later they would do it again, this time with even more conviction following confirmation that this quiet, corn-rowed, 22-year-old who had turned the tide of the NBA Finals in Game 3 was now its MVP.

“At the moment, I was just happy,” Leonard said. “Just had faith throughout the whole game, but I didn’t think at all I was about to win the MVP of the Finals.”

Heeding advice from his coach after sub-par efforts in Games 1 and 2 to be aggressive, to quit being concerned about deferring to the team’s elders, the 6-foot-7 Leonard closed out the final three games by averaging 23.6 points and 9.0 rebounds. He went 24-for-35 from the floor and 7-for-13 from beyond the arc. Defending the game’s best player, the reigning, two-time Finals MVP in James, Leonard had six steals and six blocks.

“He shows up the last three games and just plays out of his mind,” Duncan said. “He’s not worried about just doing the little things. He wants to do it all, and he plays with a confidence that is just amazing.”

When he was announced the MVP, his teammates mobbed him and pushed him playfully, and a smile even broke across Leonard’s normally stoic stone face. He grasped the trophy as his mother, Kim Robertson, hugged him and literally danced by his side.

That it was Father’s Day also resonated. Six years ago, Mark Leonard, Kawhi’s dad, was shot and killed at the car wash he owned in Compton, Calif. The case remains unsolved.

“It is a very special meaning for me knowing that he’s gone and I was able to win a championship on Father’s Day,” Leonard said.

The night after learning his father had been shot to death, Leonard played for his Riverside King High team, scoring 17 points in a loss. After it was over, according to the story in the Los Angeles Times, he broke down and cried in his mother’s arms.

“He loved his dad and they were really, really close,” his mother said, clutching the MVP trophy as she watched her son smiling through sit-down television interviews, the kind he typically hates to do because they force him to talk about himself. “I think from the moment that it happened, he wanted to make his dad proud, he wanted to take that as a rocket, keep on moving, moving. Because I was kind of scared. The thing is he is such a good kid, he always wanted to get better and better and better.”

Desperate to keep the series alive, Miami bolted to a 22-6 start, and James was going off, scoring 17 points in the opening quarter. But Leonard scored eight. He buried two 3-pointers and the Spurs closed to 29-22. Leonard nailed his third consecutive 3-point attempt with 4:47 to go in the second quarter. It put the Spurs ahead for the first time, 37-35. When the shot fell through, the roof practically blew off the arena and the party was officially on. San Antonio would never look back.

Leonard became the youngest Finals MVP since Duncan won it in 1999. He was also 22 at the time, and preferred to defer to veteran center and team captain David Robinson, who as usual, was in attendance Sunday to witness this latest title, Duncan’s fifth. Now here was Leonard, basking in the glory, but really no more than a willing pupil who had learned from these remarkably selfless players on this remarkable team, his own value system so much like theirs.

“I mean, look at Tim,” Kim Robertson said. “I think Tim has been a great role model for him, you know, a mentor for him. Tim is always, I always see him taking him to the side and telling him different things and I really think Kawhi respects that. Kawhi, his thing is he always wants to get better, better, better. He does not want to be in the limelight, he just wants to be good at what he loves to do, and that’s it.”

It sounds so familiar. While this Spurs era will always be known for the Big Three with Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, it is Duncan who defines it, who followed Robinson as the face of the franchise, and who will one day pass along that mantle. Popovich has made no secret of it, even saying as much last season, that the quiet kid with the funny name is the next in line.

Spurs owner Peter Holt, wandering the floor and basking in the glow of another championship run, was asked if it’s too much burden to place on such a young player.

“Not so far,” Holt smiled. “He’s got pretty broad shoulders.”

As they say around here, Kawhi not?!


VIDEO: Kawhi Leonard addresses the media after his MVP performance

Spurs’ redemption makes game better


VIDEO: Spurs storm past Heat for their fifth NBA title

SAN ANTONIO — It was a season that the Spurs attacked like the world was their piñata, determined to keep hitting and hitting it, smacking and banging it until one day it would burst open.

When the prizes finally fell at their feet on Sunday night, it was relief and release and redemption.

“It makes last year OK,” said Tim Duncan.

He hugged his two kids. He wrapped Manu Ginobili up in a bear hug. He clamped a headlock on Kawhi Leonard. And he practically swallowed Gregg Popovich up in a grin that was as big as Texas.

Twelve months ago, there were the last 28 seconds of Game 6, Duncan’s own missed put-back in Game 7, followed by a year that probably seemed longer than a journey across purgatory on a lawn mower.

It drove them, but not to distraction. It pulled them along, but never pushed them over the edge. It, OK, spurred them with just enough sharp pain in their flanks to know they never wanted to feel that again.

“We wanted to redeem ourselves,” said Tony Parker.

It was a relentless, astonishing campaign of atonement through artistry, reshaping that ugly lump of lost opportunity into the basketball equivalent of Michelangelo’s David.

The Spurs won a league-best 62 games during the regular season and then sculpted a playoff drive that only got better as it went on and culminated with this jaw-dropping masterpiece against the two-time defending champion Heat.

In the process, the Spurs reintroduced the world to what it means to play the game at its purest form, the linear descendants of the 1960s Celtics and the 1970s Knicks, who share the ball and take away the breath of anyone who has ever loved the game.

Quite fitting that the culmination came on the opening weekend of the World Cup. So often called “the beautiful game,” futbol looks like a faded starlet with too much mascara when compared to these Spurs.

There are more passes in an average Spurs offensive possession than a singles bar on a weekend night, more cuts than a butcher counter, more bodies moving than in an earthquake. Their style of play practically comes with a musical score you can hear in your head.

They are the 38-year-old Duncan spinning in the paint to knock down turnaround jumpers, the 36-year-old Ginobili reaching into his past and rising up to throw down a thunderbolt dunk over Chris Bosh and the 32-year-old Parker conducting the symphony.

Now the Big Three have the 22-year-old company of Leonard as Finals MVP for a franchise that has stretched excellence over 15 years with five championships.

“Great coaches, persistence, drive and a love for the game,” said Duncan.

They wanted LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Bosh and the rest of the South Beach spectacle that are the Heat precisely because they were the ones who benefited from the Spurs’ mistakes a year ago and that loud backdrop would make the brushstrokes of the Spurs’ collaborative game practically leap off the canvas.

This wasn’t a mere beating of Miami. They couldn’t have pulverized the Heat more by using a mortar and pestle.

The Spurs were the black velvet jeweler’s cloth that shows off the flaws in a low-grade diamond. They shot the ball better than any team in Finals history against a team that prides itself in playing a disruptive, smothering defense. They won all four Finals games by 15 points or more and it was an NBA-record 12th time in their 16 playoff wins with such a margin.

After dominating the first quarters of the first four games of the series, the Spurs devilishly spotted the Heat a 16-point lead in the clincher and then stepped on their throats.

James battled valiantly with his 31 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and two blocked shots, but he might as well have been a lamb taking on a pack of wolves. By the middle of the third quarter, if his teammates were any deader there would have been guys in white coats standing around waiting to harvest organs.

The plight of the four-time MVP James trying to carry the entire Heat cause on his shoulders was in direct contrast to the Spurs roster that is deeper than a philosophy class at the bottom of the Marianas Trench.

They had Boris Diaw doing sleight-of-hand passing, rebounding and taking his turns playing defense on James. They had Tiago Splitter mixing it up under the basket and doing throwback Larry Bird impersonations with touch passes in the lane. They had Patty Mills from halfway around the world, the first Indigenous Australian to reach The Finals, slinging in killshot 3-pointers. They had the flinty Popovich to keep them looking ahead even while feeling the sting of the past like lashes on their backs.

With the exceptions of Marco Belinelli and Jeff Ayres, they were all there a year ago in Miami when the dagger went in and the blood of remorse first rose up their throats and gave them a hint of what rejuvenation, reinvention, redemption might taste like.

“Last year was a tough one for all of us,” said Ginobili. “We felt like we had the trophy, that we were touching it, and it slipped away. It was a tough summer. We all felt guilty.

“Last year made us stronger.”

Now the game is better for that.