Posts Tagged ‘Tim Duncan’

Morning Shootaround — June 20


VIDEO: Injury issues could cost Joel Embiid the No. 1 overall pick in next week’s Draft

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Celtics still interested in Embiid | LeBron’s next move defines him | Cavs go bold with David Blatt | Warriors have to break up Splash Bros. to get some Love

No. 1: Injury or not, Celtics still interested in Embiid — Fear has never been a part of the program in Boston under Danny Ainge. If there is a risk to be taken, Ainge is usually interested in at least exploring the possibilities. And now that the Draft world has been shaken to its core with the news that projected top overall pick Joel Embiid will have surgery on his foot today, in addition to the lingering issues about the back injuries that curtailed his freshman season at Kansas, Ainge’s curiosity factor has to be on high. And as Celtics Insider A. Sherrod Blakely of  CSNNE.com points out, the Celtics have been down this road before in the Draft:

The stress fracture in Joel Embiid‘s right foot will certainly scare some teams away from selecting him near the top of the draft.

But the Boston Celtics aren’t one of them.

In fact, a source tells CSNNE.com that the Celtics will give some serious thought to potentially moving up in the draft to select him.

Boston has kept “all options” open leading up to the draft, including the possibility of moving up from their current No. 6 spot.

However, Embiid’s injury gives them added incentive because this injury – which comes on the heels of a fractured back injury that shortened his lone season at Kansas – opens the door for them to acquire the player with the most upside in this year’s draft.

This latest setback which will force him to miss all of summer league and puts the start to his NBA career on uncertain ground, raises more and more questions about the 7-footer’s durability.

Embiid’s camp sounds resigned to the idea that he won’t be the No. 1 overall pick.

His agent Arn Tellem told Yahoo! Sports, “Joel will be unable to participate in any additional workouts, and will not attend the draft in New York.”

Boston heard similar concerns about Avery Bradley and Jared Sullinger, players they selected who came into the draft with health concerns.

Although Bradley has had multiple injuries since the Celtics drafted him with the No. 19 pick in 2010, the 6-foot-2 guard has developed into one of the NBA’s premiere on-the-ball defenders.

Sullinger, drafted with No. 21 in 2012 after being projected as a lottery pick (top-14), underwent season-ending back surgery after appearing in 45 games during his rookie season.

He bounced back this past season and did not miss any games due to his back.

Moving up to get Embiid certainly would be a high-risk move by Boston. But considering he has the most upside in this year’s draft, the 7-foot native of Cameroon just might be worth the gamble with favorable comparisons made to a young Hakeem Olajuwon.

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LeBron’s next decision defines him


VIDEO: Pat Riley talks about LeBron’s free-agency

Pat Riley is right.

Now it’s about looking back and looking ahead.

Let LeBron James go away on vacation, confer with his wife and the rest of his family and friends. Then remember just how far he’s come.

Not just from the prodigy of Akron to king of the basketball world in Miami.

But from July 2010 to now. From those first days after the ill-fated, ill-thought “Decision,” to  his current place where the respect has come, albeit grudgingly.

As long as he laces up his sneakers and snaps on that headband, there will always be that part of the public that will never give him his due.

They are the segment of fandom that will never get over a Sports Illustrated cover that made him “The Chosen One.” Hyped up and pre-packaged is always a difficult bar to clearn.

They are the ones who’ll always claim they lost respect for him when he bailed out on the Cavaliers and took his talents to South Beach to chase rings, even though Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Kevin Garnett and others had followed similar paths.

They are the ones who resented the fact that the Heat roster was filled with All-Star talent, despite the fact that it was different than those Lakers and Celtics teams that ushered in the so-called Golden Age of the 1980s in the NBA.

Those are the ones James will never win over, no matter how many he adds to the four MVP awards already in his collection and the two championships he won in Miami.

Even in defeat to the Spurs, there was no disputing who was the best individual player on the court in the 2014 Finals. The same as 2013, 2012, 2011.

Riley is right when he says too many are too quick to dismiss the Heat achievement of getting to The Finals four years in a row. We always overreact to the last thing we saw and so it is easy to say the Miami glory days are through.

Dwyane Wade is definitely far from his peak and some of those sharp edges have been worn from Chris Bosh’s game.

But of the current rosters in the Eastern Conference, which team would you put right now ahead of the Heat for next season? The fractured Pacers? The leaning-on-Derrick-Rose’s-bad-wheels Bulls? The Wizards who just won a playoff series for the first time in nearly a decade?

Sure, he could grab a horse and a cowboy hat and jump off to play with Dwight Howard and James Harden in Houston and probably have the most talent-laden, ready-made situation to hoist another championship trophy.

But as he creeps up on his 30th birthday in December, it’s time for James to be considering his legacy in the game and whether another successful chase-the-ring move would actually enhance it.

This really isn’t a question about loyalty, because we know it’s hardly a two-way street when it comes to teams themselves. Face it, the Spurs wouldn’t have hung onto Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili all seven years between NBA titles if they weren’t capable of delivering the goods at an All-Star level.

James is carving out his place in history, still young enough to chase those five championships of Duncan and Kobe Bryant, even the six by Michael Jordan. However, in each case, the jewelry won is a matched set, all coming with the same franchise.

Choosing to return to the Cavaliers now won’t make everyone open their arms and forget that he abandoned Cleveland for four of the prime seasons of his career. Bolting for another city any place else in the NBA will only make him look desperate and cheapen the resume that he’s worked hard to rebuild during his time with the Heat.

Over the past four years, James has won over even some of the diehard critics and many of those who were on the fence. He’s been a dominant all-around force, the backbone of the Heat, more circumspect in the public eye, a leader.

By getting to four straight Finals alone, Miami has joined only the Celtics and Lakers in the record books. Magic Johnson’s Lakers only went back-to-back once. Larry Bird’s Celtics never did. Those five Spurs championships that are being celebrated now came over 17 years. The Heat have barely put a dent in that calendar.

To be sure, there is work to be done to pick up the pieces and make them fit together again in Miami. Nobody knows that better than Riley. And nobody should know that it is foolish to underestimate Riley as an architect, a maneuverer more than James.

Riley is right. It is a simple choice of staying the course or hitting the door.

James’ choices with the ball in his hands are almost always above reproach. Now is the time to see how much he’s learned off the court in the last four years about building a proper legacy. This decision defines him for good.

Hang time podcast (episode 165) featuring NBA.com Draft guru Scott Howard-Cooper


VIDEO: NBA’.com’s Draft Yoda Scott Howard-Cooper joins the Hang Time Podcast for an update a week before the Draft

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Before we can get to the NBA Draft and the future of the league and guys like Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker, we have to talk about those players and teams dominating the league in the here and now.

The San Antonio Spurs are on top of the basketball world right now, and rightfully so after blasting the Miami Heat off the court in the final three games of The Finals.

The results put the futures of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh into question (at least as a trio), while solidifying the legacies of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Gregg Popovich in the annals as some of the best we’ve seen in their respective roles and positions.

Episode 165 of the Hang Time Podcast provides us with an opportunity to review what we saw in The Finals in both San Antonio and Miami (where the first annual Hang Time Pigcast, thanks to Genesis Rodriguez and family, was a rousing success) and to preview what’s to come in the Draft and beyond with NBA.com’s Draft Yoda, our main man Scott Howard-Cooper.

Who are the Draft’s risers and fallers? Who goes No. 1? And is there a franchise savior among the bunch? We answer all of those questions and more, along with some drowsy analysis from a certain someone who decided an all-night drive to Las Vegas to clear his mind after The Finals was the only way to deal with what lies ahead this summer.

You get all of that and more on Episode 165 of the Hang Time Podcast featuring Scott Howard-Cooper

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best sound designer/engineer in the business,  Jarell “I Heart Peyton Manning” Wall.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

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.”

Blogtable: Are Spurs the faves in 2015?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: What to do in Miami | Spurs faves in 2015? | Who wants to be Lakers’ coach?



VIDEO: The champion Spurs have some issues to address in the offseason

> If San Antonio’s Big Three all return, and even if sparkplug free agent Patty Mills leaves, given how they played in The Finals, are the “old” Spurs automatically favorites to repeat?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: First of all, Patty Mills needs to talk with Gary Neal before he commits to another team with the idea he’ll be as effective – and have as much fun – as a non-Spur. The cash might be greener but the grass seldom is. But no, I think there will be a fairly even distribution of No. 1 predictions in the West – Spurs, Thunder, Clippers – along with Miami as class of the East and therefore a championship threat. San Antonio won’t have the right-that-wrong motivation next season and, logistically, coach Gregg Popovich will have to manage everyone’s injuries and playing time just-so again. The players will have to respond at a best-case level, and so on. In other words, way too many variables to just anoint the Spurs as easy favorites.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: At this point the Spurs never go into the season as THE favorite to win it all. That’s simply a matter of Tim Duncan being 38 and Manu Ginobili 37 by the start of training camp. Even with Gregg Popovich managing their minutes, there is no guarantee that their bodies will hold up. But the Spurs have shown consistently for nearly two decades that they’ll always be a contender and, if they’re healthy next April, then they’re the team to beat.

Patty Mills (Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE)

Patty Mills (Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE)

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: I’ll be shocked if the Big Three aren’t back, and, yes, I’ll make the Spurs my early favorites to repeat (even though I had a healthy Oklahoma City team beating them in the West finals). The motivation for this group is to get the lone accomplishment still out there: Back-to-back titles. They’re toughest competition in the West will continue to be OKC with the Clippers and Houston likely to come back stronger.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comI wouldn’t say automatically, but they would have to be the favorites — at this point. The answer could change completely before the first day of training camp, depending on what other teams do in the summer. But, yes, if the most the defending champion losses is one important reserve while no one else adds anything, they are the favorites until further notice.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I’d call them the favorites, but I wouldn’t take them over the field. They’re the most complete team in the league – no team ranked higher in both offensive and defensive efficiency this season – but it still takes some luck (with health) to get to The Finals. And there are a handful of other contenders with room for improvement.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Barring a breakup of your core group, a championship teams enters the next season as the favorite in almost every instance. And these Spurs, with or without Patty Mills, will enter the 2014-15 season as my front-runner pick to take home the Larry O’Brien trophy. They’ll have to survive a rugged Western Conference, as always, but they have the components needed to do so better than anyone else. The Clippers move into that No. 2 spot to me and Thunder would follow them on my list of teams coming out of the West and thus becoming championship contenders. But the Spurs remain in that No. 1 spot.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: The New Adventures of the Old Spurs was something of a revelation in the Finals. The way they shared the ball and played team defense was brilliant, so much so that you feel like they discovered another gear they didn’t know they had. And once Pandora’s Box is open, I don’t know how they put that back inside. The other thing is, if I’m a Spurs fan I don’t worry so much about losing a player, particularly a bench player, because you know the franchise is so great at finding and then developing players to fill these roles.

Spurs, Heat Have Questions (And More Offseason Queries)

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.cm

VIDEO: The GameTime crew discusses what’s next for the Spurs

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The San Antonio Spurs won their fifth championship since 1999, but it took 15 years for the most stable franchise in pro sports to play in back-to-back NBA Finals. What’s left to accomplish?

That’s right, back-to-back titles.

That’s only one reason to expect Spurs captain Tim Duncan to continue his brilliant career for at least a 18th season. The talk has always been about Kobe Bryant chasing Michael Jordan‘s six rings, but it’s now Duncan in his twilight years who has the greatest chance to get it done.

So why in the world would Duncan, his body holding up as strongly as his production, hang ‘em up now?

Versatile forward Boris Diaw, high-octane point guard Patty Mills and reliable-when-needed forward Matt Bonner are the only players not under contract for next season. While Diaw and Mills have raised their stock and will be attractive free agents, it’s certainly not out of the question that they’ll be back in the silver-and-black.

Even if the Spurs lose one, or both, their Big Three — plus Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and a couple new reinforcements for the bench — will have the Spurs as a favorite to make it three consecutive Finals appearances.

Duncan, 38, just completed a phenomenal postseason, averaging 16.3 ppg on 52.3 percent shooting and 9.1 rebounds while logging 32.7 mpg. That followed up a regular season in which he played in 74 games while coach Gregg Popovich again masterfully managed his playing time.

So, again, what would be the motivation to retire now? A man of similar body type, the legendary Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, won a championship with the Lakers at age 40 and played in The Finals at age 41.

While Duncan, for whatever reason, hasn’t come out and stated that he’ll be back despite still having one year and $10.3 million left on his contract, he has smiled through interviews while making statements lightly-sprinkled with hints that he has no plan of joining San Antonio resident David Robinson on the golf course quite yet.

Fortunately, the anticipation for a definitive answer won’t take long. Duncan has a June 24 deadline, that’s one week from today, to notify the Spurs of his plans.

The Miami Heat’s future won’t be resolved quite so soon. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh can all opt out of their contracts and become free agents. What they decide to do will be the biggest story of the summer and whatever they decide will produce ripple effects across the league.

And that brings us to the biggest story lines of the summer:

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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

Previous

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