Welcome to the Greatest Moment series at Last Word On Pro Basketball, where we’ll present to you each NBA team’s greatest moment of the 21st century. From draft lottery luck, to a franchise-changing trade, to the sweet taste of a championship, every NBA team has had its own special moment to look back on.
In this edition, we will relive the greatest San Antonio Spurs moment of the 21st century: The franchise winning the 2014 NBA championship in a glorious redemption story.
Greatest San Antonio Spurs Moment of the 21st Century: 2014 NBA Championship Redemption
“Rebound Bosh, back out to Allen, his three-pointer – BANG! Tie game with five seconds remaining!” After ESPN’s Mike Breen famously made the call on Ray Allen’s championship-saving shot – which turned out to be arguably the greatest shot in NBA history – in Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals, no one knew where the San Antonio Spurs would turn from there. They played an excellent game, did nearly everything right, yet still fell short and lost in overtime. Just two days later, the Spurs summoned all the energy they had left but simply could not match the Miami Heat in the deciding Game 7.
The loss was devastating. Its impact seemed unimaginable. While it was unclear how the Spurs would ever recover from it, one thing seemed certain: San Antonio would need plenty of time in order to bounce back. Allen’s unthinkable shot was enough to cause the basketball version of post-traumatic stress disorder.
But of course, as usual, everyone underestimated the Spurs. Just a few months after the franchise’s first ever Finals loss, the team came out seeking vengeance.
The Spurs ripped through the 2013-14 regular season, winning 62 games and again finishing first in the Western Conference. Their combination of depth, chemistry, and defense was unparalleled. The team could go 10 or 11 deep, and any given player could step up when needed, especially since coach Gregg Popovich frequently rested the team’s veterans. San Antonio ranked third among all teams in defensive rating, showing a staunch defense built on fundamentals and smarts at every position.
Best of all, the team’s passing was magnificent. The 2013-14 Spurs are rivalled only by the 1985-86 Boston Celtics in terms of beautiful ball movement and team-oriented play. Since the 2010-11 season, San Antonio had already evolved its style into a pick-and-roll, drive-and-kick based offense, but the team discovered a higher level of basketball in the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons. It was as though the Spurs all shared a brain, reading each other’s thoughts and processing everything two steps ahead of the defense.
2014 Western Conference Finals
The Spurs got through the first two rounds of the 2014 playoffs, despite a surprisingly tough series against their old rivals, the Dallas Mavericks. In the Western Conference Finals, they met a much more athletic team in the Oklahoma City Thunder – nearly the same group that beat the Spurs just two years prior. Despite the possible intimidation factor, San Antonio was unfazed. The Spurs picked apart OKC’s defense and slowly, methodically took down the beast that was the Thunder. Reminder: 2014 was also Kevin Durant’s MVP season for OKC, and arguably his best season to date. The Spurs paid no attention to the Thunder hype-train, kept quiet, and took care of business.
No play exemplified the unique connection between San Antonio’s players better than this tic-tac-toe sequence from the final game of the OKC series:
It was (and continues to be) simply astounding to watch.
2014 NBA Finals: Time for Payback
In the 2014 Finals, the Spurs were a different animal. They started out slow, struggling in Game 1 until the AT&T Center’s air conditioning malfunctioned, possibly helping San Antonio make its late run. After losing a close Game 2, the Spurs went into Miami with their backs against the wall. But this time, the Heat just couldn’t keep up.
Leonard erupted for a then career-high 29 points in Game 3, followed by a 20-point, 14-rebound performance in Game 4. More importantly, the Spurs dominated the first halves of both those games, earning a 20-point lead within the first 24 minutes of each contest. Their hot shooting was especially remarkable in Game 3, when the team set the NBA Finals record with a 75.8 percent mark from the field in the first half. San Antonio’s ball movement flourished against Miami’s aggressive trapping defense, leading to countless easy shots for the Spurs. Games 3 and 4 were essentially over by halftime. Game 5 was more of the same, and Manu Ginobili made the exclamation point with a ferocious dunk over Chris Bosh. Leonard led the team in scoring (for the third consecutive game) with 22 points, collecting 10 rebounds as well – and winning the elusive NBA Finals MVP award.
Despite missing out on the Finals MVP, the team’s leaders – Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Ginobili, who had played together for more than a decade – seemed as happy as could be for Leonard, the youngest Finals MVP since Magic Johnson, an all-time great. Leonard was phenomenal in both the 2013 and 2014 Finals, giving fans just a small preview of what he would go on to do in the following seasons, when he rose to prominence as a true superstar and won back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year awards.
The Team’s Legacy
The Golden State Warriors, who are currently dominating the league, are often compared to the peak Spurs (but with more star power), mostly due to their unselfish nature and gaudy assist totals. Their head coach, Steve Kerr, also happens to be a Popovich disciple. While Golden State’s passing does resemble that of San Antonio, nothing quite matches the 2013-14 Spurs. It’s not just nostalgia saying that; see for yourself.
The Warriors are special, but they take an ungodly amount of three-pointers. They pass up numerous open layups for threes. It’s not a knock on Golden State – clearly, their style is effective and smart – but aesthetically, it’s just not quite as perfect as San Antonio’s. The Spurs always seemed to take the right shot, no matter what that shot was. They had some flair, but they usually kept things simple. They were humble. San Antonio has a charm, as a small city with only one sports team, and the Spurs adopted that charm during the Duncan era.
No matter how great they were, the Spurs felt like an underdog against OKC and Miami due to their lack of star power. In 2014, Duncan and Ginobili were already past their primes, Parker was on the tail end of his, and Leonard was just getting started. The team needed every single player to win, and each one bought in fully to Popovich’s system. It was the ultimate example of a winning culture.
High Praise From Coach Pop
More than anything else, Popovich’s postgame comments to his players after the clinching Game 5 victory show why those Spurs were so special – even more special than past San Antonio groups.
“I’ve never been more proud of a team, nor have I ever gotten as much satisfaction from a season, in all the years I’ve been coaching,” Popovich told his players in an emotional locker room. “To see the fortitude you guys displayed, coming back from that horrific loss last year, and getting yourselves back in the position, and doing what you did in the Finals…you’re really to be honored for that. I just can’t tell you how much it means.”
People won’t forget the 2013-14 Spurs anytime soon, which is already a huge accomplishment for them. Their revenge was just the icing on the cake.
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