Four months have passed since the masterpiece was finished with a throwback flourish that had purists spouting superlatives and invoking sacred basketball institutions like the Red Holzman Knicks, the Jack Ramsay Blazers . . . Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, James Naismith.
The Spurs joined the pantheon of great teams when they mutilated the Heat dynasty in the 2014 NBA Finals, playing a brand of team basketball that Naismith would have found ideal, even if it was unimaginable when he invented the game in 1891.
San Antonio won its four games by a combined 72 points. The Heat won once by two. This was a greater mismatch than the Globetrotters versus any hired loser.
By the end of the series, the Spurs’ passes were so swift and so efficient that Miami players could neither see nor find the ball. They were like a guy who gets tapped on the shoulder and turns to find nothing. And it happened again and again, which left the Heat with no option except to marvel after the series.
“It was exquisite basketball,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said with equal parts awe, pain and candor.
With the Spurs that much better than the second-best team, the question facing us today is this: Why do we not sense more enthusiasm about the likelihood of the Spurs winning their second consecutive title this season and their sixth since 1999? After last season, were we not left with the clear vision of two classes of team in the NBA — the Spurs and everyone else?
Quibblers will point out it took the Spurs seven games to beat the Mavericks in the opening playoff round, which is true. But they were also 12-3 in the final three rounds. In each series, the Spurs moved to a higher level as the series progressed and to an even higher level as the playoffs progressed.
It would seem that San Antonio is one of those champions — like the Lakers of Shaq and Kobe or the Bulls with Michael and Scottie — that is playing superior to the rest of the league. Yet we are treated to suggestions that the new Cavs, the healthy Bulls, the more battle-tested Thunder or even the Sterlingless Clippers may be equal to the Spurs.
Can’t see it. Let’s assume that health is not an issue. If so, the Spurs are the class of the league. Maybe during the season, or when the 2015 playoffs begin, a challenger will arise. That was the case two years ago when the Heat was defending a championship they won in five games against Oklahoma City.
Miami was a lock going into the season and the playoffs and yes, Indiana took the Heat to a seventh game in the conference finals and yes, in the Finals, they were one Ray Allen miracle away from losing in Game 6 to the Spurs.
But they won. If going into the season you want to tell me the Spurs will be tested, OK. Even Michael was tested. But don’t tell me they are underdogs to the Cavs or equaled by the Thunder, Clippers, Warriors, Rockets, Mavericks, etc.
The Spurs, of course, don’t mind such slights. The franchise is accustomed to declining expectations. This is a team that has been written off as too old for about seven years now, yet during that time, it has won 12 playoff series while losing six with two consecutive appearances in the Finals and one title.
The interesting part of the old “too old” story is that the “old” part has actually been true for seven years. When it first started, it was bench players who were “too old.”
In the 2007-08 season, eight of the Spurs’ top nine players in minutes played were 30 or older – guys like Robert Horry, Michael Finley and Bruce Bowen. But Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili were 31 and 30, respectively, and Tony Parker was 25.
Now, however, when the “too old” observation is made, the point is Duncan, Ginobili and Parker will play this year at 38, 37 and 32, respectively. So “too old” has applied at first to the bench and now to starters, making it always true in terms of basketball age, but never accurate in terms of limiting the Spurs.
Again this season, the Spurs also have huge contributors in their 20s – Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, Tiago Splitter, Marco Bellinelli and rookie Kyle Anderson, whose scouting report emphasizes his greatest strength, which, not surprisingly is very Spurlike:
This is not to suggest that the Spurs will coast this season. This is to point out how they should be viewed going into the season, understanding how they distinguished themselves at the end of last season, winning so effortlessly and dominating so thoroughly in the Finals.
LeBron James probably is the best example of how superior the Spurs are to the rest of the league. After the Finals, he took a hard look at the way the Spurs played, took another look at his Miami teammates and said forget it — I’m going home. Yes, more was involved, but James no doubt saw hopelessness in the Heat’s future if the Spurs were involved.
It may be trendy to pick other teams to win a championship this season, but if you’re tempted to make a bet – legal or otherwise – on who will win the NBA title and you are going to bet against the Spurs, this would be my advice.
Save your money.
CHECK OUT JAN HUBBARD’S ARCHIVE FROM SHERIDAN HOOPS.COM. TERRIFIC STUFF ON THE NBA, PAST AND PRESENT.
Jan Hubbard has written about basketball since 1976 and worked in the NBA league office for eight years between media stints. Follow him on Twitter at @whyhub.