After all these years, Spurs have earned more than respect
JUN 11, 2014 9:10a ET
MIAMI – It was a game of stunning beauty. It was a total nightmare showcased by a lack of heart or a mental letdown. It depended, in the end, on your perspective. Either way it was a historic performance. It was certainly an utter beatdown.
And, as much as anything, the San Antonio Spurs’ 111-92 win over the Miami Heat in Game 3 of the NBA Finals was a classic, refined, shimmering presentation of San Antonio Spurs basketball at its best.
For more than a decade, the Spurs have won championships and helped to largely shape this era’s history of the game despite being wholly unappreciated. They are too boring, they play too slowly, they are from too small of a market, there is no there there …
Only now, as Tim Duncan’s epic career approaches its inevitable conclusion, perhaps we have started to see past the silly and often inaccurate disparagements with which we have come to view this remarkable franchise and focus instead on its greatness.
Game 1 pulled in nearly 15 million viewers, and Game 2 surpassed that number, both strong numbers. Perhaps it is the power of a rematch between LeBron James’ team and the team that should have beaten him in last year’s Finals. Perhaps it is a blossoming appreciation for the greatness of Duncan before it’s too late to see it first-hand. Perhaps it is the fact that, in truth, the Spurs play a much faster game than they did when that reputation for a plodding pace was set, and folks have started to figure it out. Perhaps all that bottled up LeBron hate and Heat hate have gravitated toward a suitable possible champion in a team – boring or not – that can actually beat Miami in a seven-game series.
Whatever, on Tuesday night the Spurs flashed in stunning fashion what they are all about.
Gregg Popovich, coming off games in which his team turned the ball over way too much, flipped the script on a Heat team that likes to get out and run off of those kinds of mistakes: The Spurs scored 23 points off 20 turnovers to the Heat’s measly six points off 12 turnovers.
That, folks, is the Spurs’ tactical advantage that almost always accompanies Pop roaming and glowering near their bench, with all due respect to Erik Spoelstra and every other basketball coach on earth.
There was Kawhi Leonard, who’d struggled in this series and said at shootaround Tuesday morning the challenge for him was to show the man he was. Turned out that man had a career-best 29-point night while playing defense on James to the point of helping force the most turnovers (seven) the King has ever coughed up in a Finals game.
That, folks, is the Spurs’ uncanny depth – their spooky ability to roll out a Big Three of Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Giniboli while still threatening to beat you with as many as six other guys.
It all coalesced, what the Spurs are about, on a night that saw so many records fall or be threatened, that saw so much jaw-dropping basketball excellence that even hardened basketball writers after another weary year were moved to that rare place of shock, joy, surprise and unvarnished appreciation.
That, folks, stemmed from the Spurs’ patented ball movement and culture of winning. It led to:
-- Shooting 75.8 percent in the first half, a Finals record for a half.
-- Making 13 of 15 shots in the first quarter, good for an 86.7 percent clip. That’s the second-best shooting percentage for a quarter in Finals history – second only to, well, the Spurs’ fourth quarter in Game 1.
-- Leonard’s career-high scoring game.
-- A 2-1 Finals lead that, if they can finish the job, will give Duncan five rings and cement his place as one of the absolute all-time greats.
“I don’t know (how we did that),” Parker said after the game. "It’s hard to pick something. Our ball movement was good, and we shot the ball very, very well, obviously. It’s just one of those games that it was just going in.”
It was, and it won’t happen again, not at that silly rate. But neither will a team like the Spurs. They have one of the game’s greatest coaches – maybe THE greatest – of all time. They have the best power forward in NBA history. They have rare depth for a postseason system that usually rewards star-driven teams like the Heat. They still have juice in an era they have largely dominated, and now this final chance to cap it with yet one more championship. And we have a chance to watch it. Let Game 3 be a call to that, a reminder, really, of just how historically great the San Antonio Spurs have been, and how fleeting and unlikely such greatness is to see.
Shooting 76 percent in a half? Rare stuff. Ditto a team like the Spurs.
There is so much series left. In the history of the NBA Finals, when it’s knotted at 1-1, the Game 3 winner has gone to win the title 30 of 36 times. One of those six failures was the Spurs last year, who, in Game 3, won even more handily against Miami than they did this time around.
There’s also the inescapable fact that the Heat have lost two games in rare fashion: First in Game 1 with LeBron’s cramping getting the best of him and sidelining him at the end of the fourth quarter; then by facing a team in Game 3 that, for the first quarter and much of the second, shot better than 90 percent and actually, truly for a time could not seem to miss.
There is a long way to go. There is LeBron James in the way. There is the peculiar path this series has taken so far and how hard that makes it to see what is beyond the bends down the road.
But, with luck, whatever comes, these Spurs – with an assist from Game 3 – will finally get what they deserve: a country thrilled and in rapt appreciation of being able to spend time watching them compete in a seven-game series that decides the NBA’s latest champion.
Bill Reiter is a national columnist for FOXSports.com, a national radio host at Fox Sports Radio and regularly appears on FOX Sports 1. You can follow him on Twitter or email him at email@example.com.