The San Antonio Spurs dominated the Miami Heat again last night to win Game 5 and clinch their 5th NBA championship in franchise history. The Spurs won each game in the series by almost 15 points, and will be the heavy favorite to repeat as NBA champion going into next season, though they will face potentially steeper challenges from teams in the Western Conference, depending on how those teams upgrade during the offseason.
The Miami Heat opened the game very strongly last night with aggressive play offensively and excellent defensive rotations that temporarily stifled San Antonio. Miami also benefitted from some generous foul calls from the referees to gain an early 22-6 advantage, and for a moment, I thought we might see Miami force a Game 6 to be played in this series.
However, that good start for the Heat proved to be just a glimmer, and Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard hit a 3 pointer, and Manu Ginobili followed with a huge shot of his own, and suddenly Miami began to fold. The Spurs erased that early deficit by going on a run which they outscored the Heat 50-20, grabbed a large lead and never looked back.
San Antonio played terrific basketball in this series, displaying excellent ball movement, precision shooting, and a tenacity on defense that proved to be too overwhelming for the Heat to handle. The Spurs received outstanding individual performances from their veteran trio of Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and Tim Duncan over the course of the series. Parker struggled at times including a 0 for 8 shooting start last night but he hit 7 out of 7 shots after that to help dispel the Heat.
A Win for the Small Guy
This victory for the Spurs can also be viewed, as I have written previously, as a victory for the small market teams in the NBA. The Spurs had another 60 plus win season and gained very little national media recognition because they play in San Antonio, and they are a very humble group that does not look to make headlines. The Spurs also assembled this roster through smart talent evaluation and finding players from overseas as well as young talent here in the U.S. like Leonard and Danny Green.
This methodology allowed them to assemble a cohesive roster in a very cost effective manner. Other small market teams will use this strategy in the future to attempt to build a championship style team with limited resources.
This series also showed the difficulties of a Miami roster constructed around the “Big Three” of LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh. While the NBA is a league driven by star caliber players, and you certainly need them to win, their loss in this series shows the importance of playing as a team. It shows the need for bench depth and role players to assemble the components necessary to win a championship.
In fact, in light of Miami’s second loss in the Finals in the past 4 seasons, I am very surprised today to see coverage speculating that Carmelo Anthony will look to either join the Heat or some other team to join up with a group of star players. I think this series proved that collecting star players will not promise a championship.
On the table
The other party involved in this situation besides the Miami Heat who were upset to see the NBA season end last night was ABC / ESPN. The network carries the NBA Finals games on ABC on network television every year, and the general rule of thumb in sports is that viewership increases as the series goes on. This series ended in 5 games, while last season these same two teams battled in a wonderful series that went the full seven games.
Last season, ABC posted huge ratings increases for Games 6 & 7 of the series, and logic dictates that the network left a lot of advertising revenue dollars on the table with this series ending after just 5 games. The numbers I saw for this series reported about 15 million viewers per game average, which is on par with previous NBA Finals ratings.
The Game 5 ratings for last night did jump about 10 percent over last year, with about 18 million viewers on a Sunday night which was also Father’s Day tuning in to see the Spurs clinch the NBA title and thwart Miami’s push for a third straight championship in the process.
What’s Next: San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs will remain largely intact, with this core group of roster players set to return to defend their title next season. On a personal note, I had wondered whether Tim Duncan, at 38 years old, would retire after this victory but the reports out of the NBA appear that he is going to return next season.
A few of the role players may change but this team will look to build on the success they had this season, and in the process transition the team to Kawhi Leonard and the other young stars on the roster.
What’s Next: Miami Heat
The Miami Heat offseason will feature dramatic change, this series loss exposed several issues that the front office must address. The Heat, with the exception of LeBron James, did not have nearly enough offensive capability to keep pace with San Antonio in this series. Their weak bench depth was also exposed by the Spurs.
The summer will focus on the “Big Three” and whether they will opt-out of their respective contracts to either test free agency or sign long term deals that would provide the Heat with the salary cap maneuverability to obtain some other much needed players.
The Heat are a long way from the big fan festival where they unveiled Wade, James, and Bosh in 2010 where LeBron famously boasted about bringing multiple championships, more than five, to Miami. The three stars guided the Heat to the Finals four years in a row, winning twice and losing twice, in the championship round.
The Heat have several roster moves to make in order to shed contracts and pursue players to help them get back to a championship caliber team again. LeBron should return, I would be shocked if he left Miami, but stranger things have happened.
Wade is not performing to the huge amount of salary he is owed for the next two years, and he will either sign a new deal with Miami with a pay cut that provides cap flexibility, or I could see him sign to be the “elder statesman” kind of player elsewhere. I could see Wade on the L.A. Clippers, or the Oklahoma City Thunder or another team on the brink of a title run.
Bosh has openly stated he wants to return to Miami on a pay cut, but I personally would not bring him back, he was invisible at points in this series. I have always thought that he was overrated, and I think Miami can upgrade the roster with a better player than Bosh at this point.
Last night was bittersweet for me, and it usually is every year, the series was wonderful from a basketball sense but it means the NBA season is over. Now myself and other devoted basketball fans will have to slog through the summer months in anticipation for November when the new season will begin once again.
(Statistics courtesy of ESPN and CBS Sports. Ratings data courtesy of Nielsen)