Officially, Game Five of the NBA Playoffs will be played Sunday in San Antonio. Unofficially, this is merely a formality. This series is over. The Miami Heat are going to Texas as the champions of the league seeking their third consecutive title. They are coming back to Florida as the latest sports franchise to fail to pull off the trick of “the three-peat.”
The legend of LeBron James will not suffer from his inferior team losing to a clearly superior one. Even stuck on two rings, James is still the best player on the planet until someone comes along and makes him second-best and while Kawai Leonard has matched at times surpassed James during the series, his best day would just be an average on for James.
The best player doesn’t win championships. The best team does and this year that team is the Spurs and it’s not even close. James is doing what he can but without some help from Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh and whatever they can scrape off of their sorry bench, even King James can’t avoid being dethroned by the clearly superior Spurs.
“I don’t really get caught up in what pressure is all about…” James said after the Heat was crushed in their Game 4 loss. “For me, I do whatever it takes to help our team win. If it’s me going one-on?-one to try to help us win, if it’s me getting guys involved and taking threes in rhythm, then I’ll do it. But I don’t really get caught up in the pressure.”
He doesn’t have to. It’s those other eleven guys whom are feeling the squeeze and coming up small.
I knew the game was over in the second quarter on one play. One on the Spurs misses a shot, the ball is bouncing back off the rim, James and a few other Heat are looking up and in position for the rebound and zooming down from the free throw line comes Kawai Leonard to snatch the ball up and JAM IT BACK DOWN with a nasty-ass slam.
It was ugly. It was brutal. It was beautiful. It was over. The body language of the Heat said it all: they didn’t want it as much as the Spurs did.
There was still another half to play but that was simply a perfunctory necessity. The game was over and the Spurs won the championship on that play. The story isn’t how the Heat lost their title, but how the Spurs took it from them.
There’s no flash or sparkle to the Spurs. They’re a team built around aging, but effective studs (Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobli, Tony Parker), rising stars (Leonard, Danny Green) and a Foreign Legion of role players (Tiago Splitter, Boris Diaw, Mario Bellinelli, Patty “Not Pat” Mills) and a craggy-faced, curmudgeon Gregg Popovich who is only the best coach in the NBA.
Duncan is a lock for the Hall of Fame and Popovich will walk into it as well when he retires and turns overs the reigns. Rarely have a player and coach been as great as long as this duo has and their fifth championship since 1999 would be an exclamation point on both their outstanding careers which probably will end in a year or two.
Win or lose, the chatter has already begun if these are the last games James ever wears a Heat uniform again. He can declare himself a free agent and take his still impressive talents to any team that wants to back up a fleet of Brink’s trucks in his driveway. When push comes to shove, I’m betting LeBron gives Heat GM manager Pat Riley a chance of clearing away some of the flotsam and jetsam on the roster and finds some more athletic, energetic playmates.
However, that’s all for the postmortem plans. After all, when you’ve got the best player in the game, there’s always an excellent chance an elimination game won’t turn out as expected. What leads me to believe things are going to turn out exactly as expected is while The Heat need and hope to win, the Spurs expect to win. The math is elementary. The Heat have to win every game. The Spurs only have to win one.
Tonight they will and LeBron can start making his summer plans.