When people look back at the NBA Finals from Anno Domini Twenty-Thirteen, they’ll likely avoid sifting through all the narratives, subplots, and hijinks that came along with the Greatest NBA Finals Of The Twenty-First Century™. That’s not to say those gif-able moments, ensuing Twitter eruptions, and ESPN “First Take” reactions aren’t important; it’s just that this year’s matchup—which had seven possible future Hall-of-Famers, plus maybe one more, on the court—transcends keyword-laden, super-crawlable posts.
The numbing sensation of game-by-game analysis has caused plenty of jaded basketball fans to remain mum, even when there are six games in the books. Each successive contest blotted out commentators’ breathless, bloviated narratives, which have come to define the major sports league that’s best embraced social media.
The San Antonio Spurs were—and still are—a team for basketball traditionalists, a fact made more obvious with every pained Gregg Popovich sideline interview, every smart defensive rotation on the back end as Tim Duncan chirps out instructions to his teammates, every declaration of “respect,” like the one Miami’s Dwyane Wade uttered after his team won the decisive game.
Wade was instrumental in getting the Heat past their toughest challenger of the Big Three era in Miami on Thursday night, despite a deep bone bruise in his knee. But Wade also indirectly explained why the Spurs are the favorites of anyone who can remember seeing Lew Alcindor’s skyhook in person, or who remembers the era when all of a game’s relevant stats were contained in its boxscore. Some of just want to watch basketball, uncluttered by Points Per Possession analytics and snap judgments.
Wade also heaped praise on the Spurs’ 21-year-old Kawhi Leonard after Game 7: “We went through that whole series and a couple of those guys, I ain’t heard their voices yet. They don’t say nothing to ya, they just kick your butt. No trash-talking. Kawhi Leonard, I don’t even know how he sounds. But he’s a bad boy.”
That’s the Spurs: blank stares, hungry appetite for loose balls, and little time for the fluff surrounding the contemporary game. Leonard is being touted as the next great Spur, one who can light you up without the slightest quiver in his countenance, win or lose.
The Spurs’ offensive efficiency, defensive game planning, and wonderfully placid expressions brought their very best against the Heat in Game 1. Some will say the Spurs stole that win after Tony Parker hit a bank shot immediately after falling down and with the shot clock buzzer so close to zero. But the NBA’s Twitter Illuminati jumped into hyperbolic bromides about the end of the Heat, LeBron’s difficulties scoring, and San Antonio’s very real chance to steal this series. (The Finals’ 2-3-2 format rewards the team with the on-paper disadvantage; if the “away” team can split its first two games, a home-court sweep of Games 3, 4, and 5 can lead to the title.)
The Heat stormed back in Game 2. On the strength of a 35-3 run that blew the Spurs off the court in the third and fourth quarters, Miami evened the series, and the pundits again flip-flopped. Now, the likelihood of the Spurs hanging with the Heat was unlikely. When the Heat wanted to, they could beat anyone, and the only way the Spurs were going to win this series was if the Heat beat themselves. This was the tired refrain before Game 3, a chorus echoed since King James’ Decision® to head south.
Then Game 3 happened; the Spurs unleashed super role players Danny Green and Gary Neal, who combined for 51 points on a no-fuckin’-way 13-for-19 shooting from beyond the three-point arc.
Game 3 riled up the Twitter proles and even some of the austere patricians who remember filing for print deadlines. The Spurs were just too well-run; they executed too well for Miami’s risky trapping defense to stop. The Spurs played team ball; the Heat were just athletes who crumpled any time an opponent game planned for their unique small ball starting lineup. [...]