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All-time greatest nominee #21 – 2014 San Antonio Spurs

It had been seven years since the San Antonio Spurs had won their fourth NBA championship.  Despite being competitive and seemingly always toward the top of the standings, the Spurs just couldn’t finish off a fifth title.  The franchise was also fresh off one of the most devastating Finals losses of all-time.  With the Spurs up 3-2 in the series and what seemed to be a commanding lead in game #6 against the Heat, Ray Allen pieced a corner three-pointer through the heart of Spurs fans everywhere.  Miami would go on to win their back-to-back championship in game #7, but the Finals loss would drive San Antonio all season long in 2014.  Head coach, Gregg Popovich, would have all the answers and push all the right buttons as he even made his team watch game #6 of the 2013 Finals, in its entirety, on the first day of training camp.

With the loss in their rear view mirror, the Spurs blasted opposing defenses all season averaging 110.5 points per 100 possessions without a single player averaging over 30 minutes per game. Gregg Popovich won his third coach of the year award and helped guide the Spurs to a 62-20 record.  The first place finish in the rugged Western Conference was most definitely one of the most team-oriented in history with various players leading the team whenever they were needed.  Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili were, of course, the main faces of the team.  However, a youngster was starting to show his abilities and display why San Antonio drafted him.  The Spurs actually traded for Kawhi Leonard in the 2011 NBA draft where he was selected by the Indiana Pacers at the #15 pick of the first round. George Hill, who was one of Gregg Popovich’s favorite players, was sent to Indiana for Leonard. Although there were reservations about the move at the time, Kawhi was about to confirm how good the decision was.

The 2013-14 season was headlined by Kevin Durant’s first MVP season as he helped power the Oklahoma City Thunder to 59 wins and a second seed in the West.  Durant truly did lead the club as they had multiple in-season injuries to Russell Westbrook. The Portland Trail Blazers improved by 21 wins lead by their young stars, Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge. The Houston Rockets added Dwight Howard in the off-season in free agency and won 54 games to be considered by some as a championship contender.

The East didn’t have quite the competitive nature of the West.  The Indiana Pacers backed into the #1 seed by going 23-19 at the end of the season after beginning 33-7.  The defending champion, Miami Heat, finished second in the East as Dwyane Wade missed 28 games due to various injuries.  The Chicago Bulls, despite not having former MVP Derrick Rose, rode Joakim Noah’s All-Star season to the #3 seed. The Raptors and Wizards also were back in the hunt in the East with Toronto winning the Atlantic Division and Washington making the playoffs thanks to John Wall’s All-Star season that everyone in DC had been waiting for.

When the playoffs began, NBA fans were in for a major treat with one of the most entertaining first rounds ever.  Of the eight first-round series, five of them went the distance.  Even the top seed, Indiana Pacers, were pushed to seven games by the 38-win Atlanta Hawks who came within a few minutes of pulling the upset. Memphis showed they also had some growl in them taking Oklahoma City to the limit.  There was also a series-clinching buzzer beater by Damian Lillard to push Portland past Houston in six games.

Unfortunately not all the news was on the court.  Los Angeles Clippers owner, Donald Sterling, managed to infuriate everyone once racist comments were obtained and released by TMZ.com. There was a silent protest from Clippers’ players and commissioner Adam Silver banned Sterling from the NBA for life and fined him $2.5 million. The Clippers were able to put the drama aside, however, and beat the Golden State Warriors in the first round.

San Antonio struggled a bit against a pesky Dallas Mavericks team in the first round, but advanced in seven games. The Spurs, however, would dispatch Portland and defeated the Thunder in the West Finals to return to the NBA Finals.  In the East it came down to a rematch between the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers.  However, the Heat didn’t seem to be tested as much against the Pacers in the rematch and advanced to their fourth straight NBA Finals.

The stage was set for the first NBA Finals rematch since the Chicago Bulls three-peated against the Utah Jazz in 1998. However, the series failed to live up to the hype this time around due to the San Antonio Spurs complete dominance.  It was truly one of the most impressive Finals performances in history as the Spurs made a back-to-back champion look like they were playing in cement.  The Spurs could not miss and their ball movement was astounding as every player touched the ball and worked together each and every trip down the floor. Everyone played together, but it could have been a rejuvenated Manu Ginobili and eventual NBA Finals MVP, Kawhi Leonard, that helped propel San Antonio to their fifth overall title in a five game series win. The Spurs finished the series with a 70-plus point differential over the Heat which was the most one-sided margin in Finals history.

For Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker it was their fourth ring as Spurs.  For Popovich and the ageless Tim Duncan, it marked their fifth championship in 15 years together.  The 2014 Spurs were the perfect example of not just teamwork and hard work, but they also showed what happens when individuals work together to put the past behind them.  They couldn’t change the results of the 2013 Finals, but those results propelled them all season to show what champions are made of.  There was no quit in the Spurs and the challenge of winning a fifth title for the city of San Antonio will be remembered forever to Spurs fans and NBA fans alike.

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