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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Monday, January 30, 2023
Jim Dayton

Column: Appreciate the Spurs, appreciate LeBron

San Antonio won its fifth NBA title in franchise history Sunday night after a resounding 104-87 victory over Miami. With lights-out shooting, stingy defense and crucial contributions off the bench, the Spurs closed out the Heat in five games and perhaps put an end to the Big Three era in Miami.

Unfortunately, NBA fans have a problem. Rather than give credit where credit is due, there are plenty of people that prefer to dwell on the failures of Heat superstar LeBron James.

I’ll get to LeBron in a second, but this NBA Finals isn’t about him or his legacy. It’s about San Antonio.

The 2014 Spurs have already etched their names as one of the greatest all-around champions in league history. Facing a Heat team that likely has four future Hall-of-Famers in James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Ray Allen, the Spurs easily dispensed of their competition. At times, this NBA Finals looked more like a matchup between the Harlem Globetrotters and the Washington Generals.

The Spurs shot 52.8 percent from the field. That’s the best mark in finals history. They shot a ridiculous 46.6 percent from 3-point distance, the third-best total ever behind only the 2001 and 2002 Lakers.

Speaking of the 2002 Lakers, San Antonio’s 105.6 points per game is the highest scoring average in the finals since Shaq and Kobe completed the three-peat 12 years ago.

The overall scoring differential of 14 points per game made this the most lopsided finals of all time. Not to mention, the Spurs’ average margin of victory in their four wins was 18 points, the third-largest margin behind only the 1960 and 1965 Celtics.

Five Spurs averaged double digits in scoring. This has happened plenty of times but it’s only the fifth time ever that a team had five players average at least 10 points without any of those five averaging more than 20. The beauty of the Spurs was their balance.

By now, you get the picture. The 2014 Spurs were arguably unstoppable and were the most impressive edition of San Antonio’s five championship teams. This title was the culmination of the Tim Duncan-Tony Parker-Manu Ginobili era under Gregg Popovich, validating the strategy to keep this three-player core intact even as the most recent championship season of 2007 became a distant memory.

While this title overshadows the Spurs’ recent playoff disappointments, LeBron can’t escape his own. Despite winning four MVP awards and back-to-back NBA titles, basketball fans are relentless in pointing out his shortcomings and insisting on comparing him to Michael Jordan.

In the aftermath of these finals, it was sickening to see the Internet’s prevailing belief that if Jordan were on this 2014 Heat team, he would have led them to victory.

News flash: he wouldn’t have.

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James put together one of the best individual finals performances ever. He led the Heat in points, rebounds, assists, steals, minutes played, overall field goal percentage and 3-point field goal percentage. No player in finals history has ever led his team in all seven of these essential categories.

The only players to ever come close to duplicating this dynamic feat were Larry Bird in 1984 and 1986, Kevin Durant in 2012 and LeBron himself in 2013. In each of these instances, the player led his team in at least five of the aforementioned seven categories.

James shot 57.1 percent from the field and 51.9 percent from 3-point distance in this series. Both of these numbers were better than Jordan’s best shooting performances in any of his six career finals appearances. What more can one player possibly do?

LeBron is a top-five player of all-time currently playing in the prime of his career, but sadly the public eye remains focused on the negative, be it his mediocre Finals record or “The Decision.” While James definitely has a few more elite seasons left, the inevitable age-induced decline is looming.

Meanwhile, the Duncan-Parker-Ginobili trio may have already played its last game together. Even if all three come back, they’ll be 38, 32 and 37 years old, respectively, when next season starts.

Soon enough LeBron and the Spurs’ core trio will all be retired, with nothing left but nostalgia and the record books. Before that time comes, however, sit back and observe their unique greatness. Stop the misguided criticism. Appreciate these legends in the moment.

What were your thoughts on the NBA Finals? How does this Spurs team stack up against the all-time great teams? What is next for LeBron James? Email jim.dayton@dailycardinal.com and let Jim know what you think. 

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