“....everybody in here knows, everybody’s got a piece of this thing. Kawhi thinks he did it all by himself, but we all know we all had a piece of it. I’ve never been more proud of a team nor have I ever gotten as much satisfaction from a season in all the years that I’ve been coaching. To see the fortitude you guys displayed in coming back from that horrific loss last year and getting yourselves back in position and doing what you did in the Finals. You’re really to be honored for that and I just can’t tell you how much it means. Thank you very much for everything..”
Those were the words Gregg Popovich said to his team after winning 4-1 against the Miami Heat, and with those words, the greatest coach of his era (and probably of all time) added one more argument in favor of saying that the basketball the Spurs played all season, and especially in that series was the best basketball ever to be played on an NBA court.
After a heartbreaking loss in the previous season, there were a lot of questions about the San Antonio Spurs. Many saw the 2013 Finals as the last chance for an old team to win their last ring. Even Pop and Duncan later said they were not sure if they will even come back next season or just retire. Pat Riley also appreciated to come back after such a loss: "They found their nirvana through their adversity," Riley says. "That doesn't happen often like that when you lose the way they did in 2013. It usually destroys a team, makes them go the other way, especially when there's aging. They played three of the greatest games that anybody has ever played. That's what it takes. It takes that kind of adversity and great players and, most importantly, mature, grown-up individuals who have been in the profession a long time, who can take the game of basketball to another level. But that's what they did."
After deciding to come back and have another go at the Heat, the point of the entire season was to prepare to meet LeBron, Wade, and Bosh in the Finals again. The solution Pop came up with was to play the quickest brand of basketball you can imagine. He defined it as 0.5 basketball.
The idea is quite simple: when you get the ball you have half a second to decide either to dribble, pass or shoot. They could not match the athleticism of the Heat, so their lack of speed on the court had to be compensated with speed in their decision making. A stat that will prove the point comes from NBA.com player tracking data. It had determined the Spurs passed the ball 472 more times than the Heat in the 2014 Finals. The disparity was even more evident in Games 3-5 when they averaged 157 more passes per game.
As LeBron James said, after Game 5: "That's team basketball. It's selfless. Guys move, cut, pass. You've got a shot, you take it. But it's all for the team. It's never about the individual. That's their brand of basketball, and that's how team basketball should be played."
Here’s a video by Colin Stanton celebrating The Beautiful Game:
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