The San Antonio Spurs ended the Miami Heat’s two-year reign as National Basketball Association champions by winning their fifth title in the past 16 seasons, and did it in record-setting fashion.
The Spurs became the first team in league history to win three straight NBA Finals games by more than 15 points, capping a four-games-to-one series win with last night’s 104-87 victory in San Antonio. They outscored the Heat by an average of 18 points in their four wins.
San Antonio avenged last season’s six-game loss to Miami in the championship series, the Spurs’ lone NBA Finals loss since 7-footer Tim Duncan joined the franchise as the No. 1 draft pick in 1997. With five titles, the 38-year-old Duncan joins Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers for the most among active players.
“We remember what happened last year and how it felt in that locker room,” Duncan said after scoring 14 points and grabbing eight rebounds last night. “We used it, built on it and got back here. It’s amazing.”
Kawhi Leonard had 22 points and 10 rebounds in Game 5 to lead the Spurs, who prevented the Heat from becoming the sixth team to win at least three straight titles and the first since Bryant’s Lakers in 2000 to 2002. San Antonio also won NBA championships in 1999, 2003, 2005 and 2007.
Leonard, 22, became the third-youngest player selected as Most Valuable Player of the NBA Finals behind Duncan (1999) and Magic Johnson (1980). The 14 years between Duncan’s first and most recent appearances in the NBA Finals is the second longest in league history. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had 17 seasons between his first trip to the NBA Finals and last at age 42 in 1989.
As the Spurs and their hometown crowd celebrated, Duncan jumped into the arms of former San Antonio center David Robinson, who was a part of the franchise’s first two championship teams and won a title in his final season.
“It’s just the close of a career, I know it’s coming to an end,” a teary-eyed Duncan said when asked about letting his emotions show. “I don’t know if I’ll have a chance to do this again. It’s just a real emotional time.”
The Heat, with their season on the line, jumped out to a 22-6 first-quarter lead last night. The Spurs answered with a 12-0 scoring run and trailed 29-22 after the opening quarter.
San Antonio then outscored Miami 55-29 over the next two quarters, extending its advantage to as much as 22 points. Manu Ginobili scored 19 points, while Patty Mills scored 17 points off the bench for the Spurs and hit 5-of-8 3-pointers.
“What happened last year made us stronger and we weren’t going to let this opportunity get away,” said Ginobili, whose 117 postseason wins alongside Duncan and Tony Parker are the most in NBA history for any trio of players.
The Spurs shot 52.8 percent from the field in the Finals, the best for any team in the championship series since the 24-second shot clock was instituted during the 1954-55 season.
“They were the better team,” James said at a news conference. “That’s why they’re the champions.”
The only other playoff series Miami had lost since James joined the team as a free agent in 2010 was in that season’s NBA Finals to Dallas. James last night scored 31 points and pulled down 10 rebounds for the Heat.
“We went to four straight finals,” James said. “We’ll take 50 percent in championships any day. That’s the nature of the game.”
San Antonio had the best record in the NBA this season at 62-20 -- its record 15th straight year with at least 50 wins -- and then beat Dallas, Portland and Oklahoma City to reach the NBA Finals for the second year in a row.
The Spurs won the opening game of the series by 15 points before losing Game 2 at home, 98-96. The Spurs then romped to two straight victories in Miami by a combined 40 points, joining the 1977 Portland Trail Blazers as the only teams to win back-to-back NBA Finals games by at least 19 points.
Duncan and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich have 149 postseason wins together, 30 more than any other coach-player duo in NBA history. Popovich, in his 18th season in San Antonio, is the fifth coach with at least five NBA titles, joining Phil Jackson (11), Red Auerbach (9), John Kundla (5) and Pat Riley (5).
“There’s a lot of satisfaction to be able to come out on top of such a great organization and a great team,” Popovich said at a news conference. “They’re a class act and they’ll be back next year for sure. From our point of view, it’s satisfying because of the work we put in all year to get back to the finals and have this opportunity, and it worked out.”
This was the 12th NBA Finals rematch in history and the first since the Chicago Bulls and Utah Jazz faced each other in the 1996-97 and 1997-98 seasons. Of the prior 11 rematches, there had been seven repeat winners.
The Spurs have a 23-11 record in the NBA Finals for a .677 winning percentage, second only to the Bulls, who had a 24-11 record and .686 winning percentage with Michael Jordan.
“We were so close last year and this year was a great rematch,” said Parker, who had 16 points last night and hit seven of his last eight shots. “We wanted to redeem ourselves. This title is for San Antonio and it’s the sweetest one.”