As we lay the Miami Heat’s reign to rest, remember that the San Antonio Spurs — this brilliant franchise that makes all the right moves and gets a helpful bit of luck, too — has never won back-to-back titles. Through five championships over 16 seasons, with the team winning 50-plus in every year of the new millennium, with fresh talent augmenting living legends constantly, the Spurs had never even made back-to-back Finals series before this season, let alone won back-to-back titles.
That’s how you can tell some NBA feat is truly difficult: it’s one the Spurs have never accomplished. For the Heat to win two straight titles in 2012 and 2013 is something special.
They were not close to winning a third. After a weird set of games in San Antonio to open the Finals, the Spurs blew out Miami three straight times for the championship. Miami even opened up a ponderous 22-6 lead in the first quarter of Game 5, but the Spurs punch back hard and knocked the Heat out in the third quarter by taking a double-digit lead that thoroughly broke Miami.
The Spurs were so dominant in the series that those arguments about the weak East lining the path to the Finals took on some added credence. The Heat would never have survived the West this season. Part of that is because the West was loaded with quality (again), but the Heat have also gotten worse over the past year. Miami lost Mike Miller in free agency and watched Shane Battier lose his ability to affect a game. Chris Andersen has about three actual jumps in him per game.
And Dwyane Wade — oh, Dwyane Wade. This series was an answer to a question no one knew we had: Did Wade’s frequent, famous rest all season simply mask his age-based regression? The Finals were not kind to Wade — he shot 6-of-24 in Games 4 and 5. That Wade of old (or hell, of last season) — attacking the rim, drawing fouls, drawing attention, making brilliant plays left and right, being a defensive troublemaker — was a shadow, one that mocked the real No. 3 of the now.
The Spurs’ brilliant defense shut down Chris Bosh and made life difficult for LeBron James, the best player in the series/world. But it’s hard to tell how much of Wade’s trouble came from himself and how much stemmed from San Antonio’s schemes, execution and talent. That’s a question Pat Riley and the crew will have to answer in the next couple of weeks and next few years. Wade, like LeBron and Bosh, can opt out of his contract this summer. If he does, how much of a pay cut will the Heat ask him to take in order to add help? Or will the Heat intend to keep him at all?
At the same time as the epochal doubt kicks in, so too does the positive example of the Spurs. How long has the league considered San Antonio dead? Before 2013, the Spurs hadn’t made the Finals since 2007. If there’s an argument that age can be kind to teams run properly, teams that borrow some luck and make plenty of their own … well, that argument is staring the Heat in the face. The Spurs have done what faces the Heat: turning a star-laden team into a dynastic power that lasts almost two decades. With the right moves, Miami can follow San Antonio’s lead.
Until then, all they can do is respect their own accomplishments (including four straight Finals berths and counting), keep LeBron, look at improving the roster around LeBron and wait for the Basketball Gods to smile again. The Spurs have proved that patience is a virtue. There’s still time for Miami.
Just not this year.