Instead of panicking after several playoff shortcomings — including a first-round elimination as a No. 1 seed two years ago — San Antonio tinkered with the complementary parts until finding a mix that worked. The Spurs drafted Tiago Splitter, traded for Kawhi Leonard and turned other teams’ scraps into serviceable role players.
“It’s incredible. It’s remarkable. They just show the resilience of a franchise,” Wade said.
Popovich said the franchise’s commitment to Duncan, Parker and Ginobili and the sustained success of the union is “a total function of who those three guys are. What if they were jerks? What if they were selfish? What if one of them was, you know, unintelligent? If, if, if. But the way it works out, all three of them are highly intelligent. They all have great character. . . . I think it’s just a matter of being really, really fortunate to have three people who understand that and who commit to a system and a philosophy for that length of time.”
The Spurs beat James and Cleveland for their last title, with the Cavaliers becoming just the eighth franchise in NBA history to get swept in the Finals. James is now hoping to join Bill Russell and Michael Jordan as the only players to repeat as regular season MVP, Finals MVP and champion. James is also seeking revenge for the worst playoff loss of his career against the team that inevitably forced him to get better and join a more talented team.
“I have something in me that they took in ’07: beat us on our home floor, celebrated on our home floor. I won’t forget that. You shouldn’t as a competitor. You should never forget that,” James said. “It’s the same group of guys for the most part. The same Big Three and Coach Pop. And I look forward to the challenge once again.”
The Spurs, Heat or Lakers have been in every NBA Finals since 1999. Now, two will meet with the Larry O’Brien trophy on the line.
“That mutual respect and the consistency of culture,” Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Both franchises thought at some point we would have met in the Finals. And we haven’t.”