The San Antonio Spurs were basically a defensive rebound away from sealing their fifth title in June 2013, in what became one of the toughest losses in NBA Finals history. At that moment, it seemed as though the aging Spurs had missed their last chance at NBA glory, but Coach Popovich and the rest of the squad made sure that they would get their revenge in June 2014.
It has been reported that Popovich's first order of business during the preseason was to replay the gut-wrenching final seconds of Game 6, where Ray Allen hit a miraculous three-pointer and denied the Spurs of their fifth championship. While many teams would never recover from such a devastating loss, for the Spurs the message was clear: they still had a lot to prove, and a lot to win.
Heading into 2014, the team's roster remained practically unchanged, with Marco Belinelli serving as the main acquisition. Outside of him, the long-tenured big three of Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili were to continue their positions of command, while the coaching staff again had the challenge of keeping their minutes steady and with regular rest.
This is how the team used the season to find their best rotations and lineups, with secondary players emerging into primary roles seemingly every night. Afterthoughts like Patty Mills, Tiago Splitter, and Danny Green posted the best season of their respective careers, while Kawhi Leonard got better and better as the season progressed. This meant that no Spurs player played more than 2,158 minutes during the regular season, keeping their legs fresh for the playoffs.
Still, there is no way to deny that the Spurs were the best of the regular season. Their 62-20 mark was the best in the league, and was only a win behind the best season in franchise history. The way they accomplished was equally impressive, as the Spurs dominated the regular season with apparent ease.
To wit, only twice all year they lost consecutive games, with the final one being in the last two contests of the season where they had already secured the West's top spot. On the other hand, they managed to post two different double-digit winning streaks, including an epic 19-game streak from late February to early April that put them over the top in a loaded Western Conference.
In the end, the regular season had the Spurs with the best point differential (+7.7 per game), as well as the only team that won at least 30 games on the road. The playoffs were the real challenge, and the Spurs lived up to it.
Round 1 versus Dallas turned out to be the biggest challenge, as the Spurs faced elimination in a tough game 7. However, it all went smoothly from there, with San Antonio cruising all the way to the Finals, where they set up a rematch with the same Heat team that beat them a year before.
While the 2013 Finals were a classic, the Spurs made sure that the 2014 version became a laugher. After a monstrous performance by LeBron James on game 2 that tied the series at one game apiece, the Spurs hit another gear and blew the Heat out of the court for the rest of the series.
In the end, the Spurs posted one of the most dominant playoff performances ever. In their 16 playoff wins, they averaged a 17.06 margin of victory per game, and only needed one overtime win. Their 7 defeats will probably keep them away of the podium of the best playoff teams of all time, though they were only by 8.57 points on average.
Newly minted Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard is now the hope for the franchise to remain relevant and competitive for years to come, as the Big Three will enter 2015 on the wrong side of 30 and even pushing into their forties. Out of all the key contributors to the team, only Mills, Matt Bonner, and Boris Diaw are still without a contract, but it is still hard to see them leaving the great situation they have in San Antonio.
Meanwhile, Gregg Popovich just became the fifth coach in history that has won at least 5 titles, while Tim Duncan now has the distinction as the only NBA player to win championships in three different decades.
As the season fades and we head to the NBA Draft and an offseason of many debates, a lot of airtime will be spent on LeBron's foibles, Carmelo's future, Phil Jackson and the Knicks, and many other storylines. Let's just hope that the greatness of San Antonio gets the attention it deserves, as they remain the favorite to do it all again in 2015.