San Antonio Killed the Basketball Star

Their remarkable 13-man attack has been unlucky for the Heat.

Last night, 13 Spurs players put up points. Yes, that number had a lot to do with the first half drubbing Popovich’s boys gave the Heat, but it’s still worth mulling over.  The Spurs distribute minutes and the ball like no other team in the NBA and – even as they face down LeBron and the LeBronettes – it’s working. On average, 10.5 Spurs have scored per Finals game to the Heat’s 8.75 players, and the San Antonio bench has notched 140 points, some 55 more than Miami’s sitters. That’s how San Antonio has averaged a breakneck 106.6 points per game in the playoffs without having a single player in the top 25 in playoff scoring.

A Spurs championship is hardly inevitable. Miami’s strategy (paying LeBron a lot of money to play basketball) has a lot going for it. But if Tim Duncan gets his massive mitts on the trophy for the fifth time, GMs around the league will be forced to rethink the NBA’s tired championship formula: Superstar A plus Superstar B plus a supporting cast equals success. Billboard-shattering talent isn’t going out of style so long as merchandising and ticket sales matter, but the Spurs have shown that true leadership is all about being first among equals.

No one demonstrates that better than Tony Parker, who choreographs plays with artistic flair and finishes with agile indifference. If the Frenchman knows his teammates’ shooting percentages, he clearly doesn’t give a merde.Patty Mills, who scored 12 points total in last year’s playoffs, dropped 14 on the Heat in Game 4 even as power forward Boris Diaw dished nine assists.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the Spurs’ Finals run has been the way it has put the lie to the myth that San Antonio is the world capital of boring basketball. Yes, Coach Popovich is process-oriented, but that process has been a hell of a lot of fun to watch. The Spurs’ ball distribution has repeatedly made the Heat look silly, and the improbable numbers have left crowds cheering the team’s apparently permanent deviation from the mean. Rooting for a team to break 60 in the first half provides more consistent entertainment than the King James highlight reel. 

LeBron is as good as ever, but the Spurs are taking the idea of the superstar down a notch.

Photos by Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images