Swept Away: Cavs’ Valiant Effort Not Enough to Stop Spurs From Claiming Fourth TitleThe Cleveland Cavaliers battled back from an 11 point second half deficit to take a three point lead with 6:54 remaining in the fourth quarter but the San Antonio Spurs made just enough plays down the stretch to win Game Four 83-82 and earn the eighth sweep in NBA Finals history. This is the Spurs’ third championship in five years and the fourth since Tim Duncan joined the team 10 years ago. Only the Lakers, Celtics and Bulls have won more NBA titles—and those franchises have been in the league much longer than the Spurs, who started out as an ABA team and joined the NBA after the leagues merged prior to the 1976-77 season. Tony Parker scored 24 points on 10-14 shooting and was a landslide 9-1 winner in voting for Finals MVP. Manu Ginobili scored a game-high 27 points, including 13 in the fourth quarter. Duncan, ever the perfectionist and keen competitor, openly expressed his disappointment with his pedestrian numbers (12 points on 4-15 field goal shooting and 4-10 free throw shooting, 15 rebounds, two blocked shots and six turnovers). LeBron James had 24 points, 10 assists and six rebounds but he too was far from pleased by his performance and rightfully so: he shot just 10-30 from the field and 2-6 from the free throw line and he committed six turnovers. “If I don’t play well, our team is not going to have a good chance to win,” he said simply. “I’ve got a lot of things to work on to get better for next year. There’s no one thing that I want to focus on intensively, it’s just everything. I definitely need to get better and once I get better our team will automatically get better. I have to do everything that I’ve done well and continue to improve in order for us to be a better team next year.”
Cavs point guard Larry Hughes was placed on the inactive list for the second game in a row and rookie Daniel Gibson once again started in his place. Gibson (10 points on 4-10 shooting in a career-high 43 minutes) played better than he did in his Game Three start but still did not match the production that he provided recently in his role coming off of the bench.
Anyone who thought that the Cavaliers were going to quit in Game Four does not understand the type of team that General Manager Danny Ferry has put together or the mentality that Coach Mike Brown has instilled in his players. All year long, James has led the team in saying “1, 2, 3, championship” as they broke out of huddles, so they were not about to emulate Nick Van Exel's infamous chant, "1, 2, 3, Cancun.” The problem is that whatever blows the Cavs delivered in this series the Spurs always hit back harder, as if to say, “Is that all you’ve got?” Cleveland took a 10-5 lead to open the game and was very active on the boards, just like in Game Three—but by the end of the first quarter, the score was just 20-19 Cleveland and by halftime the Spurs led 39-34. I was seated next to a writer for Spurs.com and at one point I said to him that points have been at such a premium in this series that when a team scores four straight points it seems like a 10-0 run and the other team promptly calls timeout. He responded that he’s watched the Spurs all season and Coach Gregg Popovich tends to call timeouts quickly if he doesn’t like what he sees; Brown, one of Popovich’s assistants on the 2003 championship team, is very much like Popovich in this regard (and others as well).
The third quarter has been troublesome for Cleveland throughout the playoffs and it seemed like their season might die in the third quarter of Game Four when the Spurs pushed the lead to 60-49 after Duncan’s hook shot with :56 remaining. If the Cavs were ever going to give up, being down 3-0 and trailing in Game Four by 11 with little more than 12 minutes to go would be the time to do it—but instead they went on a 14-0 run to take a 63-60 lead with 6:54 left. The Cavaliers used their small, quick lineup of Anderson Varejao, Donyell Marshall, LeBron James, Daniel Gibson and Damon Jones to make this final push. The downside of utilizing that personnel grouping is that they can be attacked in the paint and on the glass. Ginobili hit a three pointer to put the Spurs up 69-66 with 4:15 left and James missed a three pointer on the Cavs’ next possession. Then came the key sequence in the game. Ginobili missed a shot but Fabricio Oberto got the rebound. A kicked ball violation by James reset the shot clock to :14, Bowen missed a jumper and Duncan snagged the rebound. Duncan missed a jumper but Bowen ran down that rebound. Oberto eventually scored a layup off of a nice Duncan feed—and then made a free throw to complete a three point play. The Spurs ran more than a minute and a half off of the clock while all this happened, emerging with a 72-66 lead with just 2:29 to go. Cleveland kept things close, aided by a Ginobili foul on Damon Jones that led to three free throws, but the Cavs’ inability to get a defensive rebound at that crucial moment sealed their fate. When Ginobili made two free throws with 1.9 seconds left the Spurs led 83-79 and began celebrating. Damon Jones closed out the scoring by making a three pointer.
Notes From Courtside:
Cavaliers forward Ira Newble has taken a keen interest in the human rights catastrophe that is taking place in Darfur, Sudan. He put together a petition about the issue that most of his teammates signed and he hosted 15 Sudanese refugees for Game Four. These men are known as the Lost Boys of Sudan, members of the Dinka tribe (like former NBA player Manute Bol) who came to Cleveland in 1991. They have received help from Catholic Charities and St. Agnes Our Lady of Fatima Parish.
About two and a half hours before the game began, Spurs assistant coaches put rookie James White through a very organized practice routine. He worked on cutting off of screens, catching the ball and then driving to the hoop, all while being bumped and held. Then he did some dribble drive moves from the top of the key, working on splitting traps and finishing strongly at the hoop. Another sequence involved catching the ball on the baseline and either shooting a faceup jumper or driving to the hoop. After White performed poorly in the baseline drill—missing the first several shots that he took—he was told that anybody else in the arena could have done just as well and “you have to earn the right to play offense.” He then had to play defense for a few possessions and make some stops before he was allowed to play offense again. He then practiced postup moves and wrapped up the session by shooting free throws. I don’t know what kind of NBA player James White will become but this kind of attention to detail, focus on defense and emphasis on preparation indicate why the Spurs are considered the model organization in the NBA. Their methods of teaching and player development seem to be very similar to those employed by Bill Belichick with the New England Patriots, which is not coincidentally the model organization in the NFL.
It has been said that success breeds success and failure breeds failure. Games Three and Four were very competitive but the Spurs found a way to win both of them. In his pregame press conference, Popovich said, “I definitely think that if a team has a core of players that have been together a while it follows that execution is probably a little bit easier for that group under pressure because they’ve done it before and they know what situations are best for them, offensively and defensively. If you haven’t been together that long, it’s a little bit more difficult to react, because five people have to react in a team defense or in an offense. If one person doesn’t react properly or the timing is off or the communication isn’t there, then execution can stop.” After the game, Ginobili echoed these sentiments: “We knew today we had a great opportunity, that if we kept the game close until the fourth quarter we were going to have a great opportunity and that’s what happened. We showed our experience in the last five minutes, we made great plays, good defensive possessions.”
posted by David Friedman @ 5:57 AM