SAN ANTONIO -- As they approach a title rematch, the Spurs have not shied away from the fact that their loss in the 2013 Finals has provided motivation all season long. Coach Gregg Popovich has praised his team for not throwing a "pity party," Tim Duncan referenced the 2013 Finals shortly after San Antonio defeated Oklahoma City in the Western Conference finals last week, and Danny Green recalled watching clips from the series at the beginning of the season as a way to focus on particular areas of improvement.
LeBron James made it clear at the AT&T Center on Wednesday that the Heat, like the Spurs, are drawing motivation from last year, even though they prevailed in dramatic fashion.
Unlike San Antonio, James and his Miami teammates were able to bathe in champagne rather than regret thanks to a series of improbable events in Game 6. Sports Illustrated's Lee Jenkins broke down the entire final sequence in blow-by-blow fashion back in December, but the key moments -- the fans leaving early, James' jumper, Kawhi Leonard's missed free throw, the yellow tape going up around the court, Ray Allen's corner three, Miami's ability to hold on in overtime -- are unforgettable. So many things had to go right for the Heat to win that game, and all of them did.
Conversely, one might say -- and many have said -- that so many things had to go wrong for the Spurs to blow the game, and all of them did. There isn't a major factual difference in framing that game as a miracle Miami comeback or a dreadful San Antonio collapse, unless of course you are a member of, or a fan of, the Heat organization. In that case, you want full credit.
That was James' point, one day before Game 1 of the 2014 Finals. Yes, the Spurs were only a few seconds away from winning the 2013 title, James reasoned, but Miami earned the crown, it wasn't given to them.
"I can't sit here and lie to you," James told reporters, when asked if the "Spurs gave it away" talk irked him. "We feel slighted in the fact that ... [the series] went seven [games]. It wasn't like it was 3-0 [Spurs] and they had us in Game 4 and we took it and won four straight. ... We did our part, they did their part. Both teams put themselves in a position to win an NBA championship, and we just happened to make one or two more plays to win it."
It does sometimes get lost, given the extraordinarily tight nature of the series' conclusion, that many of the early games were one-sided affairs. Miami won Game 2 by 19 points, then lost Game 3 by 36 points, then bounced back to win Game 4 by 16 points, only to drop Game 5 by 10 points. So James does have a point here: it's not accurate or fair to say Miami was "given" its wins in the series, especially those that came by wide margins.
Even more interesting, though, is that all of those blowouts almost perfectly canceled each other out. Cumulatively, San Antonio won the seven-game series by a score of 684-679. That's right, just five points separated the Spurs and Heat over seven games. The average score of each game: San Antonio 97.7, Miami 97. The Heat shot 51.5 percent compared to the Spurs' 50.5 percent. San Antonio's 109.3 offensive rating barely edged out Miami's 108.5 offensive rating. "If you look at the numbers, the lead changes, the ties, and the points in that series, it's almost even," James continued. "The numbers are very, very, very close. ... But that's last year. ... This trophy belongs to nobody. It's up for grabs."