Sun Sentinel Broward Edition

Spurs’ end sheds light on Heat’s heights

First-round exit of­fers per­spec­tive on what Miami ac­com­plished

- Ira Win­der­man

MIAMI — Tim Dun­can an­swered the ques­tions qui­etly, al­most glassyeyed.

It was a look sim­i­lar to the one af­ter Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Fi­nals, and then, two days later, af­ter that Game 7, when, with the flick of a wrist, Ray Allen seem­ingly had stolen the San An­to­nio Spurs’ soul.

Min­utes ear­lier Satur­day night, Gregg Popovich sat at the same ta­ble in the postgame in­ter­view room at Sta­ples Cen­ter and spoke with sim­i­lar res­ig­na­tion.

Win­ning a cham­pi­onship is hard. Re­peat­ing is even harder.

There will be no re­peat NBA cham­pion. All four of last sea­son’s con­fer­ence fi­nal­ists are gone.

Ear­lier, as Dun­can, Popovich and the rest of the Spurs at­tempted to coun­ter­punch against the un­stated hunger of Chris Paul and the fury of Blake Grif­fin, TNT an­a­lyst Chris Web­ber spoke of how com­pet­ing in the past two NBA Fi­nals and the pre­vi­ous three West­ern Con­fer­ence fi­nals might have been “wear­ing” on the Spurs.

Af­ter that, when Big Baby Davis snuck in to se­cure an of­fen­sive re­bound off what had ap­peared to be a suc­cess­ful Hack-a-De­An­dre Jor­dan ef­fort by Popovich, Web­ber cited po­ten­tial ex­haus­tion for the Spurs.

Those mo­ments, all of them over the pre­vi­ous two weeks against the Los An­ge­les Clip­pers, re­in­forced the per­spec­tive.

Win­ning a cham­pi­onship is hard. Re­peat­ing is even harder.

On a sports day that made it dif­fi­cult to ex­hale, the po­ten­tial sun­set of the Spurs al­lowed for just such an ex­hale on the op­po­site coast.

Nu­mer­ous times dur­ing this past sea­son, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh spoke of the

col­lec­tive wear, both phys­i­cally and men­tally, of the Miami Heat ad­vanc­ing to the pre­vi­ous four NBA Fi­nals and win­ning ti­tles in 2012 and ’13. Even in Cleve­land, LeBron James found it nec­es­sary to take a twoweek hia­tus at mid­sea­son.

Since the end of the Michael Jor­dan dy­nasty with the Chicago Bulls, only two teams have won re­peat ti­tles: the Los An­ge­les Lak­ers and the Heat. It is some­thing Dun­can’s Spurs, even with their five cham­pi­onships, have never ac­com­plished.

The NBA sched­ule beats you down, a marathon so gru­el­ing that pro­vid­ing re­lief has moved to the top of Com­mis­sioner Adam Sil­ver’s agenda. Then comes a post­sea­son so in­tense that play­ers say one play­off game re­sults in the fa­tigue of two regular-sea­son games.

We’ve al­ready wit­nessed the at­tri­tion that en­sues as the stakes are raised, the Mem­phis Grizzlies on Sun­day with­out Mike Con­ley, the Cava­liers on Mon­day with­out Kevin Love, the Clip­pers fin­ish­ing Satur­day with Grif­fin bruised and Paul barely am­bu­la­tory.

None of it makes it eas­ier to ac­cept a Heat off­sea­son al­ready en­ter­ing its third week. But all of it makes it more ap­par­ent of just how much was achieved the pre­vi­ous four sea­sons, a ride for which the ap­pre­ci­a­tion should only grow amid the Spurs’ demise.

Win­ning a cham­pi­onship is hard. Re­peat­ing is even harder.

In the wake of be­ing side­lined since mid­sea­son with blood clots in his lung, Bosh spoke of the men­tal­health ben­e­fit of a pro­tracted pe­riod away from the game. Af­ter the fi­nal buzzer sounded on a Heat sea­son that pro­duced only lot­tery hope, Wade spoke of his own im­pend­ing ex­hale.

The voices of the Spurs sounded sim­i­lar Satur­day, Dun­can un­will­ing to com­mit to a re­turn that Popov- ich min­utes ear­lier had hinted at, Manu Gi­no­bili telling re­porters that the end could be near, both in need of an ex­hale.

And yet, dur­ing the closing se­quence of Clip­pers-Spurs that mus­tered more com­bi­na­tions than Pac­quiao and May­weather would of­fer later into the night, the NBA fra­ter­nity only wanted more.

“This is one of the best se­ries I’ve ever seen!!!!” Bosh posted on his Twit­ter ac­count.

That is the flip side of the equa­tion. That not only must epic se­ries run their course, but so must epic ti­tle chases.

Mon­day night, LeBron plays on, but in Cleve­land, be­cause for all the pos­tur­ing of go­ing home, he saw di­min­ish­ing re­turn with the Heat, greater pos­si­bil­i­ties with the Cava­liers.

Win­ning a cham­pi­onship is hard. Re­peat­ing is even harder.

In com­ing days, there will be plenty of re­flec­tion on what Popovich, Dun­can, Gi­no­bili and Tony Parker have ac­com­plished, on what might have been, of whether this is the nat­u­ral end of what be­gan with the 1999 cham­pi­onship.

When you go out in the first round, the league gets two months to ru­mi­nate on the vast­ness of pre­vi­ous achieve­ment. When you go out in the Fi­nals, af­ter four con­sec­u­tive con­fer­ence cham­pi­onships, per­spec­tive quickly gets pushed aside when the NBA draft and then a dev­as­tat­ing loss in free agency im­me­di­ately fol­lows.

But Satur­day night at Sta­ples Cen­ter — af­ter the Spurs’ run of con­fer­ence fi­nals ended at three and lat­est bid for back-to-back ti­tles again came up short — was a mo­ment per­fect for re­flec­tion of how dif­fi­cult sus­tained ex­cel­lence in the NBA, re­gard­less of con­fer­ence or for­tu­itous bounces, can be.

“Ei­ther you win it all,” Popovich said, “or there’s 29 teams that go home.”

Win­ning a cham­pi­onship is hard. Re­peat­ing is even harder.

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 ?? MARK J. TER­RILL/AP ?? L.A. for­ward Blake Grif­fin, left, talks with San An­to­nio’s Tim Dun­can af­ter Game 7 of their se­ries Satur­day. The Clip­pers’ victory means there will be no re­peat NBA cham­pion this sea­son.
MARK J. TER­RILL/AP L.A. for­ward Blake Grif­fin, left, talks with San An­to­nio’s Tim Dun­can af­ter Game 7 of their se­ries Satur­day. The Clip­pers’ victory means there will be no re­peat NBA cham­pion this sea­son.

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