The San Antonio Spurs eliminated City Thunder in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals on May 31 to advance to the NBA Finals against LeBron James and Miami Heat, for a rematch of last year’s season finale. Now the only question that remains is if Miami will add another championship banner to its collection, or if Tim Duncan can stave off Father Time to help San Antonio notch its fifth title since 1999.
The Spurs’ traditional winning formula of crushing opponents with dominating performances from superstars such as Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard has gone out the window, as coach Gregg Popovich showed throughout the playoffs that he’s not afraid to rely heavily on his bench to get the job done. Besides an impressive second unit, here’s a look at five reasons why the Spurs have the edge over the Heat in this series:
1) Depth: The Spurs have a deep bench, and don’t rely on any single player to carry the team. With Parker, a world-class point guard, sidelined due to injury in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals, San Antonio ousted Oklahoma City from the playoffs with a wacky lineup that featured third-year, third-string point guard Cory Joseph, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Duncan and Matt Bonner.
That’s not exactly what you’d call a fearsome starting lineup for the playoffs, but that’s what the Spurs went with in the second half of the elimination game against the Thunder. Joseph, one of the last players chosen in the first round of the 2011 draft, hadn’t played a single minute in the playoffs this season, before Popovich called on him to help finish off the Thunder. No one on San Antonio averaged more than 30 minutes a game in the regular season, which proves Popovich has one of the most well-balanced rosters in the league.
2) Superior Coaching: Erik Spoelstra, who has led the Heat to four-straight finals appearances, is a wonderful coach who has done a fine job managing LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh’s over-sized personalities over the years, but Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is an absolute legend who finds ways to win without as much star power.
Popovich has been holding the clipboard for the Spurs since 1996, and it’s hard to argue with his success. It’s no secret why he’s the longest tenured active coach in the NBA, as he helped the Spurs reach the finals six times and win four championships since 1999. Popovich, 65, has propelled San Antonio to 17 straight winning seasons.
3) Hungrier for a title: The Spurs are still bitter about the way they lost to the Heat in last year’s NBA Finals. San Antonio was up 3-2 in the series, and was just 28.2 seconds away from closing it out in Game 6 before Ray Allen forced overtime with a three-pointer.