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THE FINALS: SAN ANTONIO ROSE...AND ROSE
Jack McCallum
June 27, 2007
A SERIES THAT BEGAN AS A LOVEFEST FOR A LONE STAR FROM CLEVELAND ENDED IN REVERENCE FOR A TEAM FROM THE LONE STAR STATE
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June 27, 2007

The Finals: San Antonio Rose...and Rose

A SERIES THAT BEGAN AS A LOVEFEST FOR A LONE STAR FROM CLEVELAND ENDED IN REVERENCE FOR A TEAM FROM THE LONE STAR STATE

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THE DARLINGS OF THE NBA REGULAR SEASON WERE THE DALLAS MAVERICKS AND PHOENIX SUNS. THE SPURS? THEY JUST DIDN'T APPEAR MOTIVATED ENOUGH TO WIN THEIR THIRD TITLE IN FIVE YEARS, SOME SAID, AND THAT "SOME" INCLUDED COACH GREGG POPOVICH. HE QUESTIONED HIS TEAM'S DESIRE AND, MORE TO THE POINT, ITS COMMITMENT TO DEFENSE, ALWAYS SAN ANTONIO'S CALLING CARD.

Tim Duncan didn't agree with Popovich that he and his mates lacked the requisite fire in the belly, but the coach could point to the proof in black and white—during a rocky patch from Jan. 2 through Feb. 11, the Spurs went 10-10. "There were even rumors about trades and things like that," said Manu Gin�bili.

But, perhaps inevitably, San Antonio turned it around. Popovich held a series of meetings, with individuals and with the entire unit, and pronounced that there would be no trades but that there had better be improved play. "I wanted them to look at each other and understand that this group is going to have an early summer vacation unless we get it together and remember what it takes for us to win," said Popovich. "And that begins with defense and the boards."

The message got across in no uncertain terms. And once the Mavericks faded early in the postseason and the Spurs took care of the quicker but less defensive-oriented Suns in the second round, there would be no stopping San Antonio. Certainly LeBron James couldn't do it. Give the Spurs' defense a single focus and it will prevail. Years from now James, whether or not he has won a championship, will look upon the 2006-07 Finals as a hard, hard learning experience, the sweep proving what one veteran team is capable of when it plays with its heart and its head.

And Tony Parker will look upon it as the year he truly grew up, earning the Finals MVP award just three weeks before his marriage to Eva Longoria, an event scheduled to take place in France with his teammates present. It will be a much more joyous occasion, no doubt, than those winter meetings with Pop. But without them there would have been no fairy-tale prelude for Parker and no glorious summer for the Spurs.

GAME 1

JUNE 7, AT&T CENTER, SAN ANTONIO
SPURS 85, CAVALIERS 76

The Spurs are nothing if not diplomatic, which is why they had little to say about the fact that the 2007 Finals seemed to center on LeBron James's pursuit of his first title rather than on their own pursuit of number 4. Still, forward Bruce Bowen, who would be assigned the primary responsibility of checking James, let it be known before the game that he and his teammates weren't exactly intimidated by the prospect of going up against the Cavaliers' 22-year-old superstar. "Not to take anything away from him," said Bowen, "but to hear some of the things I've heard concerning LeBron, you would think he's the only wing player in the league right now."

Actually, though, that's exactly what LeBron was; at least, he was the only remaining wing player who mattered. Which is why he received special treatment from the Spurs from the opening tip-off.

Cleveland coach Mike Brown, a former San Antonio assistant, continually ran high pick-and-rolls involving James and center Zydrunas Ilgauskas—and the Spurs constantly foiled them. In theory the play is sound because it gets Ilgauskas's man, an excellent defender by the name of Tim Duncan, out from under the basket. But Duncan and Bowen effectively double-teamed James, sending him toward the sideline and frequently rendering him unable to make any kind of play, even a simple pass to a nearby teammate.

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