Even though Kawhi Leonard deservedly won the Finals MVP award, truth be told he might not have been the most important Spur in the postseason.
In The Book Of Basketball, Bill Simmons talks about his Playoff MVP award. The premise is that even though player X was spectacular in the Finals, there may have been a more important player in the rest of the playoffs who allowed the team to make the Finals in the first place. For example, Simmons suggested that in 2005, Tony Parker was only the most valuable player in the last series, but that the work Tim Duncan had done in the rest of the playoffs was much greater and more important to the team winning the title. Therefore, he awarded his “Playoffs MVP” award to Tim Duncan instead.
This is our chance to recognise a Spur for his accomplishments throughout the playoffs as a whole. We might not have an official NBA award for this, nor do we have Bill Russell to hand out the trophy, but here at AirAlamo, we like to reward achievement with articles. So lets take a look at top 5 players in order of who should have won the 2014 NBA Playoffs MVP for San Antonio.
May 29, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Danny Green (4) defends Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (35) during the second half in game five of the Western Conference Finals of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
After setting an NBA Finals record for most threes made last year, how did IcyHot re-up this year? By shooting over 47% from three during the whole playoffs, despite taking the second most threes (4.4/game) on the team. His +/- was good for fourth on the Spurs in the playoffs, beating out Tony Parker, and playoffs darling Boris Diaw.
Not only did he shoot well, but he was very efficient with the ball. Despite playing 23 minutes/game , he turned the ball over less than once per game. He actually racked up more steals than turnovers throughout the playoffs, meaning he got the ball back more often than he lost it: a ratio only matched by Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard.
Danny also played excellent defense in the OKC series, and switching him between Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant was the key tactical switch that swung the series in the Spurs’ favour.
Jun 18, 2013; Miami, FL, USA; San Antonio Spurs point guard Tony Parker (9) passes against Miami Heat center Chris Bosh (1) and small forward LeBron James (6) during the second half of game six in the 2013 NBA Finals at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mike SegarPool Photo-USA TODAY Sports
In the only elimination game that the Spurs played during the playoffs – Game 7 vs Dallas – Tony Parker had one of his best games of the entire season. With 32 points on 11-19 shooting and 13 free throws, TP absolutely dominated the Mavericks’ perimeter defenders in the most crucial game of their season. Without his output, the Spurs might have suffered the embarrassment of being on the losing end of a 1-8 seed upset AGAIN.
Parker also averaged a team high 17.4 point per game and 4.8 assists per game throughout the playoffs. The biggest knock against him, is the fact that he had to be hidden defensively against Oklahoma City, because he couldn’t stay in front of Russell Westbrook. Once Popovich figured out the right defensive match ups in that series (game 5) it became a lot easier for the Spurs.
Tony played a significant amount of the playoffs on an injured leg, which makes his body of work even more impressive.
3. Tim Duncan
The Heart and Soul of the Spurs, how can you have a discussion about most valuable anything without bringing up Timothy Theodore Duncan? Whether it was setting the all-time record for most post season double doubles, or leading the team in both rebounding (9.2) and minutes (32.7) at the age of 38, The Big Fundamental had one of his best postseasons ever. He was the emotional force that kept the Spurs together during the tough first round, and the leadership they needed when Serge Ibaka came back, and it looked like the Thunder were going to win the series.
Tim Duncan is the leader in minutes played, double-doubles & blocks in the history of the Playoffs. Legend.
— Coach NBA. (@CoachNBA) June 13, 2014
Duncan played his usual great defence, holding Chris Bosh to only 13 points in the deciding game 5 of the Finals. He was also crucial to keeping Dirk quiet in the first round matchup with Dallas. While his counting stats don’t necessarily tell the full picture, his +/- of +6.6 was good enough for third on the team, and the majority of his minutes came against opponents starters, which makes the numbers even more impressive.
2. Manu Ginobili
Manu had 3 excellent series, and one poor series. In the first (and closest) series the Spurs played in, Ginobili was the only Spur that could consistently get himself going offensively. He averaged 17.7 points in only 27 minutes per game, as well as 4.6 assists. But the stats don’t tell the whole story, as Ginobli was almost always the knife that tore into the centre of the Mavs’ zone defense. He was always dribbling past defenders and sucking others in before firing out excellent passes to players who had a better opportunity to attack. These passes didn’t always lead to assists, because the ball often kept moving after the first pass as the D reacted. His ability to beat his own man was key to the effectiveness of the passing game that Coach Pop loves to see.
After the Spurs went 2-1 down in the first round, it was Manu who put the team on his back and took control.
After a down series against Portland, Manu again brought it in the Western Conference Finals, and shot 50% from both the field and downtown on his way to 15 points per night – good for second on the team. With Tony Parker again struggling to create on his own, Manu took control in most of the crucial stretches and orchestrated San Antonio’s offense. His size allowed him to score around the rim, even after Serge Ibaka returned.
It almost seems as if Ginobili saved his best performance for redemption in the Finals. While his stats might not necessarily jump out at you, his +/- lead the team at an incredible 16.6/game. The next closest was Boris Diaw at 14.8, but he had almost 25% more minutes per game to rack up his numbers.
1. Kawhi Leonard
Despite taking more than 30% of his shots from downtown, Kawhi managed to shoot over 50% from the field, on the way to scoring 14.3 points per game – good for third on the team. He also grabbed the second most rebounds per game at 6.7, while stealing the ball more often than giving it away.
Jun 12, 2014; Miami, FL, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard (2) shoots as Miami Heat forward LeBron James (6) defends during the third quarter of game four of the 2014 NBA Finals at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports
But the place that Kawhi has made his money – and believe me, he is going to make ALOT of money this summer – is the defensive side of the ball. Tasked with guarding Kevin Durant and LeBron James in consecutive series is no small feat, but holding them both to well below their season averages on inefficient (for them) numbers while putting up excellent stats of your own? That is incredible. Over the last three games of the Miami series, Kawhi actually outplayed LeBron James. Just consider that. In the most important stretch of games in either’s careers, young Leonard outplayed a man who most consider to be a contender for the G.O.A.T. If you aren’t a fan of acronyms (or farm animals for that matter) the G.O.A.T. is the greatest of all time. And Kawhi outplayed that guy. Welcome to the big time young fella.
The player that wins the Finals MVP trophy isn’t always the playoff MVP, but in this case, it’s hard to argue with the decision.