CLEVELAND -- They never cared for style points, highlight reels, or glitzy endorsements. They were almost mundane in their steadfast approach to their one, their only goal since the Dallas Mavericks sent them packing in last year's postseason.
You don't think the San Antonio Spurs are pretty? They truly do not care. They weren't after Best Looking. The only superlative they coveted was Most Likely to Succeed.
After surviving a spirited fourth-quarter surge from the Cleveland Cavaliers and their charismatic young star, LeBron James, the Spurs celebrated their fourth championship in nine years last night with an 83-82 victory and a four-game sweep. They are the team of the 21st century, and this was a collective effort from one of the most synchronized groups of athletes in all of sports.
Their hallmark has been, and always will be, defense. It was true again last night, as they relied on one, two, or even three defenders to neutralize one of the most frightening offensive players in the game at this moment. James willed his team back into this game and kept it on the cusp of an upset down to the final seconds, but his time is not now.
Not with San Antonio harrying him into 10-of-30 shooting.
Asked what his young superstar, who celebrated the birth of his second son early yesterday, would take away from this game, Cavaliers coach Mike Brown responded, "Perseverance. That and understanding. You have to keep with it, no matter what the score is."
There will be talk of whether the Spurs qualify as a legitimate dynasty, and that talk will rightfully revolve around Tim Duncan, the centerpiece of all four titles. Yet Duncan would not have won this one without his counterparts, the spectacular Tony Parker, who shot 57 percent in this series and was named the Most Valuable Player, and Argentine Manu Ginobili, who came up with clutch plays in the final quarter, when Cleveland made one desperate, final charge.
Another less heralded Argentine, Francisco Oberto, was also instrumental in finally closing the door on the Cavaliers. Following a Ginobili three, Oberto scored 5 straight points to spot the Spurs a 74-66 lead with 2:29 to play.
James answered with a three (74-69 Spurs), but San Antonio was in no mood to extend this series.
"It was huge to win it now," Ginobili said. "When you have an opportunity to take a team, you must do it. It is too dangerous not to."
The Spurs were on the verge of loading up their private jet and cruising home for their victory parade when the Cavaliers ripped off a stunning 13-0 run to start the fourth quarter, ignited by Donyell Marshall. As San Antonio threw up one bad perimeter shot after another, Marshall, then James, started knocking down buckets.
And, when Daniel Gibson's drive went through with 6:56 left, the Cavaliers led, 63-60.
The Spurs turned to the redoubtable Duncan, who was in the midst of a nightmarish offensive outing, to stop the bleeding. He turned, wheeled, and beat Anderson Varejao to the hole for 2.
After Ginobili scored on a drive and was sent to the line, Duncan tipped in the missed free throw and the Spurs were back on top, 66-63, with 5 1/2 minutes to play.
Duncan finished with 12 points on 4-of-15 shooting, but when his team needed him most, he stepped up, as he has done throughout his illustrious career.
And, when queried about what this championship meant, he did not hesitate.
"It's defense," he said. "It's always defense with us. You've got to love what Bruce Bowen did [on LeBron]. He epitomizes what our team is about."
When asked if withstanding Cleveland's final fourth-quarter surge made the win that much more satisfying, Duncan answered quickly, "It made it sweeter. For them to make a run, for us to answer, to keep our composure and to win, no matter what, that was great."
Indeed, had anyone notified the Cavaliers before the game that San Antonio's franchise player would slog through the first half without a field goal, Cleveland surely would have liked its chances.
As it was, Duncan was 0 for 5 from the floor and 2 for 6 from the line in the first half, and turned the ball over three times. You'd think that would translate into an advantage for the home team, but the Cavaliers left the court trailing, 39-34.
That was due, in part, to James's own struggles. He was 4 of 13 from the floor and 1 of 4 from the free throw line.
"You've got to give their defense credit," said Brown. "They did a nice job blitzing him at times, keeping two on him, then other times they just dropped him.
"The changing defense throughout the flow was something as a team we didn't adjust to very well."
So much for the battle of the big names. While neither team would have gotten here without their resident All-Stars, James and Duncan expressed some remorse they did not perform to their highest level.
"We have to be better," James said. "I have to be better, both on and off the court. It starts with me, and it trickles down to everyone else."
As Duncan left the podium, and James passed by him as he ascended it, Duncan grabbed King James and told him, "You gave us a battle. Someday, you are going to own this league. Thanks for letting us win this year."
James will be back. So, in all likelihood, will Duncan.
San Antonio has been together forever. Or maybe they just look like they have. It is the unmistakable look of a champion.