The Extra Pass: Where the 2014 Spurs rank among NBA’s greatest unselfish teams
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Run the offense. Defend. Check your ego. And, always — ALWAYS — make the extra pass.
These 2014 NBA champion San Antonio Spurs most certainly will rank among the greatest teams in NBA history. Exactly where you put them in the pantheon depends on personal preference, likes and the value of individual greatness: Shaq and Kobe dominance in the early 2000s? Hakeem’s Dream Shake of the mid-’90s? The great Celtic dynasty of the ’60s or the Showtime Lakers of the ’80s?
Those are arguments that frankly cannot be won. Somewhere in there are these Spurs, certainly. To do what they did in such dominant fashion against a stacked Western Conference bracket and the greatest player on the planet in LeBron James, playing at the pinnacle of his career, makes it impossible to exclude the Spurs.
But one thing that is inarguable is this Spurs team is the greatest team-first squad the league ever has seen. High school and college coaches rejoice: Put this NBA Finals on a loop in your locker-room and show your players that unselfishness beats any obstacle and any opponent.
Here are the five greatest teams — emphasis on TEAM — in league history:
5) 1988-1989 Detroit Pistons
When it came to star power, these Pistons certainly could match almost anyone. But on the way to whipping Larry Bird’s Celtics and Magic Johnson’s Lakers, they showcased the kind of defense, ball movement and coaching that carried the 2014 Spurs. Dennis Rodman, John Salley and Bill Laimbeer defended and rebounded. Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars led an offensive onslaught heavy on the three-pointer. Mark Aguirre even checked his ego.
4) 1971-1972 Los Angeles Lakers
Certainly, some of the biggest names in league history dotted the lineup. But none of them — Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain, Gail Goodrich and Jerry West — individually matched their greatest moments as players. Collectively, however, much like these Spurs they all had great games at different times over the course of a monstrous season that included a 33-game win streak. And like the Spurs, who had a 19-game win streak in 2013-2014, it all came together in the post-season for a championship run that included the Finals victory over the New York Knicks.
3) 1985-1986 Boston Celtics
It was beautiful to watch. Just beautiful. They adage about the ball moving faster than any player was epitomized by these Celtics, who were led by Larry Bird and Kevin McHale, but got huge contributions on any given night from Robert Parrish, Dennis Johnson, Danny Ainge and an array of role players. The NBA Finals win over the Houston Rockets was a mere formality for a team that dominated from the season-opener.
2) 1986-1987 Los Angeles Lakers
It took next-level unselfishness from superstar talent to dethrone the defending champion Celtics. The Lakers got it.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was not nearly the player he once was, but could channel his greatness, it seemed, on demand. Magic Johnson was typically magical. James Worthy assumed a much bigger role as a go-to scorer.
But it was Michael Cooper’s defense, Mychal Thompson’s versatility and Kurt Rambis’ hustle and scrappy play that took the Lakers to the title — over the Celtics.
1) 2013-2014 San Antonio Spurs
Only one player — Tim Duncan — was drafted in the lottery. Every other player, from the Hall of Famers Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili to the once scrap-heap tossed Borris Diaw and Danny Green, to the role players Patty Mills and Tiago Splitter, to the rising star Kawhi Leonard, were developed.
This team won a record 12 playoff games by more than 15-points. It had a 19-game win streak in the regular season and became a buzzsaw in the playoffs. Everyone bought into the, “get over yourself” philosophy of coach Gregg Popovich and everyone contributed. Against LeBron and the Big Three, they were never better, winning the title in five overwhelming games.