Spurs show the value of substance over style

Kawhi Leonard walked away as Finals MVP and the Spurs beat the Heat for their fifth NBA championship in 15 years.

Regularly throughout the NBA playoffs, we checked in with former Raptors head coach Butch Carter for an insider’s perspective on the X’s and O’s that lead to W’s and L’s. Today, Coach Carter breaks down the Spurs’ road to their franchise’s fifth championship.

San Antonio’s foreign imports expose a fundamental issue in U.S. national basketball development, which is the belief—common among many players—that looks are more important than content.

The imports don’t play for endorsements and they don’t travel with a large crew of people. Simply put, they exhibit substance over style.

Now, clearly the core pieces in San Antonio are Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich, but the imports are the most effective group of players off the bench since the great Detroit Pistons teams of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. That Pistons’ bench was so effective because of both its depth and ability to score. Sound familiar?

To me, the most impressive part of this Spurs team was its ability to create and make open shots. San Antonio wasn’t interested in a dunk contest or in breaking their man off the dribble for the mix-tapes. It’s one simple skill: see the rim, put the ball through the rim. Catch and shoot. Boom. Repeat. Through five games, the Spurs shot 54.2 percent from the field, second only to the great 1984 Los Angeles Lakers in Finals history.

But in the end, San Antonio’s substance, player effectiveness and dominance in bench shooting won out over style. The Spurs’ bench led the regular season in points per game and averaged 41.6 per in the playoffs (again, a league high). Looking back on the series, the Spurs bench was a plus-170 over Miami’s. Their shot-making made it impossible for Miami to provide the effective help defense they played all year as they couldn’t double team and risk leaving somebody—anybody—on San Antonio open.

Compounding the problem, without the defensive turnovers we’re used to seeing Miami create, Wade, Chalmers and Bosh, were reduced to poor role players.

Through the playoffs, the 10 foreign players on San Antonio, combined with an aging Hall of Fame center, beat Dallas, Portland, OKC and, ultimately, smoked Miami. And I say smoked because their effective field goal percentage was 60.4 percent. That’s the highest of any team in the Finals since the three-point line was introduced in the ’79-80 season.

The outcome may have been in doubt through the first five minutes of the game, but after Pop called the first timeout at 8:41 of the first quarter with Miami up 8-0, the Spurs outscored the Heat 22-21.

If you watch what happened in that timeout, you’ll notice that Pop didn’t waste his time huddling with his assistants like you normally see. He went straight to the bench because he knew exactly what he wanted to say to them. His team proceeded to win the second quarter by 14 points and the third by 12. It was too much for Miami to overcome.

Anyone who has listened to me on the Fan590 or followed these columns through the playoffs will know I’m a huge proponent of winning the first and third quarter because it allows your players to rest during the season. Success in those two key quarters is the main reason why San Antonio has put together an unprecedented 15 consecutive 50-win seasons. And with the leadership at the top with Duncan and Popovich, the Spurs establish a tone that reverberates through to the last man on the bench. That all starts with the fact that Duncan respects Pop’s coaching and the modifications he has taken this team through.

So what did we really learn in the 2014 Finals? Substance over style.

For more NBA insight and analysis, follow Coach Carter on Twitter @TOButchCarter

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.