The San Antonio Spurs don't do hype and self-promotion. They're the NBA's bean counters, as drab as their black and gray colors.
So when their brilliant coach was asked after Tuesday's rout of the two-time defending NBA champion Miami Heat how his team hit 19 of its first 21 shots on the road and 76 percent of its first-half field goals in an eventual 111-92 win, Gregg Popovich wasn't about to gush or gloat.
"I don't think we'll shoot 76 percent in a half, ever, ever again," he observed.
Really, Pop? Really?
Because that 13 of 15 the Spurs hit in the opening quarter of Game 3 to all but guarantee the 2-1 lead in this best-of-seven series was ... only ... their ... second ... best ... quarter of these Finals. Or have we all already forgotten the 14 of 16 they buried in the pivotal fourth quarter of Game 1, including all six of their 3-pointers in a 15-point win?
The Spurs aren't just hotter than their own arena, which reportedly soared to 100 degrees in Game 1 after the air conditioning broke. They're melting the Heat with the kind of white-hot shooting that might soon require LeBron James and Co. to don Kevlar uniforms to protect themselves.
Certainly, it could all change tonight in Game 4, much as it did last year in the Finals between these two, though that game was actually deep in the heart of Texas. Just like Tuesday, the Spurs had rolled through Game 3 to lead 2-1. Just like Tuesday, there was much concern in Miami corners that Pop's genius and San Antonio's ball movement were about to dethrone the champs.
But there's also a reason why the Heat has reached four straight finals since acquiring James and Chris Bosh to go with the sometimes underappreciated Dywane Wade. Miami's as tough mentally as any champ we've seen since those Chicago Bulls teams led by Michael Jordan.
You just don't win six straight Game 2s after losing Game 1 in a series without having a little more than outrageous talent to right you. You just don't come from five down in the final 30 seconds of last year's Game 6 -- arguably the most stunning comeback in NBA history, given the stage it was played on -- without supreme guts and pluck.
So to say the Heat is in trouble might be stretching things a bit. Win tonight and it's an even series. Win tonight and the pressure shifts back to the Spurs, who have proven almost as resilient as the Heat over the years, but have also often showed their advancing age late in series and late in tight games.
But it's also just possible that these Spurs -- still angry over last year's Finals heartbreak, still steadfast that their way is the best way -- have finally cracked the code of how to KO King James.
"They came out with a different gear," said losing coach Erik Spoelstra, no slouch himself in the coaching department. "They came out with an aggressive mindset on both ends."
None more so than Kawhi Leonard, who's spent most of this season touted as the future face of the franchise but had pretty much had his face limited to a milk carton box for the first two games of the Finals as he battled foul problems attempting to battle James.
But on Tuesday he scored 29 points, held James to 22 and brought this post-game quote from Pop: "He's got to be one of our better players on the court or we're not good enough."
The odd thing is, both these teams are good enough both on and off the court to give the NBA the kind of public relations boost it used to have to rely on a Celtics-Lakers pairing to achieve. There are no villains here.
Yes, the Heat was put together through dollars rather than the draft, giving a whole new meaning to Green Team, but so were the Celtics when they acquired Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett to win the 2008 title and nearly grab the 2010 championship.
Yes, James occasionally pounds his chest too much and point guard Mario Chalmers can sometimes lose his emotional grip, but if the Spurs didn't exist, Miami might also be the NBA's most professional, least offensive franchise.
But San Antonio does exist, and as ABC analyst Jeff Van Gundy sagely noted late in Tuesday's broadcast, the Spurs have, "A unique humility about them. And that's their whole team."
Their whole team, from Popovich down, is what makes them unique. On any given night, it's not just the big three of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili who can beat you. It's also Leonard, Danny Green, Boris Diaw, Tiago Splitter, Patty Mills and Marco Belinelli.
A whole team. What a concept in these star-driven times.
"There were no magic plays," said Ginobili early Wednesday morning. "We just moved the ball and every shot went in."
Should such unique humility continue, the Spurs just might return to NBA nobility for the fifth time since 1999.
Contact Mark Wiedmer at firstname.lastname@example.org
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...