I'll be honest. I thought the Miami Heat was the best team on the floor for the first two games of the NBA Finals. It could have been 2-0 Heat heading back to South Beach and a golden path to a third straight championship for the Heatles.
Obviously, something got it the way. It was a 12 man behemoth that folks are calling "the epitome of team basketball" and some hyperbole driven folks called "Mr. Naismith's Intended Team". Well, then.
Grand narratives aside, except for the one on which I am about to embark, the Spurs dismantling of Miami was about three things.
1. Great Shooting
2. Great Balance
3. Great Players
All three of those are linked together by the ingredient that everybody identifies when they sample a champion's aroma, chemistry.
Those who watched the Atlanta Hawks last season may have noticed a significant shift in all three of these areas in Atlanta as well. Talent acquisition was built around players that can stretch the floor. There were more players significantly contributing, allowing the team to stay afloat through myriad injuries. And, of course, savvy talent acquisition itself which buoyed the team in overall talent, which helped take the top seeded Pacers to seven games.
Obviously, this could be by luck, but I'm going to go ahead and say that things began to shift as soon as Bruce Levenson and the crew somehow lured Danny Ferry to Atlanta. The beginnings of changing the roster construction began immediately when Ferry traded Joe Johnson to gain financial flexibility over the long term, ate a hot meal, and then dealt Marvin Williams to enhance that flexibility further. Ferry promised things would be different, with an indication that the Hawks would be made in Ferry's vision for the team, a vision developed from his long relationship with the championship franchise in San Antonio.
Last offseason the morphing continued, as an amazing free agent signing of Paul Millsap, combined with the practically pro bono work of DeMarre Carroll last season, gave the team a slightly different look. The Hawks went from talented isolationists to a free flowing offensive team that shared the ball, played hard and gave every team as much as it could handle.
Of course, the signature change of the past offseason was the placement of Mike Budenholzer to the bench. This hiring allowed the cultural and philosophical changes in the front office to extend out to the court. Budenholzer showed excellent skill in managing the waters of an NBA regular season and was a couple minutes short of getting his colleague in Indianapolis fired after the first round of a playoff series. All without the top player on the roster.
We can't automatically draw a line from the Hawks to the NBA title and say that, just because the Hawks emulate the Spurs means that we can rope off Peachtree Street next June. But what the Spurs showed it that high execution mixed with high talent in a high character culture can yield the same results as a free agent Dream Team.
It positively reinforces what Hawks fans were beginning to believe before Game 6 against the Pacers in Atlanta: This is different. Things are changing. And it's good, so, so good.
Hawks fans are the most resilient fan base south of the Mason-Dixon line and deserve something positive to look forward to. And they do. It's legit. Hope has been restored and the events of the last three NBA games of the season showed what could possible be for their favorite team.
Hope is good. Hope works. Dare to dream.