Spurs sweep Cavs for fourth championship

Spurs CEO Peter Holt, center, holds up the NBA Championship trophy as he celebrates with the team after Game 4 of the NBA basketball finals Thursday, June 14, 2007, in Cleveland. The Spurs clinched the championships in four games defeating Cleveland, 83-8 Steve Contorno


Spurs CEO Peter Holt, center, holds up the NBA Championship trophy as he celebrates with the team after Game 4 of the NBA basketball finals Thursday, June 14, 2007, in Cleveland. The Spurs clinched the championships in four games defeating Cleveland, 83-8 Steve Contorno

By Tom Withers

CLEVELAND – Once again, the San Antonio Spurs walked the hallways in champagne-soaked T-shirts.

Bruce Bowen carried the Larry O’Brien trophy, one he had cradled before.

Tony Parker, wrapped in France’s flag, squeezed an MVP award he richly deserved.

And Tim Duncan, always the center of everything for his team, recorded every precious moment with a camcorder.

This wasn’t their first NBA title. But for the Spurs, it’s maybe the one that means the most.

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Champions for a fourth time in nine years, they’re now a dynasty.

“I don’t care where we fall in history,” Parker said. “I just feel blessed, honored and privileged to play on a team like this.”

And what a team it is.

True roundball royalty, the Spurs again wear the crown.

LeBron James, Cleveland’s preordained king, isn’t quite ready for his.

Parker scored 24 points, Manu Ginobili had 27 – 13 in the fourth quarter – and the Spurs moved in among the NBA’s greatest franchises with an 83-82 victory Thursday night for a sweep of the Cavaliers _ court jesters through much of their first finals.

With their fourth championship since 1999 – and third in five years – the Spurs joined the Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers and Chicago Bulls as the only teams in NBA history to win four titles.

“It never gets old, it never gets old,” Duncan said. “Unbelievable. Such a great run, a great journey, a great bunch of guys.”

And No. 5 might not be far away either with Parker, Ginobili and Duncan leading this Texas-oiled machine. Coach Gregg Popovich and the Spurs, now a perfect 4-for-4 together in finals appearances, spent most of the postseason dismissing talk that they should be considered a dynasty.

But with titles in 1999, 2003, 2005 and 2007, there’s no more reason to pretend they aren’t one.

As the final seconds ticked off on Cleveland’s finest season, Duncan stood at center court with both arms raised triumphantly as the rest of the Spurs danced around their quiet superstar in a huddle. San Antonio’s star sought out Cleveland’s Eric Snow, but was unable to find James, who had walked off, amid the pandemonium.

“I didn’t want to turn around at all and look at it,” James said.

Moments later, the Spurs, who moved over from the ABA in 1976, put on champions baseball caps, which has almost become a June ritual for them.

Their road to a championship was bumpier than in previous years.

The Spurs weren’t the Spurs earlier this season, and Popovich, ever the task master, criticized his squad, calling it the worst defensive one he had coached. San Antonio was 33-18 at the time, “struggling” for by its lofty standards, but it wasn’t long before they started playing Spurs basketball.

They beat Denver, Phoenix and Utah to win the Western Conference title and then stormed through the Cavs, who were exposed during four games that looked competitive on the scoreboard but were hardly even close.

“This one’s sweeter,” Duncan said. “The road that we took to get here was as tough as we ever had it. Guys persevered, we had great performances from one to 12.”

The final moments were hectic as the Spurs needed every last free throw to hold off the Cavaliers, who made a last stand at home in a season of seasons for their once downtrodden franchise.

Cleveland went on an 11-0 run to open the fourth quarter, taking its first lead in any second half of the series on James’ drive with 7:55 left. Cleveland went up 63-60 on Daniel Gibson’s drive, but that’s when Duncan and Co. showed why they’re champions.

Ginobili scored inside, was fouled and missed his free throw. But Duncan muscled into the lane and tipped in the miss to make it 66-63. The Cavs tied it, but Ginobili, who didn’t make a field goal in Game 3, dropped a 3-pointer, and when James missed a 3, the Spurs regained control by outworking Cleveland.

Duncan and Fabricio Oberto scrapped for offensive rebounds as the Spurs kept the ball for nearly two minutes before Oberto’s three-point play made it 72-66 with 2:29 remaining. Duncan then poked the ball away from James and Oberto scored underneath to give San Antonio a 74-66 lead.

James, possibly a little tired following the early morning birth of his second son, hit another 3-pointer but Ginobili responded again with a tough runner in the lane to make it 76-69.

Damon Jones made three free throws and James made another 3-pointer, but Ginobili made four free throws in the final seven seconds and immediately began celebrating a title that was all but inevitable.

“We’re an old team. We’ve been there,” Parker said. “We knew Cleveland was going to make a run, so we just let the storm go by and refocus, and we never had panic on our team, never.”

San Antonio’s four-game sweep was the eighth since the finals began in 1947.

Parker, who averaged 24.5 points on 57 percent shooting, became the first European-born player to be honored as MVP. Until now, he was mostly viewed as a pretty decent player with a prettier fiance, TV actress Eva Longoria.

When Parker was handed his trophy, his soon-to-be-bride wiped away tears.

The 25-year-old, though, was an unstoppable, silver-and-black blur against the Cavs, who had no one who could contain him and who looked like they stumbled into their first finals by accident.

Later, with his country’s tri-colored flag draped over his shoulders, Parker walked the hallways carrying his MVP trophy and shook his head in disbelief.

“This is like a dream,” he said. “I don’t want to wake up.”

James had Cleveland fans believing the city’s 43-year championship drought was about to end. However, he had a rough introduction to the league’s climactic event, one he figures to reach again.

He shot just 10-of-30 in Game 4 – and only 36 percent in the series – and never figured out how to rise above or get around the Spurs, whose defensive schemes were designed to make the other Cavaliers beat them.

James scored 24 points, and while he took the Cavaliers as far as they’ve ever gone, he failed to give them new life in this series on the same day his second son, Bryce Maximus James, was born.

Duncan, an MVP in his first three finals, had only 12 points but grabbed 15 rebounds.

But the 31-year-old, whose arrival in 1997 in San Antonio is the launching point for the Spurs’ ascension, he got his fourth ring and helped others like Michael Finley and Jacque Vaughn win their first.

Finley cradled the game ball during the postgame celebration.

“I might just put it in the bed between me and my wife,” he said.

Spurs forward Robert Horry got another one, too, his seventh – the most by a non-Celtics player.

“As a kid, you dream about winning one championship,” he said. “Getting seven his unreal.”

Notes:@ With four titles, Popovich trails only Red Auerbach (9), Phil Jackson (9), John Kundla (5) and Pat Riley (5) for the most in league history. … Cleveland’s 322 points in the series was the lowest total for four games. … The Spurs’ .727 winning percentage (16-6) is the highest in finals history. … New England quarterback Tom Brady and Browns rookie Brady Quinn were among the celebrities on hand, along with Dallas wide receiver Terrell Owens and Hall of Famer Franco Harris.