CLEVELAND -- It was an eight-week journey from skepticism to brilliance, carried out by a champion that emerged from the shadows. The San Antonio Spurs began the long postseason march with a loss against the Denver Nuggets and ended it Thursday night with a convincing declaration.
And another ring.
Holding off a fourth-quarter blitz by Cleveland, the Spurs finally pulled away late, and claimed their fourth NBA championship in nine seasons with am 83-82 victory in front of 20,562 at Quicken Loans Arena, completing a four-game sweep.
"The Spurs were the better team in this series," said Cleveland's LeBron James, "and they played like it."
The Cavaliers trailed, 60-52, at the start of the fourth period, but took a 63-60 lead after a driving layup by Daniel Gibson with 6:54 left. But the Spurs took the lead for good with 4:15 remaining on a Manu Ginobili three-pointer.
The final step was led by Tony Parker, who became the first European-born player to win the NBA Finals MVP, with 24 points and seven rebounds.
"I think it's well-deserved," said Manu Ginobili, who scored a game-high 27 points. "The way he played in all four games was just unbelievable. He really showed us the way, especially in some games where [Tim Duncan] and me were not playing that good."
Then there was Ginobili, bouncing back from a dreary shooting performance in Game Three, with 13 fourth-quarter points including a pair of game-clinching free throws with 1.9 seconds left.
"Manu is our X-factor," Duncan said. "Manu is the guy that when it all breaks down, when it all goes bad, when our offense isn't clicking the right way, he's the guy that makes plays."
The Spurs had so many options that Duncan, a champion for the fourth time in his nine-year career, didn't score his first field goal until early in the third period. He pulled down 15 rebounds but was not missed offensively with 12 points. Neither was Michael Finley, who ended his 12-year pursuit of a title with four points, but still received the game ball.
"This," Parker said, "was for Mike Fin."
This is an old-school team that won quietly. No trash talk. No talk of dynasties.
San Antonio withstood a young Cavs team that trailed by as much as 11 in the third quarter.
Fabricio Oberto was the unsung hero. With San Antonio leading, 69-66, Oberto completed a conventional three-point play with 2:29 left, then scored a basket following a James turnover that gave the Spurs a 74-69 advantage.
James, a superstar whose time will come some other time, scored 24 points on 10-of-30 shooting.
"I could have been better in order for us to win," James said. "If I don't play well, our team is not going to have a good chance to win."
And so ended a San Antonio charge to another championship. Only the Boston Celtics, the Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers and Chicago Bulls have won more titles than San Antonio. The feat is even more impressive when considering the Spurs entered the league following the ABA/NBA merger in 1976 and the franchise is just 40 years old.
The Spurs began the postseason almost an afterthought in the Western Conference -- a No. 3 seed overshadowed by Dallas and Phoenix, the regular-season leaders. The Game One loss to Denver at home in the first round brought doubts.
And then, in a stunning final blow, they dismantled the Cavs, a young team on the rise. At least until Cleveland ran into the veterans. The last time a team was swept in the finals was 2002, when the Lakers brushed aside the New Jersey Nets.
Cleveland never found a rhythm in this series with the exception of Game Three, when James missed a potential tying three-pointer. San Antonio was not going to be denied, a champion hardly ready to be pushed aside.
"We got it done," Duncan said. "That's all that matters."