Previewing the NBA Finals: SAC Edition

The Old and Restless by Brandon Szeto

Call them old, call them boring; the San Antonio Spurs have come to play a brand of team basketball that is scary good at worst. With the low possibility of the rejuvenated Tim Duncan to rejuvenate himself again, Manu Ginobli’s bald spot looking more and more helpless by the week, and Tony Parker’s ability to turn on the jets in question, the Spurs seem to deserve to win, if not destined to win, the NBA Finals one more time before these superstars fade away. Let’s take a moment to remember that the Big 3 have led the Spurs to 12 playoff appearances, 7 Western Conference Finals appearances, 5 NBA Finals appearances, and 3 NBA Championships—never missing the playoffs since being banded together, and putting up a 62.4 percent playoff win percentage since 2002-2003. So historical statistics tell us that the Spurs are supposed to win about 4.3 games out of every 7 games, giving them very good odds to win the upcoming NBA Finals… Right?

Yes… unless they’re going up against another “Big 3” of the Miami Heat who, let’s not forget, will make their 4th consecutive NBA Finals appearance, which puts them with the likes of the legendary 1980’s Celtics and Lakers, and the mystical 1957-1966 Celtics (10 straight Finals appearances, 9 rings) as the only teams to ever achieve this feat. Oh yeah and by the way, the Heat also happen to have arguably the best stat sheet-stuffer and overall best player of the 21st century in LeBron James, who is averaging 27.1 points, 6.8 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.8 steals per game, and an astounding 56.2 field goal percentage in this year’s playoffs alone. Did I mention they’ve won the last two Finals and are looking for a 3-peat?

While basketball fans all know LeBron is the heart and soul of this Miami Heat team, they tend to forget that the Heat’s team structure is extremely similar to that of the Spurs. A core of 3 superstar players—a stout guard in Dwayne Wade, a seemingly unstoppable wing in LeBron James, and an under-appreciated forward in Chris Bosh—and a strong supporting cast of team players that seem to be an exact replica of the Spurs rosters of the past 12 years. Both teams have point guards that can distribute, big men that do dirty work by grabbing rebounds, deadly shooters, and role players off the bench. The Spurs field some young rising stars in Kawhi  Leonard, Danny Green, Patty Mills, and Cory Joseph along with solid veterans in Boris Diaw and Tiago Splitter who all have committed to the team-first mentality and have stepped up big time when needed in the absence of star play from Duncan, Ginobli, or Parker. Yet on the other hand, the Heat can say the same about their supporting cast with the likes of Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole, Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis, and Chris “Birdman” Andersen who all have been able to help take some pressure off of LeBron, Wade, and Bosh at times. Who can forget the epic time-winding prayer of Ray Allen in Game 6 of the 2013 Finals that essentially stole the series for the Heat away from the Spurs?

History and statistics aside, it’s safe to say the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat have firmly grounded their place as top dogs in their respective conferences this year, more so for the Spurs. Despite all the aging factors, the Spurs have pulled through three gut-wrenching playoff series against debatably the deepest Western Conference in NBA history to reach the Finals while the Heat seemed to be only be tested by the Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Spurs have maneuvered through and stifled opponents with multiple, varying offensive sets that adjust from game to game but in the end yield the same result of a good open look to the basket. Their strategic use of off-ball screens for any player on the team, incredible team passing, and an uncanny 2-man game between Parker and Duncan, have kept elite teams like the Trailblazers and Thunder on their toes. If Serge Ibaka didn’t miraculously come back to start in Game 3 in a Willis Reed-esque way to alter the Spurs’ open looks, the Spurs would’ve swept the Thunder in four games. The Spurs have been a strong defensive team throughout the year with their youngster Leonard receiving an All-NBA Defensive 2nd Team honor to show for it. Their ability to play with strong team defensive fundamentals helping off the ball and rotating when needed has surely been a nice complement to their baffling offensive schemes.

But, will this all be enough to stop the great King James? Pundits are calling LeBron James the 2nd coming of Michael Jordan, and the debate rages on. But regardless of one’s beliefs, the numbers do not lie. Standing at 6’8”, 250 pounds with a 7-foot wingspan and above a 40-inch vertical, LeBron is the youngest player in NBA history to reach 23,000 points and the first to do so before the age of 30. He has started 841 of 842 games he has played in the NBA since he was 19 years old. He has 4 MVP awards, 10 All Star game appearances, 7 All-NBA First Team selections, 5 NBA-All Defensive First Team selections, and a scoring title to boot. With an unstoppable transition game and an unbelievable arsenal from LeBron, the Heat breezed by the lowly Eastern Conference to reach the Finals. Through a sweep of the Bobcats, a dismantling of the Nets, and exposing the Pacers, the Heat have yet to be pushed to their true limits, despite Lance Stephenson’s claims.

Both teams are equally matched in terms of personnel. Both run deep rosters with star talents, young and old. Both teams have experience. Both teams have points to prove. But in the end, the Spurs have been more battle-tested the past month and have a bad taste in their mouths from what should have been their 4th ring in last year’s Finals. The aging trio of the Spurs has more to lose than the Big 3 of the Heat can ever gain from this year’s Finals. This may just be the last time we see the great Parker-Duncan-Ginobli trio reach this stage again. They are old but they are restless, itching for one last title before throwing in the towel. The Spurs understand the predicament they face and will prevail in seven hard fought games.

Jazz vs. Bulls…I mean Spurs vs. Heat by Arman Walia

Already blessed by last year’s NBA finals, we find ourselves at the very same junction today.  Or do we? Whether one credits Miami’s late heroics or San Antonio’s uncharacteristic fallout to force a game 7 and eventual Heat victory, it’s hard to say if this year’s championship round will indeed be a “repeat” of 2013. What we do know, however, is that for one team it is a chance at redemption. For the other, it is the opportunity to solidify a dynasty. So let’s take a look at some key factors to look for this Thursday:

El Heat

LeBrownie’s Post Play

Whether it was Boring Boris or sweet Sugar K. Leonard attempting to guard The King, there was more space between LeBron and his defender than two kids at a middle school dance. The Spurs forced LeBron to shoot the ball from the perimeter, a struggle he gradually had to overcome through the series. The only way around constantly throwing up midrange jumpers was to post up. The King MUST do damage in the post if the Heat hope to come out on top.

Three is Greater than Two

A large part of Miami’s success is the three ball. With a pace and space offense, the Heat are going to need more than just open shots; they’re going to need to knock them down. Hopefully Allen, Lewis, Chalmers, and Battier are up to the challenge. In the words of the NBA’s 2014 Teammate of the Year Shane Battier, “It’s better to be timely than good.”

Numero Uno

Spoelstra has said it on numerous occasions: Chris Bosh is arguably the most important player on the Heat. He defends the other team’s biggest players while inconspicuously remaining one of the best mid-range shooters in the league. His shooting ability is crucial as it provides the spacing that has allowed James and Wade to penetrate defenses so well (James and Wade are #4 and #8 on the list of top 10 player field goal percentages this season). Spoelstra and the Heat should look to get Bosh going early, as they did in game 4 against the Pacers. Take a peek at this graphic:

If the Boshasaurus continues to successfully knock down shots from the outside, the game will open up for Miami.

Los Spurs

Green Machine

Last year’s finals was a breakout series for Danny Green. While toppling Ray Allen’s record for three-pointers made, he willed his team to a 3-2 lead and put them in a position to win it all. When Green’s three-point shot is on, it puts extra pressure on the defense. If defenders sag off of him to help, they risk something like this. If they decided to stick to him, they leave their interior vulnerable to the likes of Tony Parker, Manu Ginobli, and the blossoming Kawhi Leonard. Oh by the way, when Danny Green hits at least three shots from downtown the Spurs are 24-1 this year (postseason included).

The Big Fundamental

Get Timmy D into attack mode early. His first-half performance in game 6 of last year’s finals for example. Enough said.

 

Antimatter

In a proven offensive system predicated off of sharing the basketball, Boring Boris thrives in the shadows. He has embraced the role of point-forward for this San Antonio team by not just finding open teammates, but rewarding them for their off-ball movement. He has demonstrated his ability to shoot the long ball, to step-up as a defender, and to play productive minutes for his team. Call him a poor man’s LeBron James if you will. Boring Boris is less athletic, less dominant, and less noticed. He just may not be less significant.

 

Regardless of the outcome, this series should prove to be a memorable one.

Heat in 7.

NBA Finals, A Critical Commentary by Meerae Park

Meerae, reporting. I’ve been out of the country and that means erratic watching of this insane playoffs. As a result, I can’t write an analytical preview. But let’s talk about what this series means.

History

Spurs vs. Heat. Duncan vs. LeBron. Old vs. New. Homegrown vs. Superfriends.

These two teams are different. If this were a movie, you know who the villains are – LeBron “The Decision” James, Chris “Velociraptor” Bosh, and Dwayne “Two Unions” Wade. You also know who the good guys are.

The winner sets the precedent for how to setup a dynasty. It’s clear both are successes, but who’s more successful? That’s how it’ll be written.

You win

You’re going to see an awesome playoffs. We all remember last year’s finals. This is going to be epic, minus the Bill Simmons cameos.

We should all be very excited, Richard Simmons excited.

Vegas

is going to make money. A lot.

Jordan-LeBron Comparisons

There will be comparisons.

Skip Bayless & Stephan A. Smith

We need more Bayless & Smith. I don’t understand how they aren’t commentating on one of the stations yet.

Behind the Scenes Stern

Do you really think David Stern is on vacation? He’s certainly conjouring cauldrons of schemes.

Turmoil

The NBA must carry on, but there is a 500 pound gorilla named Donald Sterling. The main table right now isn’t in the arena, it’s in the courtroom.

That’s my preview. Cheers from Chile.

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