By Craig Fields
It’s time for the NBA Finals! So let’s get down to business…
The Spurs will try to slow down the locomotive that appears to be the Miami Heat. The Heat, just coming off a game seven win against the Indiana Pacers on Monday, June 3 seemed to have finally found that championship worthy resolve as they easily discarded the Pacers in a pressure filled game that became a laugher by the third quarter.
For the first time during these 2013 NBA Playoffs the Heat were tested against a big, physical team and came out on top. To this point, the Spurs have not really been challenged, except for the six game series against a shoot first, play defense later type Golden State team. That series was anything but physical as a hobbled David Lee never really got on track after his hip pointer injury.
The fact of the matter is that both of these teams have had a relatively simple and easy road to the Finals. In each of their series it could be argued that they were the favorites. So what makes this Finals so exciting? Well let’s not forget that The “King” has a score to settle with Tim Duncan and company after they sent him packing without a ring back in ’07. When asked about that he responded, “I have something in me that they took in ’07, beat us on our home floor. I won’t forget that. You shouldn’t as a competitor. You should never forget that.”
Trust me LeBron… we haven’t. In fact there are plenty of people out there who expect the San Antonio Spurs to teach the King another lesson. I, however, am not among them. This LeBron is a better all around threat offensively. James spoke of the Spurs playing relaxed defense and daring him to shoot in ’07 because of his pedestrian jumper. The confident James said, “I’m a better player, and you can’t dare me to do anything I don’t want to do in 2013.”
So who has the upper hand in this Finals? After all, talk is cheap. Let’s break it down.
Starters: I’m taking the Heat.
Waking up and knowing that Tony Parker and Tim Duncan are in your starting lineup is a heck of a way to start your day. Forget about Folgers coffee. But, when 60% of your lineup is a center in Thiago Splitter who has questionable decision making skills, Kawhi Leonard, though coming into his own is going toe-to-toe with LeBron James, and Danny Green who has had sporadic and inconsistent shooting bouts from the 3-point line, that does not inspire a lot of confidence.
On the other hand, having LeBron James on your team trumps everything I just said about Duncan and Parker in the above paragraph. When adding Chris Bosh, Udonis Haslem, Mario Chalmers and even an ailing D-Wade to the mix, forget about it. In my opinion Mario Chalmers will be the x-factor of the series. His ability to shoot the three, drive to the basket, and set up the offense will all play huge roles in this series. Tony Parker has yet to play a point guard as physical or as big as Chalmers this postseason. If Chalmers can maintain physical play and make Parker uncomfortable, that may very well be the reason the Heat win the series.
Bench: I have to give the edge to the Heat.
Manu Ginobili is a starter coming off the bench. He can play great defense, create for himself and others, and knock down the big time clutch jumper when asked to. That is honestly everything you would want in a sixth man. But the more I look at this Spurs bench the more uneasy I get. You have a couple of 3-point marksmen in Matt Bonner and Gary Neal that run as hot or cold as the best kitchen sink. No consistency this postseason whatsoever. Veteran Boris Diaw has long since been removed from his Phoenix Suns days where he was an all-around threat to score, pass, and make plays. Those four fill out Popovich’s nine man rotation. Every once in a while he will throw in Cory Joseph or DeJaun Blair.
The Heat’s bench has more available weapons than the Spurs bench. Even though Ray Allen shot a paltry 31% from the field in the series against the Pacers, he can still light it up any given night. On those nights when Ray Allen is not performing well, the Heat bench can get a lift from Mike Miller, Shane Battier, Chris “Birdman” Anderson, and Norris Cole. These are all guys who can collectively or individually do what Manu does for the Spurs. In this series the Spurs can ill-afford Ginobili not contributing while Ray or Mike can afford to have off nights shooting the ball because of the plethora of talent on the Heat bench.
Coaching: Spurs get this one.
Erik Spoelstra is an underrated coach that does make adjustments and changes just about as well any opposing coach on any given night. He gets his players to compete on a nightly basis. He manages the game, players minutes, and big ego’s that, if go unchecked, can be as destructive and debilitating as any injury.
All that being said, he will be up against the adjustment king, Greg Popovich. This guy kept a Spurs team going that many people called washed up, old, has beens etc. They are 329-147 since their last championship in ’07, and Popovich along with the stability he provides and changes he makes based on new personnel are major reasons they have won 69.1% of there games during that stretch. The Spurs do not have the best best bench, but Popovich understands that it is not necessarily who you have out on the court but rather when you have them out there. He is, in my opinion, the primary reason why the Spurs stand any chance at all.
Prediction: Heat in 7
NBA Finals Schedule (CST)
6/6 Spurs vs Heat 8:00 pm
6/9 Spurs vs Heat 7:00 pm
6/11 Heat vs Spurs 8:00 pm
6/13 Heat vs Spurs 8:00 pm
6/16* Heat vs Spurs 7:00 pm
6/18* Spurs vs Heat 8:00 pm
6/20* Spurs vs Heat 8:00 pm