By Will Martin
Be careful what you ask for, you just might get it. The matchup everyone assumed was going to happen again indeed pits a rematch of two teams from one year past. There’s only so many ways to cut this pie of an NBA Finals up. Quite a few angles you can take when deciding a winner and an also-ran.
Let’s begin with what should have been in theory. Game 6 in Miami. You witnessed it as I did. Mere seconds away from claiming a title in enemy territory just like another Texas team had done two years prior (Mavericks). 21 seconds was all that kept the Spurs from silencing Miami for a second time in three years, when inexplicably Tim Duncan was sat.
Free throws were missed, Ray Allen hit a dagger three to make all those bandwagoning Heat fans wish they didn’t leave the arena early (no re-entry), hence a Game 7 and a back-to-back reign for LeBron James and Dwyane Wade and company.
San Antonio has spewed in this reminder juice of bad taste for one year. Much like Muhammad Ali versus Joe Frazier or even the Dodgers versus the Yankees. This is going to be a fun rematch in that whatever the outcome history shall be made.
Let’s get this out of the way. Tony Parker will play and be ready for Game 1, much less this series, right Tony?
“I’m trying to be very positive,” Parker said. “I’m trying to do everything I can, eat healthy, get my rest, go through treatment and just trust my body. I’ve been going for four years nonstop since 2010, no vacation. …But I’m still here and I trust my body to hold up for the whole series.”
In his last ten games against the Heat, Parker has shot 40 percent while San Antonio went a mere 4-6. That means nothing to Mario Chalmers.
“Tony has a specific game plan that he runs within his team,” Chalmers said. “He’s not as unpredictable as like a Russell Westbrook or somebody, but he’s not as predictable as any other point guard. So you’ve got to be aware of everything with Tony.”
One must marvel at what Gregg Popovich has been able to do for 17 straight years going back to the days of the Admiral. 17 years in a row going to NBA Playoff country. Respectable. His brand of play is what pure, unselfish basketball should be like. Passing until you find the open guy and then make the open shot with the full allotment of 24 seconds used in each possession.
Yeah, that’s boring for some of you. Not flashy enough, so you might opt not to watch. That’s your loss although well understood. It’s also a given that many fans have a severe dislike for those gents of Capricorn fame with the titles. This year marks the fifth time in eight years LeBron James returns to the dance. Is there a sense of ‘been there done that’?
“I’m blessed, man,” James said. “That’s all I can say.”
Would you care to elaborate?
“This is my fifth appearance in a finals,” he continued. “I’m blessed. I was a kid who watched so many NBA Finals appearances and, you know, watched Michael Jordan and watched Shaq and Kobe …we watched throwback Finals games. …I just wished maybe I could see the Finals verbiage behind me and be a part of this.”
While the Spurs are trying for their fifth title since 1999, King James relishes his fifth visit in the last eight years and a chance at a three peat. Perhaps a few lessons learned since making ‘the decision’?
“I play for my teammates, our team, the city of Miami, my friends and family, and I gave it all for that,” James said. “And at the end of the day, win, lose or draw, I’m satisfied with that. I don’t get involved in what people say about me and my legacy. I think it’s actually kind of stupid.”
Dwyane Wade also chimes in on his teammate.
“He’s really taken his game to a whole other level,” Heat guard Dwyane Wade said. “Obviously as an individual he’s grown, as a man, both on and off the court from his own experiences. So I think he’s done a phenomenal job. …If I sit back and look from afar, he’s done an unbelievable job under the microscope that he’s been under since he was 16 years old of doing things his way and been very successful at doing them.”
Remember that his first NBA Finals appearance was in 2011 as a Cavalier when San Antonio swept him four straight. In a way, this could be a rubber game best of three for LeBron and the Spurs. For James, the anxiety to succeed is no longer in evidence revamped by confidence.
“Every time I come up here and talk to you guys or I do something, you know, very well on the basketball floor or off the floor, my city is rewarded by that,” James said. “My family is rewarded by that, my friends are rewarded by that, the kids and all the kids in the world that look up to me are rewarded by that. That’s enough to get me by. Everything else is extra credit.”
Over the weekend after a thrilling overtime Game 6 victory over the OKC Thunder Tim Duncan-he with that long long face after the Game 6 OT loss in Miami in 2013-was quick to offer the following:
“We’ve got four more to win. We’ll do it this time.” declared Duncan. In some ways he serves as a reminder of LeBron in 2011 to prove himself at crunch time. Some of the Heat have construed this comment as dislike or trash talking by the seasoned Spur.
“Knowing Timmy, that’s not trash talking,” San Antonio’s Tony Parker said. “I don’t think he meant it like that. But obviously, we are very motivated and we want to get it done. At the same time, we realize we are playing a very good team that went to the finals four times in a row and won the last two.”
Manu Ginobli suggests that the respect is there on both sides and that the playoffs create emotions to boil over in the heat of battle.
“Every time you play a team in the playoffs, you don’t like them,” Ginobili said. “That grows on you. It’s such a challenge, you want to beat them so bad that you start to grow that challenge of you don’t want the opponent to score on me, you don’t want them to do good. You want to do everything you can to limit them. In some ways it’s sort of dislike, but the same happened to me against Dallas and against Portland and against Oklahoma City. It’s part of what the playoffs are about.”
How about it Pops?
“Are you really going to ask that?” Popovich said. “So somebody will say, ‘I don’t like him’ and the other guy, ‘So and so said they don’t like you.’ ‘Well, I don’t like him either.’ Come on, this is silly.”
Something that isn’t silly. The fact that the Dallas Mavericks are indirectly involved with the success of both of these franchises. Miami for what happened after a 2-1 lead was lost in 2011. San Antonio for being taken to task in a seven game series where #8 darn near took them out of the loop.
Remember this moment after Game 7 on May 4th in San Antonio?
This Final came to be with the ability of Rick Carlisle to match Gregg Popovich chess move for chess move back in the first round. In essence awakening the Spurs back to reality of the goal at hand: a return to the NBA Finals.
On paper Miami looks old and tired once you get past LeBron and Dwyane. Mario Chalmers, Chris Anderson, Shane Battier, and Ray Allen appear to be no match to what the Spurs will be cooking on the hardwood and off the bench.
Here’s how close the 2013 Finals were:
San Antonio outpointed Miami by a 684-679 count in seven games. 47 ties and 42 lead changes!
“I think it’s great that these two franchises have this opportunity in back-to-back years to compete for a championship,” Dwyane Wade said Wednesday. “Last year was an unbelievable series and …it went down to the very end. We won the series by a total of five points, you know? That’s how close it was. But it was a very even series. I think this year it could be another great series.”
Tony Parker’s shot in Game 1. Ray Allen’s in Game 6. I was there to watch Games 3 and 4 in San Antonio. That city was electric to say the least.
“If you look at the numbers, the lead changes, the ties and the points in that series, it’s almost even,” James said. “So we did our part, they did their part.
“Both teams put themselves in a position to win an NBA championship, and we just happened to make one or two more plays to win it.”
How about some scenarios here? If the Spurs win do we see Manu, Tim, and Tony ride off into the sunset and retire? Should Miami get the three-peat do we say bye-bye to LeBron, Dwyane, and Chris Bosh July 1st? These eyes will be on the bench of the Spurs to provide the spark and the depth as this series goes deep.
This should be a seven game series. Heck, I’ll be boring and state the home team wins each game. Spurs in seven with Kawhi Leonard being the key cog off the bench. Chris Bosh will overachieve this round. It won’t be enough. Look for the Spurs to be close to 90% at the free throw line. For the Heat, Ray Allen won’t be so automatic, but his teammate Chris Anderson will demonstrate of art of keen shooting by a different plumage.
Win or lose this will be a historic series for the above mentioned reasons. Somewhere, someplace the Dallas Mavericks should earn themselves a share for providing incentive for each team. Twice in the last four years.
Game 1: 6/5 Heat @ Spurs 8:00 p.m.
Game 2: 6/8 Heat @ Spurs 7:00 p.m.
Game 3: 6/10 Spurs @ Heat 8:00 p.m.
Game 4: 6/12 Spurs @ Heat 8:00 p.m.
Game 5: 6/15 Heat @ Spurs 7:00 p.m.
Game 6: 6/17 Spurs @ Heat 8:00 p.m.
Game 7: 6/20 Heat @ Spurs 8:00 p.m.