By Craig Fields
After a 4-0 sweep in the NBA playoffs the topic that typically follows is whether or not that team will be rusty in the next series. One thing I love about sports is that there are stats on everything. Just like field goal percentage, rebounds per game, or the number of assists a team has collectively, there are also stats for this topic as well.
The NBA switched to a seven-game first round series from a five-game first round series after the 2002-03. For clarification sake the following stats do not include 3-0 sweeps. Heading into this year’s conference finals there had been a total of 28 NBA playoff series in which at least one team swept the previous round 4-0.
Of those 28 series, 19 of them were won by the team heading into the round after a four-game sweep. So obviously these stats state that rest is important in the playoffs. Now don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that rust does not enter the equation. Heck, even the Miami Heat lost the first game in their series to the injury ravaged Chicago Bulls after sweeping the Bucks. What I am saying, however, is that based on hard evidence rest is obviously a bigger factor than rust.
Now understand what I am saying. If a team is capable of sweeping another playoff team then it may be good enough to beat another team in the next round as well regardless. While rest is important, nothing compensates for talent, period.
Speaking of brooms, was the biggest shock in the NBA playoffs not the San Antonio Spurs actually sweeping the Memphis Grizzlies? I mean this is a Grizzlies team that beat the Spurs in the 2011 NBA Playoffs and made history by becoming the second eighth seed to beat a one seed. The defense displayed by the Spurs on arguably the best front court in the NBA was not only stifling but impressive. I mean Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol could not get any traction or maintain a prolonged rhythm at any time during the series.
Anyone expecting the 37-year old Tim “Timmy” Duncan to show signs of fatigue and slowing down were greatly surprised by how he man-handled Gasol in the post. My MVP of the league, Tony Parker, had exquisite court vision and provided the leadership needed to win tightly contested games. The Memphis Grizzlies, while leaning on the strength of their defense, failed to generate enough scoring opportunities to combat the timely perimeter shooting of the Spurs.
So here we are with a possible rendition of the 2007 NBA Finals. A finals that featured a young and inexperienced LeBron James against a future Hall-of-Famer in Tim Duncan. Only this time, if we’re lucky, we’ll be treated to a bonafide superstar in his prime against a wily, smart, and competitive veteran who is, mind you, on the wrong side of 35.
With the Pacers putting up such a fight and forcing a game seven in their series with the Heat, those headlines are indeed in danger. I guess no one told Indiana that Tim Duncan and Lebron James have a score to settle.
The physicality of this series has been amazing to watch. The Heat found themselves on the right side of the scoreboard on Monday, June 03,but there is no doubt that the rigors of this series will have some lingering effects into the Finals. The Heat, being the second oldest team in the NBA, are not the spring chickens that people like to think that they are.
They depend and rely heavily on the shooting of Ray Allen a 17-year vet, the perimeter shooting and defense of Shane Battier, a 12-year veteran, the outside shooting of Mike Miller, a 13-year veteran, etc. etc. etc. D-Wade’s knee has him playing at times as if he is 41 instead of 31. There is no doubt that any team that has the services of the “King” has a chance to win any series. However, after battling such a young, hungry, and physical team in the Indiana Pacers, the road to championship glory definitely gets harder when you have a rested championship battle-tested Spurs team looking right back at you.