By Craig Fields
Well sports fans the NBA Conference Finals are here, and I have to admit, I didn’t necessarily see this one coming. However, after a wild ride through the first two rounds, we have finally come down to the best four teams in the NBA.
The two teams that headline the Eastern Conference are the Indiana Pacers and the Miami Heat. Now at the beginning of the season I thought that it was a foregone conclusion that these two teams would meet up in the battle of the best of the east. But, 82 games makes a season and it was quite a ride for this Indiana Pacers team.
They saw both highlights and lowlights. They experienced a time of being called the best team in the league, to being called a dysfunctional, probable let down in the playoffs. They went from having a bonafide MVP candidate in Paul George at the beginning of the season to having a leader who was seemingly not ready for the title of “leader of a NBA Championship Contender”.
Of the two teams in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Pacers definitely had the tougher path. Being pushed to the brink of elimination after falling to the Atlanta Hawks, 3-2 in the series, really seemed to light the necessary fire to bring out the best in these Pacers.
Jeff Teague and Paul Millsap of the Atlanta Hawks really carved up a defensively sound team. Those two players, mixed in with a slew of role players, almost sent the Pacers packing prematurely.
There was also drama in the Pacer locker room that seemed to cause division which led to more than a couple of lackluster performances from big man Roy Hibbert and swingman Paul George.
The Pacer’s troubles and problems started long before the first round of the playoffs. Some people point to the initial trade of Danny Granger for Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen. Others might point to the acquisition of Andrew Bynum as the start of the Pacers problem. Some may say that it was a tandem of both of these things.
Whatever the problem was, it definitely seems to be over now. The Pacers led wire to wire in Game 1 of the ECF vs. the Heat and looked every bit the championship contender that they were projected to be preseason.
The Miami Heat on the other hand have been pretty consistent throughout the entire season. Sure they had their moments of win streaks and minor losing streaks, but overall they pretty much played the part of the defending champs. When you thought Miami Heat basketball you thought “steady as she does it”.
The same can be said about the San Antonio Spurs. Someone needs to find a way to transform people into insects successfully because I would love to be a fly on the wall during that front office’s meetings. How on Earth can they continue to be that good and bring in people who fit their philosophy so flawlessly and consistently. The San Antonio Spurs have the best front office in NBA.
They also look poised to represent the Western Conference in this year’s NBA Finals for the second year in a row. After downing the Oklahoma City Thunder 122-105 in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, it seems like only a matter of time now.
Speaking of the OKC Thunder, they round out the four teams left in the tournament. Unfortunately for them, their starting power forward, Serge Ibaka was injured in the series against the LA Clippers and will be unavailable for the rest of these playoffs. They just can not seem to stay healthy during this time of year.
In last year’s playoffs, Russell Westbrook went down with a knee injury in round one against the Houston Rockets. This year Serge Ibaka went down in the second round against the LA Clippers.
Now I’m not saying that the Thunder can not win this series, but I am saying that it will be very difficult. Tim Duncan had 27 points because power forward stand-in Nick Collison and rookie center Steven Adams could not figure out a way to slow down the now 38-year-old perennial all-star.
The reason that the Thunder were able to sweep the Spurs in the regular season was due in large part to Ibaka being able to not only slow down Tim Duncan, but make him uncomfortable defensively as well. Ibaka has the ability to not only drive the ball and hit the mid-range jumper, but he can step out on the perimeter and hit the three as well.
Neither Steven Adams nor Nick Collison have that combination of abilities. Putting Kevin Durant at the power forward position is not really option as well because as much as Durant is great at playing offense, playing defense is not his thing at all. Duncan is too big and skilled down on the low block for wiry framed Durant to deal with.
This year’s playoffs have been very entertaining to say the least. Watching both number one seeds in each conference pushed to game 7’s by the eighth seeds was both exhilarating and unexpected. The veteran laden Brooklyn Nets took down the young, fiery, hot-shot Toronto Raptors. That series along with the Atlanta/Indiana series really helped to shine a hopeful ray of light on a conference that really looked weak all season long.
With the NBA Finals right around the corner, we can only hope that some of the magic that has been present in this year’s playoffs will find its way to these conference finals.