Bienvenidos a Miami
It took a long time, but we finally have an opponent for the Spurs in the NBA Finals.
It’s only fitting that the Finals is Miami vs. San Antonio, too, as, save for a Tony Parker injury near the end of the season, these were the two best teams in the league. They are also probably the two most well-balanced teams in the league, both sporting elite offenses and defenses.
As recently as 2 weeks ago, most people would have probably favored the Heat in this series. And with home court and the best player on the planet, they should probably still be favored. But the Pacers have given somewhat of a blueprint on how to slow them down, the Heat suddenly look pretty inconsistent, and the Spurs have been the most impressive team in the playoffs, particularly the last two rounds.
I think this series is a toss up. It’s also particularly fascinating since these teams haven’t really played a meaningful regular season game in 2 seasons, so there’s really no anecdotal evidence to draw on.
Nonetheless, here are some preliminary thoughts in the wake of Miami’s convincing Game 7 victory:
–What I love most about this match-up is that the team’s strengths are opposite of each other in many ways. For Miami, it’s obviously LeBron and Wade, at the 2 and 3. The Spurs biggest weapons are Parker and Duncan, at the 1 and 4. The winner may very well come down to which team defends the other team’s strength the best. Or maybe it will just come down to hit gets the most out of the 5 position.
–Steve Kerr made the very good point that Indiana was able to dictate the terms of the fight by playing 2 bigs at all times, and forcing Miami to either match them or face serious match-up problems on defense. Miami is at its best going ‘small’, with the 2-4 positions almost completely fluid, and only one traditional big, usually more of a jump shooter (like Bosh or Haslem). Force them into a more traditional set, and they can look very ordinary. The Spurs have spent the last two seasons sneakily becoming more traditional. While not as solid as Indiana, they are best with Duncan and Splitter on the floor (both offensively and defensively), with Diaw as the other big in the rotation. If the Spurs can dictate the fight in this way, they’ll be in good shape.
–The Spurs’ biggest advantage clearly seems to be Tony Parker. With LeBron, PG has not been a strong position of need for the Heat, and Parker is far and away the best PG they’ll see all playoffs. The Heat do defend the pick and roll well, so it’ll be interesting to see how Pop and the Spurs decide to attack Miami with Parker. Nonetheless, I expect Parker to continue his high level of play, and most likely with the Finals MVP if the Spurs take the series.
–In the game in San Antonio this year, with Chalmers out, I thought Norris Cole played some of the best individual D I’ve ever seen played on Parker. However, he is mostly out of the rotation for the Heat. Will Spoelstra play him more?
–As for the Spurs’ defense, we’ll need to do our best to mimic the Pacers. Play big inside, rebound, protect the rim. What I’m most excited to see is Leonard’s defense on James. This has a real chance to be a break out series for Leonard, on the biggest stage possible, guarding the best player in the game. Unlike George for Miami, Leonard’s offensive duties are limited, so he can focus all of his energy on chasing LeBron on defense.
–Likewise, Green on Wade will be pivotal, especially considering Wade’s really inconsistent play. The Spurs’ three best defenders match-up with the Heat’s three best players: Leonard, Duncan, and Green on LeBron, Bosh, and Wade.
–Speaking of inconsistent and injury-prone wing players, Manu’s play off the bench could also prove crucial to some San Antonio victories. He says he feels better than he has all season. Let’s hope this is true.
–The Heat are a downhill team on both ends of the court. What I mean by this is they really feed off of momentum, and if two things go really well for them, 4 more are surely right around the corner. Swarming defense leads to turnovers and fast break baskets, and suddenly they’re flying all over the court and seem indestructible. It’ll be key for the Spurs to play precise on both ends of the court, limiting turnovers, winning the rebound battle, etc. We want the Heat to play offense in the half-court as much as possible (where they can be a very ordinary team), and, conversely, we’ll want to push the ball on offense as much as possible, looking to score on fast break and secondary break as much as possible. When the Miami defense settles in and goes into frantic rotation mode, they are unbelievably scary. Luckily, Parker is pretty damn great at keeping defenses off-kilter.
–I expect the Spurs to be a bit sluggish after the long lay-off and the Heat to be in rhythm. How long will it take San Antonio to get back into the groove?
And those are just preliminary thoughts! More to come before Game 1 tips off Thursday night.
Go Spurs Go!
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