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NBA Finals Preview: 350 Days

By Jeff Koch on June 4, 2014.

350 days.

It’s been 350 days since Game 7. 50 weeks. 8400 hours since the Spurs lost the 2013 title in about as devastating a way as is possible.

After going through the grief that is losing the NBA Finals, my first thought was: they have to get back. They must return to the scene of the crime, play out the redemption narrative. They must use the pain to become stronger, more resolute, more determined.

But there were 350 days between that ending and this beginning. 50 weeks to get them through the summer of rest and regret, training camp, preseason, regular season, and back into the playoffs. 8400 hours of watching film tape, pre-game naps, passing, cutting, shooting drills, back-to-backs, late night flights, early morning shootarounds.

All of this with nothing promised. The chance of returning to the Finals was far less likely than the alternative. Navigating the Western Conference playoffs is a herculean feat, and the team almost came up a month and a half short against Dallas, and faced down a few older demons just 2 weeks shy of the goal.

Here we are, 350 days later. I couldn’t be more proud of this team. It takes so much strength, unheard of reserves of courage and endless heart to fight your way back through those 50 weeks and 8400 hours. I’m still haunted by Ray Allen’s shot. It startles me awake at night sometimes. For months I had to skip over intros to ESPN Podcasts because it always included a clip of the announcer screaming “The Heat have won the title for the second straight year!” and it always took me back to that place. Imagine what these players must feel.

But adversity reveals character or it destroys it; and this Spurs team has been found to be rich of character. Which is why I am so proud of this team. To even be back in this position is amazing, and to be back better and stronger than last year? Incredible.

Over the last several days I’ve probably read at least 50 previews. They all kind of blend together. The Spurs are a better team this year and the Heat are a little bit worse but they still have LeBron James and Wade is stronger than last year but so is Ginobili but what about Parker’s ankle? and the East was really bad this year and the West really good but the Heat are scoring at a record-setting efficiency against really great defenses (but again, the East) though the Spurs did just rip through the MVP and the most dynamic player in the league and the Heat are unstoppable in small ball even though the Spurs spent all year cultivating their small ball counters and Boris Diaw is the key to the series and Tiago Splitter is the key to the series and can anybody on the Heat bench step up? but the Heat still have LeBron James who is the best player in the world but the Spurs are the best team in the world and Heat in 6 Spurs in 7.

All those things matter, along with a host of other things. This Finals is so tantalizing because it’s a rematch of two teams that have hardly changed from last season yet it does feel quite different than last year. These two teams always seem to bring out the best in each other, too, even when they are trading off blowouts. And yes, this Spurs team is better than last year’s. This Heat team is slightly worse. LeBron James is still LeBron James. Let’s start with these 3 points.

Part of why this series is so hard to handicap is that for the last 2 months the two teams have hardly been playing the same sport. The Eastern Conference was so bad and the competition so abysmal that the Heat reaching the Finals was a foregone conclusion. The Pacers were threatening until about March, but by mid-April the Heat basically had to tie their shoes to get to the Finals. The level of competition in the West, meanwhile, was bonkers. 10 teams from the West, in Miami’s position in the East, would have made the Finals. I’m pretty sure 4-5 teams could have reasonably beat Miami in a 7-game series at the start of the Playoffs.

The two teams seem evenly matched, but it could also be true that the Spurs are playing on a completely different level right now and are leaps and bounds ahead of Miami. However, Miami has always proven to have another gear, a ceiling always a floor higher in their capabilities. Either of these things could be true.

I’m feeling very confident going into this series. Truthfully, the thing that scares me the most is just how confident I am in the Spurs winning this series right now. Surely fate is just teasing me?

If there’s any justice, any poetry in this world, the Spurs should win this. Right? What would make for a better story of redemption, perseverance, than one of the greatest franchises remarkably capping a historic run with another ring after losing it last year? Surely these past 50 weeks have all been prelude to set up this story.

For the last 8200 hours, I’ve longed for this moment, a chance to set right last year’s Finals. If we can win this year, last year’s heartbreak will recede into the story, be part of the process, a necessary step to get the team over the mountain, a second act plot turn. For 50 weeks I’ve waited, cheered, believed, watched, wrote, and loved. For 350 days I’ve channeled all of my emotional and psychic energy (as only a truly superstitious fan can) to getting the team and its fan base back to this point, knowing that with just one more shot….

Tomorrow is Day 351. Time to finish the story.

Go Spurs Go.

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