After months of changing my pre-season predictions, the Finals are just as I predicted the San Antonio Spurs vs the defending-champions, the Miami Heat.
Miami easily got back to their fourth straight Finals, a feat not seen since the 1984-1987 Celtics. Miami went 12-3 in these playoffs, and an impressive 8-0 at home. The best sign for the Heat is Dwyane Wade showing signs of life. Wade averaged nearly 20ppg, 4ast, 4reb in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Spurs road has been much tougher. They went 12-6 in these playoffs and have been pushed to their limits. It took a great seven game series to finish off their rivals, the Dallas Mavericks. The second round proved to be easier defeating the Portland Trailblazers 4-1.
However, the Spurs were tested by an athletic, fast Oklahoma City Thunder team who had their number. Tim Duncan, Boris Diaw, and Manu Ginobli were amazing against the Thunder and look to be even better against the Heat.
Last year, the Heat won this matchup in the Finals 4-3, after a Game 6 comeback in which they trailed by five points with under 21 seconds remaining. Ray Allen hit the shot heard around the world saving LeBron James’ legacy. Duncan missed a 4ft put back spot in Game 7 that would have tied the game. For the Heat, the story of that series was preservation, but for the Spurs the story of that series was missed opportunities.
I have five keys that need to be answered in order for either team to walk away with the Larry O’Brien Trophy:
1. How effective can Tony Parker be with a bummed ankle and stiff hamstring?
The Spurs closed out the Thunder in Game 6 without Parker with the combination of Patty Mills and Cory Joseph. If the Spurs want their fifth all-time title, Parker must severely outplay Mario Chalmers and a feisty Norris Cole coming into his own.
2. Will Chris Bosh be a Superstar, All-Star, or an understudy?
When Chris Bosh is aggressively attacking the basket and looking for his shot, Miami is dangerous. Bosh scored over 20 points in the last three games against the Pacers. He stretches the floor and opens lanes for James and Wade. If Bosh can defend Duncan just well enough, and pull him away from the basket, Heat may just win.
3. Which bench will be more effective?
The Spurs are unquestionably the deepest team in the NBA, but Miami isn’t far behind either. Diaw can create so much offense in the post for the Spurs. Ginobli has been explosive of late and there are few people I want on my team like Manu Ginobli. Mills and Joseph are pests defensively and move the ball perfectly on offense.
Miami has Ray Allen as their essential sixth man, and no one needs to tell the Spurs how dangerous Ray Allen is. Norris Cole and Birdman are a tandem defensively, and compete offensively as well. Udonis Haslem and Shane Battier can defend from the three-point line and in.
4. Danny Green & Kawhi Leonard v Dwyane Wade & LeBron James
If the Spurs have any chance, they can’t afford to lose the starting SG/SF lineup in a game. They have to split this matchup. I doubt Danny Green can shoot 27 threes in the Finals again, but Kawhi Leonard can be more effective than he was last year. He may be the only person who can defend James one-on-one in the league. They have similar body types and He won’t back down from the challenge of guarding James.
If Wade is healthy and effective again in this series, I doubt the Spurs can hang around. The story for me is how James plays. No team plays him better than the Spurs. He averaged only 18ppg during the regular season in a split against the Spurs. Last year during the Finals, LeBron shot only 44% from the field, and 37% during the first three games of that series.
5. Who wins the chess match between Greg Popovich and Erik Spolestra?
Pop is the best coach in all of basketball. He knows how to manage his team’s minutes and maximize their talent better than anybody. Every player on the Spurs knows their role and their limits. No one gets out of their lane thanks to Pop’s system. No coach has caused more chaos for James than Pop. He makes James make long 2’s and 3’s and packs the paint with bodies.
At the same token, Spo is highly underrated as a coach. He pushes his teams buttons just as well as Pop at points. With Miami, it all starts at the defensive end, and competing for those 50/50 balls. Spo took a page out of Pop’s book with resting Wade for 28 games in the regular season for this moment. Which ever coach can use their small ball lineup the best may win this series.
Tim Duncan is the best PF of all time. Greg Popovich may be a top 3 or 4 coach all time. The trio of Duncan, Parker, and Ginobli have the most playoff wins all time. Last year, I picked the Spurs in 7, and I was an all-time great performance from LeBron James from being correct. I don’t bet against the Spurs, too much experience (Here I am channeling my inner Lee Corso, all I need is a not-so fast my friend).
BUT, I said Miami will three-peat. The Heat line-up of Cole, Allen, Wade, James, and Bosh will prove to be too much. LeBron James will cement his legacy, but I could see Wade being Finals MVP. Coach Pop will have an anybody but him mentality in this series.
Miami in 6. (In Miami).