Tipoff Is Here
There's so much to get into with the end season wrapping up, the draft approaching & we're finally just hours away from the start of the NBA Finals. I'll get into the regular season & the draft another time but for now it's all about Heat vs Spurs. It's kind of messed up to say, but this might be the 1st compelling NBA Finals for the Spurs. When you look back at the 4 titles they've won, the best series was probably one of the least watched NBA Finals ever when they beat the Detroit Pistons in 7 games back in 2005. Their 1st title was against a broken down Knicks squad, their 2nd, against a high flying NJ Nets squad led by Jason Kidd, their 3rd against the Pistons & interestingly enough, their last title in 2007 was to the LeBron James led Cleveland Cavaliers. That turned out to be one of the most lopsided & least compelling NBA Finals ever. The problem the Spurs have had is based mostly on popularity or lack-there-of & it went way beyond just being in a small market because even though they had one of the best ever at his position in Tim Duncan, he was also the least flashiest superstar in the sport, still is as a matter of fact.
The thing about that now though is, the Spurs core players from that '07 squad, Duncan, Manu Ginobili & Tony Parker are much older & only Parker realistically has another 4-5 years of top level play while LeBron is now in the prime of his career. In '07, it was LeBron's first trip to the Finals & the squad he played with...well let's just say it may have been the least talented NBA Finals roster ever. It was almost the same roster that won 19 games the year after James left for Miami. LeBron was able to exercise some demons last year by coming back & beating the Celtics on their way to their title so now it's his chance to exercise another mark on his ledger by defeating only the 2nd team in NBA history with multiple championships that's won every Finals they've appeared in, (the Chicago Bulls being the other with a 6-0 record in the Finals led by some guy named Jordan).
Gregg Popovich gets a ton of the credit, which is completely well deserved since he's one of, if not the best coaches in the NBA. Duncan also gets a ton of credit deservedly, being one of the greatest players ever & probably the best PF ever while Ginobili has been somewhat of a pioneer for international players having introduced his patented Euro-step move to the league. Granted, he certainly wasn't the 1st international player to have success in the NBA, but he definitely has had the most success being a key player on 3 NBA title teams with the Spurs. The main cog on this team however, has clearly been Tony Parker. He's always seemed to be the odd man out when people discuss the best PGs in the game & rarely has gotten anywhere near the credit for their last 2 titles than the other 3 guys I just mentioned. This year he was a legit MVP-candidate, but somehow didn't even finish in the top 5 while leading his team to the NBA's 3rd best record this year. It'll be interesting to see how Parker plays vs the Heat since he kills teams with his dribble drive penetration & now has become a very solid jump shooter. You hear it time & again that the way to beat Miami is to attack their 2 biggest weaknesses, in the post & at the PG position. A couple of years ago when facing Derek Rose & the Bulls, LeBron ended up guarding Rose & completely shut him down so don't be surprised when you see him guarding Parker at some point.
The other 2 biggest match-ups are compelling with Dwyane Wade vs Ginobili & Chris Bosh vs Duncan. Wade looked old & beat down for most of the Conference Finals vs the Pacers & went 12 games in the playoffs between 20 point games. That seems hard to imagine when you consider Wade's place in history let alone on his team. Ginobili is obviously not the same guy he was during the Spurs previous title runs but he's like that old dude you play against who's slower than you, can't jump but somehow keeps winning if for no other reason than, he just knows how. Both Ginobili & Wade have had their share of injuries over the past few years but it's the Finals & both are elite competitors so I'm sure you'll see both of them constantly picking themselves up off the floor from laying it all on the line for that ring.
The Bosh vs Duncan match-up should be interesting as well. In the Conference Finals both men had a huge impact on their respective teams but for different reasons. While Bosh struggled mightily with the power & strength of the Indiana Pacers' David West & Roy Hibbert, Duncan was busy picking apart the Memphis Grizzlies' Zach Randolph & the Defensive Player of the Year, Marc Gasol. The old saying, "father time is undefeated" is being challenged by Duncan as at times he looked like the Duncan of old, no pun intended.
I think however what it ultimately will come down to is, if the stars on both teams play up to their capabilities, one of the role players will step up & make their mark on the series. Every championship team every year has that one guy who steps out of the shadows & hits a huge shot or makes a big defensive play. It happens every year & I don't think this year will be any different. If all of those things happen I think the play of Parker vs the Heat's PGs & LeBron vs Khawi Leonard will tip the scales for one of them. Which brings me back to a point I made before...they will put LeBron on Parker at some point, the only question is, when & for how long. Will they wait until Parker has started to dominant & control the series or will they do it pre-emptively to avoid him taking over the series. For the Heat though, they have to be worried about the play of Wade & Bosh. They can win if one of them isn't playing well, but they won't win if both of them struggle at the same time.
This series has a chance to be one of the best in a long time with the athleticism of LeBron & the Heat vs the guile & fundamental skills of the Spurs. Whoever can impose their will the most will win this series. If it's the Spurs the greatness of Duncan & Popovich will be lauded but I think it will come down to Tony Parker playing like an MVP. If the Heat are to win, LeBron will have to be LeBron but at least one of the other Big 3 will have to had stepped up as well. If the Heat win I'm sure the same chatter about their place in NBA history will be discussed ad nauseum...a topic I will get into next time regardless of the outcome of this series.