Spurs-Heat Tale of the Tape
Hey, guess what? The NBA Finals start tonight. In addition to our series preview infographic, we bring to you our Tale of the Tape, where we break down this championship series into random, bite-sized topics.
Matchup to Watch
I’m most excited about LeBron James vs. Kawhi Leonard after the way the Spurs’ small forward busted out during last year’s Finals, but I believe the most critical will be the matchup between Dwyane Wade and Manu Ginobili. Obviously, we’re not going to see these two going at one another from the get-go (unless Gregg Popovich decides to break the emergency glass at any point and start Manu), but the difference in the veterans’ play over the course of the series could’ve very well been the difference. The wear and tear on Wade’s knees really started to show itself during the postseason a year ago, but he was still a decent player during certain important stretches. On the other hand, Ginobili was just bad. Outside of his incredible Game 5, Manu was terrible to the point that many fans in San Antonio were calling for one of the franchise’s most loved icons to call it quits. Hell, even he was thinking it. But they’ve each had a resurgence this season and are currently playing very well; more importantly, they’re both in good health, and if that continues it’ll be a big change from Spurs vs. Heat, Part 1.
— Matthew Tynan
It’s the redemption of the Spurs angle, particularly the redemption of Tim Duncan. It’s funny to think of one of the ten best players in history needing redemption, but Duncan feels like he let the Spurs down at the end of Game 7 last year. He missed that bunny with Shane Battier on him that would’ve tied the game. You could see it just moments after he missed when he slapped the wall and you could see it after every big play he or anyone else on the Spurs made at the end of Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals. Whether it’s his actions or his comments (not smack talk), Duncan seems incredibly motivated to finish this one out and I can’t wait to see him play over these next seven games.
— Trevor Zickgraf
Fabricio Oberto Memorial “Guy Who Will Make the Biggest Impact While Scoring Fewer Than Five Points in the Series”
Cory Joseph. You could argue Joseph turned the series around in the Western Conference Finals with his out-of-nowhere smash on Serge Ibaka and solid play in the second half of Game 6. Questions remain about Tony Parker’s health going into the Finals, though it seems he’ll be fine. If Parker’s is hobbled, Joseph will again have to step up. Gregg Popovich prefers to keep his rotations as standard as possible, so Joseph would likely step in as a starter in the event of a missing Parker. Even if Parker is 100 percent, Miami likes to use two point guard lineups featuring both Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole, so Joseph could see minutes normally reserved for Marco Belinelli off the bench. We shall see.
— Andrew McNeill
Opposing player who is most likely to cause you to break out of your objectivity
LeBron is the obvious answer. There are so few players that make you say “whoa” with how smart they are and with how explosive they are. But Christopher Wesson Bosh routinely makes me break objectivity. It’s his play, which is unique because of his outside shooting, ability to get to the rim and defensive versatility, which has only gotten better as his career has gone on. At this point, given the fact that he stays healthy, he’s probably Miami’s second best player. I feel like he and LeBron should become a package deal for the rest of their careers.
Statistic that will best define the series
Whoever shoots better from 3 is going to win this series. Usually, that’s a good indicator of how either team’s offense is moving. Both the Spurs and Heat thrive on perimeter shooting opening up the paint, or getting into the paint creating open shots on the three-point line. According to ESPN, the Spurs are keeping teams at just below 34 percent from 3 this postseason, while Miami is allowing teams to shoot 38 percent. Miami is first in the 3-point shooting this postseason and the Spurs are second. Safe to say both teams will work hard to take away open looks. Whoever has more success likely wins.
The Spurs lose this series if…
They can’t play at their speed. Miami is playing at a pace about 10 possessions slower than the Spurs in these playoffs. The Heat have a stout halfcourt defense and excellent execution on offense. San Antonio will need to get out in transition and find some easy baskets on the secondary break. Kawhi Leonard doing Kawhi Leonard things and Tony Parker outrunning his Heat counterparts down the floor will help, as will those early pick-and-rolls that Parker and Tim Duncan like to run before the defense can get set up. Otherwise, Miami will be able to get set, blitz San Antonio’s pick-and-roll heavy offense and force turnovers that fuel their breaks. The Heat don’t run a lot, but when they do they’re nearly impossible to stop.
The Spurs win this series if…
They just keep up the pace at which they’re currently playing, keep the ball moving and get Good Manu along the way. The Thunder present a similar problem defensively as the Heat with their size and athleticism, so you can consider the Western Conference Finals a really intense tune-up for what’s to come. It won’t be exactly the same, but Miami plays with a very aggressive style on that side of the ball as well, though it’s not quite as chaotic as it was last season or the year before. If the Spurs play the way they did in Games 5 and 6 of the WCF, they’ll be in great shape. And I’ve already mentioned Ginobili, but he’s kind of the ultimate equalizer off the bench. When he plays well, and the rest of the team doesn’t crap the bed, San Antonio is generally going to kill you.
48 MoH Staff Predictions
Matthew Tynan: I was pretty sold on the Spurs chances as heavy favorites to win the title for much of the postseason. Hell, after Games 1 and 2 of the WCF, so was Vegas. But the Heat cranked it up a notch in the Eastern Conference Finals. We haven’t seen Miami hit that gear yet this season, but they showed once again they can hit the switch. Many people might yell about that being a result of the Pacers being bad, but I don’t buy that. Indy was a shell of its early season self, but it had the roster to battle Miami, and the champs knocked ‘em the f*** out. Still, I think this San Antonio team is deeper and better than it was last season, and it’s showing off a level of execution at times that is seemingly indefensible, and they have the ability to mix and match lineups more effectively than ever. Despite Miami’s showing against the Pacers, I’m not sure they’re at last season’s level, either. This time, in Game 6 on Miami’s home court, those ropes are going to stay on the floor, and Tim Duncan will lift up his fifth Larry O’Brien Trophy. Spurs in 6.
Trevor Zickgraf: I think home court matters. I think the Spurs are better this year and the Heat are a little worse. I could see the Spurs winning in five really close games, but that LeBron guy makes it tough to see anyone beating Miami four times in five games. I think it goes seven, I think San Antonio wins and I think Tim Duncan picks up Finals MVP number four. Spurs in 7.
Andrew McNeill: Since the rematch was official, I’ve wavered back and forth on my prediction. I’m sure the Spurs are a better team than the one that came within a hair of taking the Larry O’Brien trophy back to San Antonio. The mental toughness is at an all-time high after recovering from that disastrous end to last season and raising their game to a level necessary to beat a full-strength Oklahoma City Thunder in the Conference Finals. Marco Belinelli, as poor as he’s been in these playoffs, was an upgrade over Gary Neal, although Neal’s ability to step up in tough moments has made that a closer call than it seemed in January. Kawhi Leonard is better. Manu Ginobili is better. Tim Duncan and Tony Parker have maintained their level of play. These Spurs are better than the ones the Heat dispatched last June. On the other hand, I’m not convinced Miami is as good as they were last season. By all accounts, Dwyane Wade is better than he was in last year’s playoffs and LeBron James is still LeBron James. That said, Shane Battier doesn’t look as effective as he was and Mike Miller is gone. This Heat teamed relied on the combination of Rashard Lewis and James Jones for 25 minutes per game in their romp to the Finals. All things being equal, you always bet on the best player in a series. I can’t do it, though. San Antonio is playing great and home court advantage in Game 7 resides in the AT&T Center. Spurs in another seven game classic.