Why Manu and the Spurs want the Pacers in the NBA Finals

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Professional athletes don’t typically like to disclose much in regard to their “wishes” for an upcoming opponent. The smart ones don’t, at least. You’d think they’d possess a general preference when it comes to one matchup over another, but “I don’t care” is more often than not the answer you’re going to get if you ask the question. And when it comes to the Spurs, a team known for its secrecy, you’d be lucky to get even that much.

With access to a twitter account just a finger-length away from the nearest reporter’s recorder, bulletin-board material or perceived slights can be retweeted a thousand times over before the interviewee even emerges from the post-game shower. In San Antonio, however, you’ll never get this kind of fodder. Unless you dig deep enough. And even then you’ll have to fabricate the story to get anything even remotely controversial.

In the case of Manu Ginobili, an answer to the question of preference was purely logical. As the Spurs sit back and wait for what feels like an eternity, they find themselves doing a little more homework than usual in preparation for the unknown.

“It’s not the same as when we’re with Pop dissecting the game. But knowing it’s going to be one of those two, and in the NBA Finals, especially, you study a little bit more than usual,” he said. “Against Eastern Conference teams, we don’t know them that well. Because we haven’t played them that much, never in the playoffs. Miami, I haven’t played against them all year. So you get to know them a little bit better.”

Indeed, Ginobili has yet to suit up for a Spurs-Heat matchup this season. But what’s even more, those two teams haven’t played against one another at full strength in more than two years. At least San Antonio can say it knows what the Indiana Pacers look like on the floor this season.

“Indiana is a little more defensive, solid, balanced team, more like us. What Miami is, depending on three players a lot. Not so much in the shooting part, but transition, getting into the paint, creating and feeding their teammates,” Manu said. “All different styles, and that’s what usually happens in the playoffs.”

Back to preference, though. Ginobili kicked aside the “It doesn’t matter” lip service you might expect to hear from anyone trying not to stir the pot, instead explaining the main ramification of facing one team over the other. And perhaps, why the Spurs hope the Pacers defeat the Heat tomorrow night.

“It’s not that we pull (for one team), I think this time is different than before because of the home-court advantage. It is a big difference,” he said. “It’s not definitive. It doesn’t mean that whoever has home-court advantage is going to win, but we all prefer to have a Game 7 at home than on the road, if we get to that point. Besides that, different styles, and I think we can match up well against both.”

The Spurs are notoriously good performers in a hostile road atmosphere, especially in the playoffs when a high level of focus is paramount. But even for them, the comforts of home and a single trip to Indianapolis in a 2-3-2 format (three road games sandwiched between four home games) would be more ideal than two potential separate trips to South Beach. After all, teams are 45-18 in NBA Finals history when they own home-court advantage in the playoffs’ final round, so there’s certainly some incentive to be rooting for an Indianapolis win tomorrow night if you’re San Antonio.

But if you ask the ones writing the storylines, the more trips to Miami, the better.

Big 3 versus Big 3. Old dogs against the new dynasty. LeBron James versus Tim Duncan, Part II. The past meets the present one more time.

But bad memories of poor ratings in past Spurs Finals appearances crop up in the collective minds of NBA offices and television headquarters alike as they dread what a small-market battle between the Midwest and Southwest would mean for their viewership without James’ presence. For anyone who appreciates the fundamental beauty of basketball, it might be close to porn. But for those casual fans who don Kobe, ‘Melo or ‘Bron jerseys regardless of the team they play for, Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals might be the last basketball they watch all season.

And from them, you’ll hear the same, tired word: boring.

“We did change a lot from the 2003 team. We run a lot more, we are less predictable. Before we used to be, every single possession put it in the post, and then from there rotations — now I think we’re more energetic, faster pace,” Ginobili said. “Of course we’re not going to finish with a lot of dunks in traffic and stuff like that. But we do play with a faster pace.

“If people think we are boring or not, or they appreciate it or not, I really, truly don’t care. I just want to … be the last team standing,” he continued. “If it’s good or bad for someone else, that’s not my thing. We’re just trying to play good basketball and win.”

If the Spurs lift a fifth banner to the rafters here in San Antonio, it’d be a hell of a going-away present for David Stern.


 

  • Colin

    Great article. I think that drawing the Pacers is advantageous as well. Not simply because “they don’t have Lebron,” but that we won’t have home court. I think we would be favored against either team, simply, we’d be favored more against Indiana. Can’t wait for this series to get started.

  • idahospur

    Its been a struggle of what can LeBron do against the Spurs to does Duncan want to push around Hibbert for a series? I think Hibbert and West are just as manageable as the Grizzlies front line, but I don’t think that Hibbert will deal well with it. The Pacers can rely on hot shooting from Paul George and co. where Memphis didn’t have that resource. The problem with the Heat is LeBron who gets what he wants a lot plus a load of experienced outside shooters who make their uncontested 3’s look easy.
    All I can say is lots of time to rest and prepare are going to make the Spurs look good in Game 1. I would also love Pop to show Spolstra what a great coach in the league does well.
    GO SPURS GO!

  • SpurredOn

    Forget not the story-lines of a possible Spurs-Pacers series: Tony vs his buddy Hill. The Leonard-Hill trade. Hibbert vs his big-man teacher, Duncan. Pop returning to his birth state for a Finals series. The 1999 Finals that almost was. These could all be given plenty of ink by an engaged media.

  • Matthew R Tynan

    These are all interesting subplots, no doubt. But not necessarily to those outside of Spurs and Pacers fandom…unfortunately.

  • Jake

    I think you’re giving the “engaged” media too much credit…

  • Tim in Surrey

    “For anyone who appreciates the fundamental beauty of basketball, it might be close to porn.” True enough, Matthew. FYI, there’s a more compelling bit of evidence about this that I found buried in a blog piece by Jeff Caplan on NBA.com: “Hill’s also been getting a steady dose of advice throughout the series from former San Antonio teammate, Spurs point guard Tony Parker, on how to beat the Heat.” Now that’s not exactly the kind of thing that can be used as bulletin-board material. (“What?! He has the audacity to help us win?!! Let’s show him we don’t need his help!” That just doesn’t strike me as likely somehow. Except maybe from Michael Jordan.) But it does show that they really do prefer Indiana.

  • TheFG21

    Sincerely, I rather see a Spurs vs Heat than a IND vs SAS Finals. Not because of the ratings or whatever (as a Spur fan thats the less Im interested into) but because I just want to see the Spurs burying the Heat. I just want to see them in the dust.

  • ThatBigGuy

    I want the Heat in the Finals, because It’s the ultimate Old School vs New School showdown, and beating LeBron, the best player on the planet, would be more satisfying than beating the completely unhated Pacers.

    But on the flip side, I’d rather not have to play LeBron. We don’t have anyone to guard him, outside of a total team concept. Kawhi is a great perimeter defender, but he’ll get brutalized in the post.

    When you’re one of the best, you relish playing against the best, and no doubt Timmy is secretly hoping to face LeBron one more time, the aging, cagey veteran facing the resident superstar in one last hurrah. But as a fan, LeBron makes me nervous.

  • ewhite06

    After Game 6, I think we would rather have Miami. They looked terrible. But it was most likely a single game (but they still can’t rebound). Game 7 could be a different Miami team altogether. But long term… the Pacer offense does not scare me AT ALL. The players, YES, but not the system. The ball stops moving for long periods of time (too much one-on-one play), they can get trapped way out at the 3pt line easily, and if you can defend the inbound pass to the paint you can take out Hibbert entirely. Miami is almost the opposite. The Spurs have the advantage at 3 positions (maybe 4) but the Heat know how to move it around and create mismatches/open shots. And they have multiple outside shooters (sound familiar?). Its 6 of one, half dozen of the other.

  • Perseus

    An absolutely fantastic article for all basketball purists. Thank you Matthew for your submission, I can’t believe more stuff like this doesn’t exist.

  • Melbourne Spur

    Bring on the Heat. Can’t wait.

  • mwyse

    Why would you think SA would be favored over Miami? Miami has better record, better point differential, went 2-0 against Spurs, and have home court advantage.