After weeks and weeks of amazing playoff action, we’ve finally arrived at our destination, the NBA Finals. Or should I say, the NBA Finals Rematch.
After giving us an amazing seven-game slugfest last year, the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat are back again to go at it one more time.
(1) San Antonio Spurs v. (2) Miami Heat
This time around, the Spurs are the team with home-court advantage. San Antonio has spent their entire season trying to get back here to exact revenge on the Heat. The Spurs were literally seconds away from clinching an NBA title on Miami’s court when Jesus Shuttlesworth changed the course of NBA history.
That one shot changed everything. The Spurs had a blemish on their Finals record and for the first time in the Pops-Duncan era had come up short in the championship round.
And Lebron James’ legacy was altered completely. Instead of being 1-3 in the NBA Finals, he became a two-time NBA Champion and Game 7 hero.
But the past is the past. This year’s Finals has plenty of its own story lines to watch.
The Spurs come into the series a better team than they were a year ago. Their bench, which was already incredible during the regular season, has stepped it up in the postseason. San Antonio’s reserves are averaging nearly 44 points per game, giving the team an incredible amount of depth and firepower at all times.
This has been especially key with guard Tony Parker dealing with injuries. The Frenchman sat out the second-half of San Antonio’s series-clinching Game 6 win over the Thunder with soreness in his left ankle. Despite the injury, the team expects the guard to be ready to go for Game 1, but his game to game status will definitely be something to watch as the series wears on.
The key to the series for the Spurs however may be one of their worst players in last years Finals. Manu Ginobili struggled greatly during San Antonio’s seven game loss to the Heat. The Argentine averaged a paltry 11.6 points per game on just 43% shooting. Those numbers are actually even a bit skewed as Ginobili scored over half of his Finals points in two games.
For the Spurs to be completely effective, Manu will have to be the player we expect to see off of the bench. His ability to throw defenses off will help the Spurs attack Miami’s incredible defense.
One more thing the Spurs will definitely need if they hope to dethrone the Heat? A coming out performance from young forward Kawhi Leonard. The third-year player had his moments in last year’s Finals, but his ability to guard Lebron on the defensive end and hit big shots on the offensive side could swing this series completely.
If Leonard is able to give the Heat trouble on both sides of the court, the Spurs will be in a great position to win the franchises fifth championship.
For star forward Tim Duncan, this series is all about retribution. The big man looks to forget the bunny he missed at the end of Game 7, which effectively sealed the Spurs fate.
Duncan has surely been reliving that shot since last June, and with the Spurs back in the Finals, he will be looking to make up for it.
But the Spurs aren’t the only team with plenty of motivation.
The Heat are heading into their fourth straight NBA Finals, the first team to do so since the 1980’s.
Heat: 4th straight trip to the finals; tied with 1982-85 Lakers and 1984-87 Celtics for 2nd most all-time (1957-66 Celtics, 10)
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 31, 2014
That is an incredible feat. But Miami knows better than anyone that not winning the title would be considered a monumental failure. Whereas a win and a third straight title propels the Heat into the pantheon of all-time great NBA teams.
Speaking of greatness, a three-peat could have a profound impact on the legacy of Lebron James. While Lebron is already considered one of the all-timers, winning three straight championships in this era, with the incredible stats he has put up throughout his career, would likely put him in the conversation as one of the top five players in NBA history. (Let’s wait until his career is over to get into the G.O.A.T. debate okay? Thanks!)
Of course, if you ask Lebron, he thinks it’s a waste of time to debate his legacy.
“I don’t really care what people say about me, or how people categorize my so-called legacy or what they think I should be. I play this game at a high level. I put myself in a position to help our team succeed… I don’t get involved with what people say about me and my legacy. I think it’s actually kind of stupid.”
Regardless of how James may feel, the fact is this series, like all NBA Finals, will have a profound impact on how people view his legacy and career.
Very few superstars have been able to put together three consecutive titles. In the modern era, the list is incredibly short. Jordan, Shaq, Kobe. That’s it. Not even Magic or Bird could put together three straight. Duncan and the Spurs could never even put together two straight. There is a lot at stake here for James.
While James has been his usual dominant self (27-8-5 with 2 steals per in the playoffs), his sidekick has had his fair share of troubles.
Dwyane Wade was limited this regular season, playing in only 54 games for the Heat, averaging just 19 poitns per game, lowest since his rookie season. In the playoffs, Wade has averaged his lowest assist (4.3) and rebound (3.9) numbers, and the third lowest points in his postseason career.
Chris Bosh played well filling in an expanded role during the regular season, but the Heat will need Wade to be their second-best player to raise a third straight banner.
The series is basically a toss-up between the two teams. The Spurs may be the deepest team we have ever seen in the Finals, while the Heat have one of the greatest superstars we’ve ever watched play the game.
So who has the advantage?
In the Finals, timely shots from role players is key, but one thing you MUST have to win a championship (unless you’re the 2004 Pistons) is a player who can completely take a game over.
You know a guy who can make shots like this.
Or who can walk into a tense situation in a Game 7 of the NBA Finals, and have total and complete confidence in his ability to take over a game.
In other words, despite the Spurs depth, despite the revenge factor, and despite home-court advantage, Lebron James has got this.. well you know.
Prediction: Heat in 6
1. Rob 13-1
2. Erin/Jeff 12-2
3. Simone/Natasha/Ashley/Vashti 11-3
4. Belal/Glen/Greg/Mark 10-4
5. Zack/Luck 9-5
6. Kel 8-6