It’s been one year and we’re right back where we finished last season: Miami Heat vs San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals. This year’s story lines are rife with historical implications.
LeBron James going for his third title and facing Tim Duncan in the Finals for a third time. Duncan going for title number five. Dwyane Wade going for number four (one shy of Kobe). Pat Riley chasing his first ever three-peat. Gregg Popovich further attempting to solidify his reputation as the greatest modern NBA coach not named Phil Jackson. Erik Spoelstra climbing to sixth all-time for coaching championships. And then every redemption storyline from last year’s epic seven-game battle.
While some names have changed, this series is nearly identical to last year’s matchup. Duncan, Parker, Ginobili on one side; LeBron, Wade and Bosh on the other side. Danny Green and Ray Allen are still gunning. Kawhi Leonard and Shane Battier both have at least one breakout game in them. At some point both Boris Diaw and Chris Andersen will do something that will make you saw “wow.”
While you can write a 3,000 column parsing this series from every angle (keeping eyes trained on Bill Simmons feed), here is a quick look at the matchup. A star to watch for each team, and then the skinny.
It’s virtually impossible to talk about the Heat without starting with LeBron James. Fans and media alike have seemingly resigned to the fact that we are watching one of the greatest players in history at his absolute prime. There is no more talk of alphas. No more talk of choking. No more talk of failed expectations. LeBron has reached the level of expected greatness. He is no longer measured by his peers, only the game’s legends.
The first couple of games will be a feeling out process, but by Game 3 look for LeBron to guard whoever has given Miami fits. If Duncan is shredding the Heat’s front court, watch for LeBron on the blocks. If Tony Parker is getting into the lane too much, look for LBJ to guard on the ball. He will be everywhere and fill up the stat sheets.
It’s still Tim Duncan’s team, but Tony Parker is the key in this one. Parker was unable to play in the second half of San Antonio’s closeout game against Oklahoma City do to a lingering ankle injury. If he is limited in this series, the Spurs are in trouble.
Parker’s quickness presents a matchup problem for both Norris Cole and Mario Chalmers, and his ability to crash the lane spreads the floor for San Antonio. If players collapse on him, Green and Leonard are open. If they stay at home, Parker finishes.
Pop is a good enough coach (and his team disciplined enough) to mask Parker’s absence in stretches. However, in a long series, it could be the Spurs’ Achilles’ Heel.
Playoff series are all about adjustments, and this one will have plenty. Look for lineup shakeups, varying defensive assignments and maneuvering to exploit weaknesses. Both teams play exceptional team ball, so expect balanced offensive and defensive matchups (essentially the opposite of the Westbrook and Stephenson-dominated story lines from conference finals).
This one is going to be like watching Gary Kasparov take on Deep Blue. There are no surprises. It’s going to be punch-counterpunch. Expect this series to go at least six games based on basketball IQ alone. This has been a rematch 12 months in the making and fans should cherish what they’re about to witness.