What happens when a consensus favorite meets a perennial contender? The Miami Heat, and everyone who resigned themselves to the fact that LeBron is an unstoppable, championship-winning machine who will not be denied this year, will see if they can exert their will on an older San Antonio Spurs team when the NBA Finals begin this Thursday.
If the series goes the distance, it won’t end until June 20th- which is exactly two weeks after it’s starting date and only seven days before the NBA draft. The veteran Spurs, who already enjoyed nine days off after sweeping Memphis in the Western Conference Finals, should have ample time to rest and recover after each game. So it’s hard to say that the youthful Heat have a tangible advantage on a game to game basis. This series will come down to a number of key matchups (like all things in team sports), and here’s what to watch for in the first few games of the 2013 NBA Finals:
1. Tim Duncan- Virgin Island Fundamentalist, Dissector of Defenses and Tall Human
Some TV personalities, such as the insufferable Chris Broussard, have pointed out that “there’s only one Roy Hibbert in the league” and the Heat can rest easy after dispatching the tallest (7’2″) starter in the NBA. While they may have a case for Hibbert’s unparalleled prowess on the defensive end, the idea that Hibbert would give Miami more problems in pick and roll sets than Tim Duncan is well….as dumb as your Bible-Belt beliefs Broussard.
That’s enough angry ranting, let’s go to the numbers. Hibbert averaged 1.4 assists per game in these playoffs, while committing 2.3 Turnovers. In 7 games against the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals, he turned it over 18 times, while only logging 7 assists (yes that is 1.0 apg). While “The Big Stick” has made considerable strides since graduating from Georgetown, he is still incredibly slow, prone to traps, flops, and probably committed several travels that NBA officials inexplicably missed after catching in the lane.
Duncan is everything that young Roy is not. He has an incredible Basketball IQ, coordination, feet that move when prompted to, championship experience, oh right, and guards who can spread the floor and garner respect, i.e. NOT Lance Stephenson.
He is the biggest problem for Miami on defense, but the question is: will he disrupt the Heat’s offense? True Hoop delves deeper into this question with statistics on rim protection, while also insinuating that Hibbert’s extra length provides a mental block for LeBron, D-Wade, and anyone else who might attack the paint. While Hibbert may have a longer reach, the value of moving one’s feet can’t be underestimated on defense, and Duncan and Tiago Splitter will likely be much more effective at cutting off driving lanes.
The numbers can only tell you so much- especially about defense- so watch how easy it is for the Heat to finish in the paint in order to get a good grasp of who has the advantage here.
2. Chris Bosh- Greatest Women’s Basketball Player Since Brittney Griner, Spastic Raptor and Mediocre PF
In the overrated corner we have a middling former star who went so far as to proclaim himself a lock for the Hall of Fame in January of this year. Then he went out and underwhelmed the hell out of the ECF, as he disappeared for Games 4-6 and essentially becoming a liability on defense.
Bosh is an average rebounder (snags around 20% of available defensive rebounds throughout his career), but he only managed to secure 22 rebounds in the first 6 games against the Pacers, and the Heat were essentially forced to play Birdman Andersen more often than his ancestor (raptor joke).
We know that CB is a below-average defender, who has no shot at guarding Tim Duncan in the post, but the most important thing to watch about the man who showers himself in champagne in a somewhat peculiar way, is how he looks to assert himself on offense.
If you watched Game 7 of the ECF, you saw the good and bad Chris Bosh throughout the first half. First there was the Bosh who thought he could hit step-backs off the dribble or draw fouls while driving to the hoop. This did not equal success, and prompted Spoelstra to replace his star forward with someone who would actually execute.
When Bosh got back into the game, he realized his role- which is to spot up and wait for LBJ to draw the defense. Mahimi inexplicably gave him space to shoot a mid-range jumper that got him going, and then Bosh hit a three, which of course led to an over the top celebration from a guy who reaaaaaaaaally desperately wants to be liked. Bosh clearly can’t control his emotions, but if he could, he would remain the effective role player that knocked the Celtics out last year with timely shooting.
3. Gregg Popovich Knows More About Basketball Than Eric Spoelstra Knows About Eric Spoelstra
This is a pretty self-explanatory matchup. On the one hand you have a consensus top-three coach in the NBA, and on the other sideline is a newly promoted video coordinator who is trying to assert some level of control over a superstar-laden team.
The age gap, which is nearly 22 years, is the greatest age differential between two coaches in Finals history, but that’s not really important. What is important is Spoelstra’s inability to make adjustments on the fly. Brian Scalabrine pointed out that where the where the Pacers fail to swing the ball, the Spurs will succeed, and the White Scallion believes that Miami can’t win a series in which they’re constantly chasing the ball in rotation.
Spoelstra is an alright coach, but a guy who gets out-shined by Juwan Howard in the halftime locker room might be unable to make his team realize what they need to do defensively. That’s certainly not something that Spurs fans have to worry about, since Popovich will bench anyone who doesn’t execute the game plan in a heartbeat.
*Dwayne Wade- Head Coordinator Of The Miami Flop-a-Thon, Wounded Star, and Generally Amoral Individual
I just wanted to take a shot at Wade, who is the worst flopper left in the playoffs without question. Don’t take my word for it, just look at this compilation via CBSSports of dirty plays, and flops that Wade has put together over the past couple of years. It’s a solid resume.
I guess the matchup here is Wade (plus Battier, Chalmers, and anyone else who is taking acting classes down in South Beach) vs. the officials. The refs, namely Ken Mauer and Scott Foster, did an excellent job of ignoring the some two dozen flops that the Heat unleashed in the first half of Game 7 against the Pacers, but will every crew be this savvy?
It’s really a shame that the “best team” in the league has to try and earn cheap calls with rampant flopping, and the NBA may need to do more to address this issue than simply fining millionaires.
5. Crotchedy Old Mike Miller, Automoton Ray Allen, Cheap Shot Battier, and the Miami Role Players
Here’s an excellent Sports Illustrated feature that delved into the importance of the corner three, and the players who sink them, as one of the primary reasons for Miami’s title run last year. Most of us remember Mike Miller’s seven threes in the clinching game of the 2012 NBA Finals, and everyone has seen that the Heat are at their best when they swing the ball four or five times into an open 3pt shot.
However, these guys are struggling a bit this year, most notably Battier, who went 2-15 from three in the first six games of the ECF and didn’t even get on the court in Game 7. Miami depends upon their floor spacers, because without their shooting prowess, LeBron can be doubled with impunity. If Allen, Miller, Battier, Chalmers, and Haslem aren’t shooting the ball effectively, this series could turn messy for the Heat. Then again, if their shots are on, then the defending champs would likely be looking at a repeat.
None of this is meant to be (overtly) biased against the Heat. However, we are in Boston, most of us hate the Heat, and aside from LeBron- who does have some flopping/whining issues of his own- the rest of this team plays dirty, flops relentlessly, and seems to believe that the Championship is theirs by right this year. Everyone who has maintained that “the Heat will win and there’s no point watching” needs to remember that the Spurs aren’t flashy by any means, but they handle their business, and right now, it’s business time.