Do you recall back in the early stages of the 2012-2013 season when National Basketball Association Commissioner David Stern blew a gasket over the San Antonio Spurs sending their top players home rather than to Miami for a game with the Heat? This was no ordinary regular season match-up though because it was the only game scheduled that night and was set for national television.
Spurs’ Coach Gregg Popovich made no excuses. He said they had a veteran team that was coming off several games over a few days and wanted to rest his guys for the long haul. Stern fined the Spurs $250,000 and was obviously embarrassed that a marquee match-up was reduced to a group of bench-warmers starting. While the NBA is a business, it’s also a business in which the top goal for coaches and teams is to win and Popovich felt resting his guys was the right move to achieve long-term success. Lo and behold, look who is in the Finals…
The Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs could not be coming into the finals under more different circumstances. The Heat had to scratch and claw their way to a difficult seven-games series win over Indiana. The Spurs meanwhile, rolled past the Memphis Grizzlies in a four-game sweep leaving them with almost two weeks of down-time heading into game one tonight in Miami.
Common sense would tell you that San Antonio is coming off of way too much rest and will be rusty. Conversely though, Miami is the team that may have actually benefited more from such rest as they have several guys nursing nagging injuries with Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade being chief among them. In essence, you have a team with too much rest against a team that didn’t get enough.
Three Keys I’m Looking at in This Series
1. Battle of the ‘Bigs’ – In their series with Memphis, the Spurs completely frustrated Zach Randolph to the point where his shooting was barely 30% for the series. The rotation of Kawhi Leonard, Thiago Splitter and Matt Bonner was constantly forcing Randolph into mistakes and poor shot selection. The Heat will pose a different challenge in the paint because Chris Bosh is much more liable to move out and hit the 15-footer. Udonis Haslem is the banger down low that will have to deal with the three-headed rotation as well as Tim Duncan.
The advantage here belongs to the Spurs with Bosh less than 100%, but if he and Haslem, who loves the baseline jumper, can hit steadily from outside, the Spurs will be in some trouble.
2. Who Handles Parker? – Parker is the youngster amongst himself, Duncan and Ginobili and is having a phenomenal playoff run so far. With Dwyane Wade not 100% with a troublesome knee, the defensive assignment will have to fall to Mario Chalmers. The concern I have here is that Parker makes his defenders work harder than anyone else and Chalmers is often relied on to hit key threes during games. Will he have the legs to do that if he is chasing Parker for 48 minutes? Look for the Heat to throw lots of guys at Parker and double on him at times forcing him to give up the ball sooner than he wants.
3. What Kind of Advantage Does Pop Have? – Gregg Popovich is 22 years older than Miami’s Erik Spoelstra. That’s the largest difference between coaches in Finals’ history. I don’t think this will be the decided advantage some may think though. Spoelstra has learned to let LeBron James lead this team and do things as he sees fit. That’s something Popovich learned to do with Parker and Duncan as well. I give an advantage for sure to Popovich, but it isn’t as great as one would think.
Prediction: This is obviously a very different LeBron than the Spurs saw in the 2007 Finals when they blitzed the Cavs in four straight. There aren’t nearly the weaknesses in his game there were then. With that said, James will score but he’ll be challenged on every shot as the Spurs rotate as well as anyone on defense. I’ll be stunned if this series doesn’t go a minimum of six games and I like the Spurs to send Duncan into retirement with a victory in those six games.