So it comes to this.
MIAMI HEAT (1) VS. SAN ANTONIO SPURS (2)
For stretches of the season, this was the match up that seemed most likely to happen. The Spurs lost the top position in the West near the end of the year when the Oklahoma City Thunder made a nice push to grab the one seed but did little with it when Russell Westbrook went down. Otherwise, it’s arguable that, like you’d expect in a championship series, the best two teams have made it to the very end.
There are sneaky match ups galore to be had here and plenty of questions. How will Kawhi Leonard deal with LeBron? Will the Heat guards be able to slow down Parker? Will Miami’s questionable perimeter defense struggle against San Antonio’s three point shot and, conversely, will San Antonio’s stellar perimeter defense shut down an integral part of Miami’s game, the dish and pop that makes Ray Allen, Shane Battier, and Mike Miller so effective? Will Bosh come up big now that he faces big men in TD21 and Tiago Splitter that are not nearly as physical and abusive as Hibbert and West? Will Pops outcoach Spoelstra? Where is Dwayne Wade?
First things first. As you’ve probably been reading all over the internet and hearing all across radio stations and TV shows for the past few days, the match up everybody can’t wait to see is how San Antonio’s best pure defender, Kawhi Leonard, will deal with arguably the best basketball player on the planet. Truth is, the Big Three of the Heat have really been reduced to the ‘Bron show but that has been mostly due to a banged up Wade and a nullified Bosh (Indiana was about as physically taxing as any team can possibly get). That is likely to change in the finals; yet there’s very little doubt that the Heat will win or lose depending on how LeBron commands the games, especially down the stretch. Leonard is going to have to pick his spots in going with LeBron to the hoop and not pick up too many fouls though the task of keeping him to the outside may also backfire as LeBron has developed a pretty good shot to go with his freakish physical skills. Down low on the post, I have to give the edge to LeBron as he will still manage to outmuscle the deceptively tough Leonard who had harassed every assignment so far in the playoffs with his most masterful work having come against the elite guards of Golden State. That said, neither of those guys were physical specimens so his size, length and quickness was too dominating. Memphis had nobody who could score at an elite level so his defense effectively shut down any and all offense outside of their bigs which was a big reason why Memphis were handily dispatched. Leonard will do a n impressive job on LeBron, no doubt, but it won’t be close to enough. It might shave a little off his production and frustrate him into jacking up some jumpshots but if those start dropping, you can pretty much forget about the Spurs winning the championship.
The Spurs live and die with Tony Parker. Games where Parker was off (he had quite a handful of low field goal % shooting nights actually and the Spurs looked either vulnerable or were beat outright), it was evident that the game had to then run through Duncan in the low post where he often was able to get it going but in the twilight of his career, it won’t be enough to win four games. Duncan is at his best now as a complement to Parker and not the other way around. The trick for Miami will be to play Parker physical and stay with him although that’s a lot to ask because TP might be the quickest guard in the league (and Memphis who were supposed to be physical and great defensively, failed at this). Chalmers is pretty physical, though and I wouldn’t be surprised if LeBron even gets that assignment in late game situations as he is Miami’s best overall defender. Parker will be the leading scorer for the Spurs and his ability to draw double teams and dish out to the perimeter will be a very key component of this series.
Speaking of which, Miami has been shredded by three point shooting teams and the Spurs are one of those teams. Forget the Memphis series for a moment (that was about as definitive a match up fail as there ever is in pro sports, by the way) and take a look at the series against the Warriors. The Spurs took away the one thing that made the Warriors a threat to make a run at the finals; their three point game. Conversely, they hit threes with ease in all their wins because the Warriors were chasing the swing around the perimeter and giving up too many open looks. This spells doom for the Heat if they are a) unable to get back on the perimeter on the dish and swing and b) if they get eaten up on the outside by the very active Leonard, Green and Neal who have been harassing jumpshooters all postseason. The perimeter game does favor San Antonio in this regard but note this: only in terms of scheme and execution. Give Pops a ton of credit here. I wouldn’t count against Miami’s outside shot, exactly. In fact, if they get open looks, the Spurs are in a heap of trouble because, like Golden State, they can definitely hit them and if Ray Allen continues to shoot the way he has in the latter parts of the Indiana series where he seemed to be getting his range back, the Heat are going to rain threes on the Spurs. They have the better pure shooters. San Antonio has the better perimeter game as a team.
Down in the paint, watch for Bosh to finally get untracked. He is an undersized, agile big man with range (what’s up with dino jr. jacking up the three point shot anyway? I mean, he’s making them but wtf? lol) and against active, tenacious bigs like David West and Roy Hibbert, he was as good as useless out there. There were stretches where you’d see him active in the paint, trying to get contact and be physical but in the end all he could resort to doing was flopping and missing and flopping. Duncan still has game but he is not as quick as he used to be and Tiago Splitter can be dominated with Bosh’s skillset of taking the ball at midrange and working. I expect Bosh to have a much better series than he did in the last one. What doomed Memphis was the fact their bigs were more traditional bigs, slow, powerful and living closer to the rim. That isn’t Bosh’s game and it’ll give the Spurs a challenge they haven’t really faced yet this postseason (with the exception of Carl Landry who, surprisingly, was effective because he possesses much of the same skillset as Bosh albeit not at an elite level).
Dwayne Wade is having the lowest postseason production of his career. Truth be told, that may just mean he’s due and that would really suck for San Antonio as that suddenly gives them two explosive bodies to cover and they only really have one Kawhi Leonard. The next best thing the Spurs can throw at a strong, explosive scoring guard is Danny Green and while he is definitely capable (he frustrated the hell out of Curry when he was on him), I still have to give the advantage to Wade. This of course all hinges on Wade’s health and if he’s really over it (as it seemed with 21 points and 9 boards in the final and deciding game of the Pacers series), he’s going to be the factor that puts this in Miami’s favor. I’m going to go ahead and throw Manu Ginobili in this discussion; if the Spurs’ long time stud wing man is able to get out of his postseason funk and produce the way he has in the past, it’ll have the same effect as it would if Wade returned to form. Both of these guards are out of sorts although it is arguable that Manu is no longer the piece in the system that he used to be as Kawhi Leonard now has become the third option in the offense and has responded with solid offensive games. Manu still possesses the critical clutch outside shot and is the sort of guy that can literally go 0-12 in the game and then drop a three in the fourth quarter of a close game to turn a tide.
In the end, and I can’t stress this enough, the series is going the distance. Regardless of who wins out, this isn’t something that is going to be determined in four or five games. Six? Maybe. Seven, more likely. Miami’s home court advantage is significant especially if the series goes long. Much is being made of how handily San Antonio dispatched of Memphis but remember that the Grizzlies were a team that couldn’t score in bunches anyway and, while physical and defensive minded, were not explosive enough to stay with Parker when they needed to. The Grizzly series almost tells us nothing about what the Spurs are going to do in this one. The Heat can score a lot easier than the Grizzlies ever could and survived a series with a Pacer team that was balanced, physical and as defensively tough as the Grizz but with much more offensive ability. The Heat had the tougher test, outlasted it and to me, are the favorites here.
Heat in 7