True Hoops

True Hoops

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Final Legacy

You should know that last year's NBA Finals match-up seemed like one made in heaven. The league's two best players vying for their first NBA championship as well as undisputed supremacy over the basketball world.

Well, you should know that this year's match-up will be even better.

We're talking past dynasty against a burgeoning one that is trying to take those reigns with a another chip. We're talking perhaps the best power forward ever vs. perhaps (already?) the best small forward ever - at the height of his powers. Oh, and that best power forward ever, he's not even the best player on his team right now.

Last year there was talk of perhaps a Jordan vs. Magic comparison.
I felt, best case scenario it was more a Magic/Bird (worst case for Durant: MJ/Drexler).
But this year may be more fitting for Magic/Jordan. Does Duncan relinquish (finally) his staying power in the league and formally hand over the keys to LeBron? We never had a fitting passing of the torch from Kobe to LeBron. So will a Duncan (now making people reconsider if he is the best player from his generation) pass off suffice?

Or, will Duncan and co. write their own script and ride off into the sunset on their own terms?

Here is a question for you:
How many teams have gone to the NBA Finals three years in a row?
After the Celtics 8 peat in the 60's, only 4 franchises. The Lakers four times, The Pistons, The Bulls twice, and now Miami (3 out of 8 of those resulted in a three-peat). Only three years since it's inception, does this already grant Miami a significant place in NBA history?

Another question:
How many teams have gone to the Finals 5 times within 14 years (keeping at least one of their major stars throughout)? After the Celtics 8 peat, only three franchises have done that. The Lakers (you can pick from the 70's, 80's and 00's), the Bulls, and these Spurs.

The Spurs previous match-ups: New York, New Jersey, Detroit, & Cleveland. With the exception of perhaps Detroit, they were heavy favorites in all of those series. Kind of feels like this time around they might have met a team of equal of greater stature. How does that play out?

And how about LeBron? His first trip to the Finals he was swept by the same big three he'll be facing this time around. Throw in the Dallas series and he is 0-2 against teams from Texas. Three times the charm?

Since that Spurs/Cavs match-up we have seen three Kobe Finals (including two lakers/Celtics) and three LeBron Finals (including a LeBron/Durant and now this). Safe to say the NBA has hit the jackpot these last six years.

So what are some fo the more intriguing things to look out for?

The Bigs
Ponder this. For their respective conference Finals:
Roy Hibbert = 22 poins & 10 rebounds
David West = 17 points & 9 rebounds
Paul George = 19 points & 6 rebounds

Tim Duncan = 18 points & 9 rebounds
Tiago Splitter = 9 points & 3 rebounds
Kawhi Leonard = 11 points and 7 rebounds

So you're saying the Heat faced a collective 58 & 25 from the Pacers starting front court and now will go up against a collective 38 & 19 from that of the Spurs. Yeah...... something tells me the Heat are gonna be jumping for joy with this one.

No 7'2" center to prevent anything easy at the rim?
No one to beat the crap out of Chris Bosh and consistently push LeBron around in the post?

For all the talk about how the West is a better/deeper conference. Let me tell you what the East is: A beat-you-up/grind it out nightmare of physicality. For a team built around small ball, with no dominate post player, getting through that - two years in a row -  is an achievement.

Chris Bosh
With the physicality less demanding, can Bosh return to form?
He averaged 15 points and 9 rebounds last year in the Finals.
He's coming off 11 & 4 in the conference finals.  How big would it be for Bosh to put up big numbers? Especially if he can rekindle his shooting touch as the Spurs converge on LeBron and Wade.

The Shooters
Speaking of shooting, every big three needs supporting players that space out the floor and make the defense pay for doubling the stars right? Well compare the 3pt % (and for fun, age) from those of Miami to those of San Antonio:

Ray Allen (38) = 42% regular season, 37% playoffs
Shane Battier (35) = 42% regular season, 23% playoffs
Mike Miller (33) =  41% regular season, 28% playoffs

Matt Bonner (33) = 44% regular season, 50% playoffs
Danny Green (26) = 43% regular season, 43% playoffs
Kawhi Leonord (21) = 42% regular season, 37% playoffs
Garry Neal (28) = 40% regular season, 25% playoffs

Seems to be a concerning trend for the Miami shooters. Essentially, the Heat have gotten to this point without their offense firing on all cylinders. But not sure if they can get away with it in the Finals. The Bulls were ranked 10th (out of 16) in offense during the postseason and the Pacers 11th. Both averaged ~92 points a game. The Spurs? They ranked 3rd offensively and averaged 102 points a game!

Therefore the Heat might not be able to get away with struggling to put points of the board, they are averaging 97 for the playoffs. You can say that they struggled against the potent defense of Indiana and the Spurs should be a relief in that area. Well actually the Spurs rank slightly higher than the Pacers this post-season in defense.

What is a good sign for them is that Ray Allen hit four three during in their game 7 win over Indiana - 3 in the second is what really broke the game open. Additionally, while Miller hasn't made a ton of shots, he has been aggressive on both ends of the floor and seemed to provide a spark in the last two games of the conference Finals.

You may say: "will the supporting players/shooters really make a difference in the Finals?" They absolutely did last year with Battier, Chalmers, & Miller each having games where they scored 20 or more points in Heat victories.

Tony Tone Tone
Can you believe Tony Parker has been in the league for 12 years?!?
It's interesting, when you think of the top 5 point guards in the league his name doesn't come to mind. He is not the best statistically but he wins the most, when it matter most. In the 6 years since the Spurs last won the chip Parker has averaged 19 points & 7 assists a game in the regular season. In the last six post-seasons his numbers are 22 points & 6 assists per game.

Oh, and the Last time The Spurs won it all? Parker averaged 24.5 points (on 58% shooting) to go along with 5 rebounds and 3 assists per game for Finals MVP.
(FYI, Duncan averaged 18, 12, & 4 and LeBron, a pedestrian 22, 7, & 7).

There is no doubt that this is Parker's team.
But do you want to put his value into perspective?
During the conference Finals Parker averaged 24.5 point and 9.5 assists a game. That's accounting for 43.5 total points. LeBron, who carried Miami in the conference finals, averaged 29 points and 6 assists a game accounting for only 41 total points.

Perhaps LeBron is more valuable to his (and everyone's team). But Parker is putting up numbers just as good. LeBron will get his during the Finals, but can anyone prevent Parker from doing his thing?

Okay, it's Parker 's team. But Tim Duncan made first team All-NBA at 37 (his 16th year in the league)? Who does that?
I remember watching the '99 Finals when he destroyed the Knicks (he was 23!). His bank-shot jumper was automatic.

The Heat were overwhelmed physically last series. Will Duncan's skill set this series be able to impact as much damage?

The Best
During the first quarter of game 7 against Indiana my brother texted me (in so many words):
"WTF....why isn't LeBron shooting?"

Miami took 28 shots in the first quarter (making 8 of them).
LeBron only took 5 of those shots - his first not coming until 4:45 to go in the quarter.
Indiana led 21-19.

LeBron only took 4 shots in the second quarter.
But Ray Allen had 3 threes and 10 points, Wade & Bosh were a combined 4 for 5, for 9 points.
With Miami up 15 at the half, my brother texted me again:
"LeBron with a quiet 18?"

So playing a reserved role and allowing his teammates to get involved early on, LeBron was sill able to lead the Heat in scoring at the half? For the game? 32 and 8 on 8 of 17 shooting.

That's what this guy does.
He keeps everyone involved and still scores 25-30 by default.
He dropped 45 against Boston last year and then told me directly after that he'll still pass the ball to teammates when they are open because he trusts them and knows how essential they are. He followed that up by closing out the Finals with a triple double and 13 assists.

For the heat to win, LeBron has to be the best player in the world and score, especially if Wade and Bosh, and the Miami shooters don't return to form. But I don't want the 25-8-8 guy. I want the 30-9-6 guy. I'm not too worried about him getting 30. It seems he'll do that regardless. The question is, will he have to go for 35-40 at one point in this series? I'm not sure, but I'm fairly confident that he'll know when it's time.

As these games go by, it seems more apparent that LeBron has learned when to pick and choose his spots. If anything, I think all the injuries the Heat suffered during their last two playoff runs have actually been somewhat of a blessing in disguise as they mandated LeBron to take over in so many of these games. There is a big difference between deferring then trying to find your way in the offense at crucial moments and knowing you have to dominate/can score when you want but have to take your foot of the gas at times to keep your teammates happy. For the all the Point Guard Project stuff I've done and asked "How do you determine when to pass vs. shoot?" Can it be that LeBron has mastered this better than anyone?

My one request - as hopefully LeBron continues to attack the rim.
Rather than always leading with his body and keeping the ball inside to draw the foul, I would love to see him extend his arm as the contact comes then finish over the top of the defender. He will still get the call.

The deciding factor
Could it possibly be Manu Ginobili vs. Dwyane Wade???
Remember the day when Ginobili would recklessly drive to the basket and hit those lefty lay-ups over Shaq? Or when he led Argentina over the US for the '04 olympics? Or when the euro two-step was all his before Wade and Harden co-opted it? Remember when he scored 25 points in game 7 of the 2005 Finals?

Remember when Wade averaged 35 points as the '06 Finals MVP?
When he averaged 30 against Boston and Dallas in the playoffs two year ago? Or when he dropped 40 to close out the Pacers last year?

Those days seem long gone. Now, everyone wonders if these two are on their last legs.
For the Playoffs:
Ginobili is at 11.5 points (38%), 5 assists, and 5 rebounds a game.
Wade is at 14 (45%) 5 & 5.

What better way to prove everyone wrong than by matching up against one another?
This might be the most fun to watch!

So what's it gonna be???
I'm not going to make a prediction, but I will say a few things that may make it apparent what I'm thinking.

The danger for Miami is facing a team this deep with superb ball movement that can put points on the board. Yes, Chicago and Indiana were physical, but they both didn't have more than a 5-6 man rotation. That makes a difference. And while the teams they faced had Thibodeau and Vogel, they didn't have Popovich. And when you have an all time great coach - that maximizes his team's potential and makes adjustments on the fly (not to mention ridicule the media) - you'll always be in the game and have a chance to win.

And that's the thing - if the games are close at the end, the Spurs can execute and have the star power as well as pedigree to close games out.

But, are the Heat really worried about playing an uptempo/perimeter oriented style of play?
Miami's defense isn't too shabby - they are ranked 2nd for the post-season. And the reason Indiana gave them so much trouble is that they owned the boards and got so many second chance points/lay-ups (while beating them up in the process). That is Miami's achilles and I don't envision that happening in this series.

Think about last year, Miami was pushed to 6 by Indiana then 7 by Boston. They then faced the supposedly deeper and more offensively potent Thunder yet still ran away with the thing in five games.
This year, they got beat up by the Bulls and Pacers, but survived. You don't think they'll thrive against the supposedly deeper and offensively potent Spurs?

Now think about what the Spurs have faced. Last year, after going down 0-2, Oklahoma won four in a row with their athleticism and perimeter play. This year the Spurs swept the Lakers and grizzles. Two half court teams that find their strength in their bigs. Who gave them the most trouble? The Warriors - a run and gun team that finds their strength in their perimeter play/shooting. I'm gonna say that Miami will provide more of a challenge on the perimeter than the Warriors did - especially if Wade is healthy and Bosh can make shots. And as good as Golden state was offensively, they ranked 13th (out of 16) on the defensive end. So, combine Miami's defense and their transition/athleticism/perimeter play (either shooting or breaking down the defense to get to the paint) and it might be tougher to combat.

And I'm gonna say that this guy LeBron is going prove more challenging to contain than Stephen Curry. In every facet of the game.  And not only offensively. What sort of impact will LeBron have defensively? We spoke about the numbers Tony Parker is putting up. Well, by now everyone in the world is talking about a potential showdown with LeBroan guarding Parker. And why not - for stretches, perhaps during the 4th quarter? He was able to keep Derrick Rose in check coming off his MVP season. Actually, what are the chances that we literally see LeBron guard positions the same game?

The bottom line? When you get into these sorts of high stakes-street fights, you want to be the team that has the best player in the world on your side. That's what Miami has. And while the Spurs are 4 games away from furthering their franchise's legacy, don't you think LeBron relishes the opportunity to cement his own as well???

Not much more to say!
Let the Finals begin!

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