Have we returned so soon?
Weren't we just here?
It feels like the 4th time in 4 years
Or maybe the 6th time in 15 years.....
Oh, you meant the rematch......of course!
What else did we expect (even after the most competitive first round in NBA history)?
More importantly, what more could we ask for?
From all the emotions associated with revenge/redemption to all the grander implications this Finals will have on legacy....where do we even begin to start?
What's different from last year?
Forget the regular season, according to ESPN.com,
Last year San Antonio was 5th best in the league during the playoffs defensively, allowing over 93 points a game. This year, during the Playoffs, the Spurs rank 8th at almost 99 points per game.
Miami was 3rd last year at ~91 points per game allowed and this year are second, allowing 92 points per game.
Last year, San Antonio was 3rd in the league during the postseason, scoring ~100 points a game.
This year, they rank 3rd at ~107 point per game.
Miami, was 7th last year at 97 point a game, and 8th this year at 99 points a game.
In other words, one team stayed essentially the same while another is scoring and allowing more points per game at an equal rate (negating each other)......an 8 point positive differential for the Spurs and a 7 point positive differential for the Heat this year, compared to a 7 point positive differential for the Spurs and a 6.4 point positive differential for the Heat last year. And guess what??? They rank #1 & 2 in this regard during the playoffs....the past two years!
So you're telling not much has changed.........
So, what's really different?
How about health?
Last year Wade limped into the Finals, and essentially had a good game....every other game (he did manage to muster up 32 points in game 4 and 23 points in game 7).
This year, after Miami essentially sat him for a third of the season, he's coming in looking fairly spry.
Check the numbers:
Last year during the playoffs: 16 points on 46% shooting
This year: almost 19 points on 52% shooting
How about Tony Parker?
Last year Tony averaged ~21 points and 7 assists during the playoffs (and presumably, those numbers went down after the Finals).
This year? Tony is averaging 17 points and 5 assists a game (leading the Spurs).
But more importantly, what affects will the ankle injury that forced him out of the WCF game 6 have on his play in the Finals? I think it's fair to say Parker having a hamstring injury last year in the Finals affected his and the Spurs performance.
To be fair, if Wade was a shell of himself last year, so was Ginobili.
Last year: 11.5 points (40% shooting) & 5 assists.
This year: 14.3 points (42% shooting) & 4 assists.
Did we have to wait a year just to see a true to form Wade vs. Ginobili matchup?
******By the way, last year Duncan averaged 18 points & 10 rebounds.
This year, 17 & 9.
Bosh last year: 12 points & 7 rebounds.
This year 15 & 6.
Off the bench
Everyone is quick to mention that the Spurs have a much better and deeper bench.
But how about this as food for thought, provided by the Sports Rabbi no less:
The Spurs have 9 players that play 10 minutes or more per game.
The Heat have 11 players that play 10 minutes or more per game.
Think about it.
And I know, I know.
The Spurs offense is a sight to behold for basketball purists. It is equal opportunity that places an emphasis on ball movement (as opposed to Miami's top heavy scoring).
I get it.
But, what if I told you that the Spurs assist percentage in the postseason this year is 53% (21 assists per game).....and that Miami's assist percentage is.....53.5% (19 a game). Which means.... despite population notion to the contrary, Miami's offense is just as team oriented, or at least shares the ball, just as well as the Spurs.
The what if factor
What if Kawhi Leonard OR Ginobili made one extra free throw?!?
What if Duncan was in the game for the final Miami possession of game 6 last year?!?
What if the Spurs secured that rebound after the LeBron James miss?!?
Then maybe this wouldn't have happened:
The Spurs were less than 10 seconds away from winning the championship! They should have won!
Let me turns things around for you.
What if Tony parker didn't do this:
(The good old crazy off the backboard/off the knee jump shot).
What if, out of nowhere, Danny Green didn't set the record for most three pointers made in a NBA Finals (in only 5 games)?
What if LeBron didn't average less than 17 points a game for the first three games of the Finals last year????
Then, there might not even have been a game 6 to begin with.
(I mean, what if LeBron didn't average 19 points a game.....in the 2011 Finals?).
There are no what ifs in basketball.
Things happen. Crazy things happen.
In series with more or less equal talent, there is only execution of plays, adjustments, and opportunities.
Beware: team of destiny
Speaking of crazy things happening,
Remember the last time a team from Texas, with an all-time great big man & point guard, that excelled on ball movement and shooting threes played Miami in the Finals seeking redemption?
......how did that work out again???
I guess will also counts for something.
Adjusting to adjustments
After not being able to score in double figures against Indiana, Chris Bosh averaged over 20 the last three games.
By making moves like this (at the 14 second mark):
That's a 4/5 coming off a down screen and making a jumper off the between the legs bounce!
Will we see more of this if Tiago Splitter or Duncan is matched up on Bosh?
But then will this be taken away if Diaw is switched on to him?
But then what happens when the Heat play Rashard Lewis and Bosh at the same time?
Who does Duncan guard?
Do the Spurs then go small with Leonard at the 4???
....maybe I'm getting ahead of myself.
Individual defense vs. team offense
There are perhaps two players in the NBA that LeBron can't guard:
Kevin Durant & (at times) Paul George.
The Spurs don't have those two players and therefore, LeBron can guard anyone on their roster.
But, perhaps this doesn't matter when no one on your team scores 20 or more points a game anyway.
How can you locate and stop the biggest opposing threat when 5 players (almost 6) average 10 points or more a game?
Think about when the heat looked their worst these playoffs: game one of the ECF, when Indiana had 6 players score in double figures. Isn't that what the Spurs do on a regular basis?
The rubber match
Forever we wanted but didn't get Kobe vs. LeBron
We can only hope we get more Durant vs. LeBron
So is it okay if for now (and potentially ever) we have to settle for Duncan vs. LeBron....
......A third time in 8 Finals.
Maybe not quite Bird vs. Magic 3 times in 4 Finals.....but perhaps close.
And maybe even better (or perhaps more bizarre) than pitting contemporaries of equal power against each other, this is a battle of teams seemingly from different eras.
Perhaps this is the closest thing we have to a real life version of a computer simulated match-up between champions from different decades.
Kind of cool and kind of weird at the same time.
But really, how are the Spurs still even here?!?!
Better than Kobe
Speaking of rivalries, think about this:
If Duncan wins, he'll have 5 chips - as much a Kobe.
Would the length of time during Duncan's run be more impressive (Kobe, chips from '00-'10.....Duncan, chips from '99-'14?)? And therefore would winning this year make us reevaluate who is the best from the Shaq/Duncan/Kobe era? Especially if Duncan wins a 4th Finals MVP (Shaq has 3, Kobe has 2). How is this guy still even relevant at 38 years of age?!?
Likewise, what if LeBron wins?
Kobe without Shaq, went to three straight Finals and won the last two. LeBron has already done that.
Would going to 4 straight Finals and winning the last 3 push LeBron past Kobe?
Perhaps more importantly, what does a win for each do for their all-time great discussions?
And more food for thought, if Wade wins a 4th.....is he now considered as great as Duncan?
.....and what if Ginobili wins a 4th???? 4 chips and a gold medal in the span of a decade?
The History of rematches
Since the 70's (after the 8-peat of the Celtics), here are the list of NBA Finals rematches in back to back years:
'72 - Lakers beat Knicks
'73 - Knick beat Lakers
'82 - Lakers beat 76ers
'83 - 76ers beat Lakers
'84 - Celtics beat Lakers
'84 - Lakers beat Celtics
'88 - Lakers beat Pistons
'89 - Pistons beat Lakers
(By the way, isn't it amazing that the Lakers are in everyone of these situations?!?).
Look at that!
Teams that lose in the Finals, but then persist and stay determined to fight their way back and face the team that defeated them the year before manage to overcome and find redemption!!!!
What a great history of inspiration!
Oh wait.....unless you consider:
'97 - Bulls beat Jazz
'98 - Bulls beat Jazz
So, maybe the redemption thing doesn't work out when you're going up against he greatest player ever (even when you have one of the best point guards and power forwards ever.....and home court).
But I mean, that's Jordan.
Miami doesn't have anyone like that......right?
Coach Frank Vogel, what do you think?!?
The exaggerated demise
We've heard a lot about how bad the Heat have looked at times. And that this may be in fact the worst of their 4 Finals teams. Certainly their regualr season records bear fruit to those claims:
2012-2013: 66-16 (27 game winning streak)
* = lockout shortened season, but their winning % was still higher than this years.
But, who cares?
How about this as a trend:
Didn't seem like the regular season downward spiral of the Bulls in the early 90's affected their first three peat.
And in case you're interested:
Yes, 62 wins is still pretty good in the last year of Jordan's second three peat. But it still fits the trend of diminishing regular season records during a three peat.
Not to mention the fact that Miami is 12-3 in this year's playoffs and weren't pushed to a game 7 (as opposed to the last two years in the ECF). Say what you want about the East and the Pacers, but Indiana still had the number 1 defense in the league, and home court advantage.
The extended excellence
There is something to be said about longevity.
How about during Duncan's time in the league, the Spurs have never won less than 50 games in a season (except for lockout shortened seasons - in which their winning percentage equated with 50 win seasons) and were never less than a 2 seed in the west.
Sounds like a definition of greatness to me.
Pick and Pop
Actually, do any of these teams still run this play?
Perhaps the Parker/Ginobili and Duncan/Diaw permutation
And maybe the LeBron/Bosh version.
But what about the non-canonical set-up?
If you recall, last year during game 2 of the Finals Spoelstra used a LeBron screen on Mario Chalmers to essentially turn that game around in a Miami win.
And then for the last play (the LeBron shot) of game 7, Spoelstra flipped it and had Chalmers set a screen on LeBron. More times than not, I don't think setting an on ball screen for LeBron is a good idea - as it will most likely result in a double team/trap with a big that forces the ball out of his hands. But having Chalmers set the screen forced a temporary Parker on LeBron defensive switch, which enabled a pull-up mid-range jumper off the screen to seal the chip.
Of course, these last two plays aren't really pick and pop. But they are variations on a theme....creative ones used with successful results.
Pop and Spo
Speaking of creativity and adjustments, isn't that what coaching is all about (in addition to managing egos)?
Certainly, it's extremely important.
But is there a decided advantage in coaching between the Spurs and Heat?
Last year, Pop and Spo played a chess match (which was comical at times). But ultimately, with ~3 minutes to go in the NBA Finals, Spo won that match.
How do you continue to make adjustments after 15 years, when your team is a well oiled offensive machine? Does everyone on the Spurs pretty much already know what to do out there?
Which team actually has to make more adjustments this series?
I mean, why not.
These teams both have expensive tastes in drinks.
Only right that one will be drenched in it after making history these Finals.
Okay, so what have we learned?
Stats mean nothing.
Regular season records mean nothing.
What ifs mean nothing.
Potential legacies mean nothing.
Both teams have been on this stage before and both teams have won multiple championships.
What really has changed?
I would say the Spurs having home court this time around - with a potential game 7 being played on their floor makes a difference. I don't think the Heat win a game 7 on the road......
But we saw how well that worked out for Indiana.
It just means that Miami will have to find another way to win.
So take a guess how they do that and what this series comes down to?
The reality is EVERY Finals LeBron plays in now until the end of his career is about him.
Whether right or wrong, realistic or not, this is just the way it is. Ever year from here on out is about history and legacy.
A chance to three peat and do something only three other franchises in NBA history have done?
I don't think that's lost on Miami or, in particular, LeBron.
I think people lose sight of the fact that in last year's Finals, LeBron averaged less than 17 points per game in the first three games of the series (Miami went 1-2) and at times seemed like he didn't want to shoot the ball - as the Spurs dared him to do so. He then averaged almost 32 points a game over the last 4 (Miami went 3-1). Something tells me that he won't wait as long this time around. And that he'll be able to able to make whatever adjustment is necessary facing San Antonio's defense.
This is no knock on the Spurs.
These teams are evenly matched and the series could go either way.
But, growing up a Knicks fan in the 90's, I learned the hard way what the best player in the world is capable of doing......
All I'm saying is, when getting into to these types of situations, You usually want the guy that is the best in the game and in his prime on your team.....
But, I guess that's why they play the games......especially the last 10 seconds of them.