We all know the San Antonio Spurs are finishing off the Memphis Grizzlies soon and we all know there’s no way the NBA lets the Miami Heat lose in the Eastern Conference Finals, so let’s stop pretending we don’t know it’s Spurs vs. Heat in the NBA Finals and let’s get down to business with my preview, analysis, and predictions.
The Spurs and Heat have quite the interesting recent 2012-2013 history. In the heavily anticipated first game between the teams, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich sent Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Danny Green back to San Antonio before the game in Miami. This game was nationally televised and the move pissed off David Stern, who vowed penalties before the game was even played.
Turns out the Spurs reserves actually kept the game close and probably would have won the game had a late Ray Allen three-pointer not saved the Heat.
In the second game, the Heat countered by sitting LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers in San Antonio. Despite sitting their trio, Miami emerged victorious in San Antonio when Chris Bosh sunk the Spurs with a clutch three-pointer. As a result, the Heat swept the season series 2-0.
In the NBA Finals, the Heat hold the home court advantage in the 2-3-2 format — with the first and last two games coming in Miami.
Analysis and Matchups
LeBron James vs. Kawhi Leonard
LeBron stoppers do not exist but Leonard is the athletic, lengthy small forward you’d wish was on your team if you had to guard the best player on the planet in the NBA Finals. While Leonard can supply offensive punch, his forte is being a very strong defender. He’s fundamentally sound, smart and strategic. Where he may cause LeBron problems is with his length. The Spurs second-year forward is a legit 6-foot-7 but has an incredible wingspan of 7-foot-3!
Of course, LeBron will be able to get by Leonard in one-on-one isolations and he holds a distinct strength advantage — to go along with experience — over the 21-year-old. LeBron’s athleticism is also significantly superior to Leonard. The Spurs will also throw Manu Ginobili and Danny Green at the Heat’s superstar but expect Leonard to log as many minutes as humanly possible — as long as he can stay out of foul trouble. Tracy McGrady sits on the Spurs bench as an emergency option to defend King James but don’t count on him playing in the Finals.
Udonis Haslem vs. Tim Duncan
Duncan’s ability to turn back the clock on his offense is the reason why the Spurs are killing the Grizzlies. When Memphis swept the Spurs, Duncan wasn’t even as close to as good. I expect the Spurs to pick their spots on when to feast on Haslem. Duncan has consistently eaten up undersized power forward-centers even in the twilight of his career.
Haslem’s importance to this series cannot be understated, however. If he is able to consistently nail open jumpers, the Heat will run away with this series. When defending Miami, you can only take away so many options before somebody gets an open look. Haslem and Shane Battier are usually the guys that get open. When they’re hitting jumpers, Miami turns into a machine.
Chris Bosh vs. Tiago Splitter
Depending on Miami’s gameplan, Chris Bosh either looks like a forgotten star or fades quietly into the background. I expect Bosh to turn in some nice games thanks to open 15 footers. I don’t expect him to get too many clean looks inside with Splitter and Duncan looming.
Splitter, on the other hand, should be able to get a handful of easy buckets throughout this series simply by utilizing his bigger body and offensive repertoire against the undersized Miami big men (Bosh, Haslem, Chris “Birdman” Andersen). Splitter has shown more mobility in defending the outside jumper against the Grizzlies so his ability to defend Haslem and Bosh outside of the paint will be an important factor.
Dwyane Wade vs. Danny Green
Danny Green is the type of role player that can look like a star in the Spurs system. When his three-point shot is dropping, Green gains confidence and it leads to a lot of bounty for the Spurs. His youth will be a disadvantage though against the wily and crafty D-Wade. Expect Dwyane to throw in a lot of pump fakes that Green will bite on and get to the free throw line with consistency.
Wade’s game has dropped off a little bit but some of that is due to his deference to LeBron. While his game has noticeably slipped (only 14.1 points per game in the playoffs), he has surprisingly deferred to the betterment of the team and has now carved out a nice niche as the ultimate distant 2 in a 1-2 punch system. Wade’s efficiency is on the uptick as he’s shooting above 50% in the last two rounds. The Spurs must keep him off the foul line because that’s when Wade starts becoming a star.
Wade will be asked to guard Ginobili and Green.
Mario Chalmers vs. Tony Parker
Chalmers is a decent counter to Parker but if the Frenchman is healthy, the Heat’s starting point guard won’t be able to stay in front of him. I expect Miami to harass the Spurs MVP with the monster that is LeBron at times. While I’d give Tony a small quickness advantage on The King, LeBron’s size will bother Tony much the way it did Derrick Rose.
If Chalmers can become a vital part of the Miami offense, the Spurs will be in trouble. They need Parker to limit Chalmers’ effectiveness while he’s on the floor. On the other end, if Tony is unable to get easy buckets because of LeBron’s defense, he must become a big-time distributor and rack up assists.
If Parker is able to get in the lane and hit jumpers, the Heat will be in trouble. The Spurs need Parker to average at least 20 points per game.
Ray Allen vs. Manu Ginobili
Of the key two guards off the bench, Manu will play the much bigger role with about 10 more minutes per game. Additionally, if the Spurs don’t get a potent Manu, their chances of winning this series are none. The Spurs need Ginobili to produce instant offense either with his penetration or his shooting. The Argentine will also be called upon to scrap with LeBron at times, but the Spurs are in serious trouble if he’s matched up with The King for too long.
At this point in his career, Allen is a lethal spot up shooter from distance but not much else. Still, the Heat don’t need much more from him. If the He Got Game star does play, look for the Spurs to attack him with Ginobili as he’s a pedestrian defender at best.
Gregg Popovich vs. Erik Spoelstra
As unlikable as Spoelstra is, he’s a pretty damn good coach. However, he’s going up against the Godfather of NBA coaches in Gregg Popovich — so it should be an interesting strategic battle.
The Spurs have more weapons but the Heat hold the trump card. Both teams will be prepared to play. I expect a battle that will end with Miami emerging victorious but I don’t think it’s because Coach Pop will be outwitted by Coach Spo.
Keys to Victory
- Keep LeBron out of the paint
- Limit D-Wade’s free throws
- Green, Leonard, Ginobili hit open three-pointers
- Parker getting penetration early and often
- Duncan commands double team
- Duncan, Splitter control paint
- Get ball out of Parker’s hands
- Bosh, Haslem hit outside shots
- Wade makes Spurs pay for single coverage
- Battier, Allen hitting three-pointers
- Slow Spurs to half court set
- LeBron must get into paint
The Spurs hold an advantage in most aspects of this series but the Heat hold the biggest one: LeBron James. James is such a dominant player, I expect him to control the series and impose his will on the Spurs. Miami in 6 games.