We’ve seen this before
Twelve months have passed since Miami outlasted San Antonio four games to three in the 2013 NBA Finals and it’s time to replay the tape. After dispatching of the Thunder 112-107 in overtime in game six, the Spurs have seized their opportunity to avenge last season’s game seven loss in a rare Finals rematch.
The last time we saw a championship series do-over was in 1998, and the similarities between the match-ups don’t end there. In ’98 the Michael Jordan-led Bulls were looking to complete the three-peat – something LeBron James is hoping he can add to his G.O.A.T. resume in 2014.
The Utah Jazz featured the Hall of Fame combo of playmaking point guard John Stockton and versatile power forward Karl Malone. San Antonio’s star players align similarly with Tony Parker and Tim Duncan.
The Bulls went on to win that series, but the Spurs have that special something that was lacking with the Jazz: championship experience.
Tim Duncan has already led San Antonio to four titles over the course of his career and he’s far from satisfied. The big man exuded confidence in a post-game interview following his team’s victory over OKC last night.
“It’s unbelievable to regain that focus after that devastating loss that we had last year,” Duncan said. “But we’re back here. We’re excited about it. We’ve got four more to win. We’ll do it this time.”
Perhaps owning home court advantage this time around will be enough to turn the tables? Perhaps King James is far too intent on growing his legend?
Perhaps we’ll have to wait and see.
The series is set to start on Thursday in San Antonio but before we get into a break-down, take the next six minutes and twelve seconds to get your blood pumping and relive last year’s epic Finals showdown:
How the Spurs got here
San Antonio defeated eighth-seeded Dallas 4-3 in the first round, fifth-seeded Portland 4-1 in the second round and second-seeded Oklahoma City 4-2 in the Western Conference Finals.
Tim Duncan continues to defy his age as role players like Kawhi Leonard come up with big plays at opportune times.
Check out Leonard’s clutch block/strip of Russell Westbrook in overtime of game six:
How the Heat got here
Miami beat seventh-seeded Charlotte 4-0 in the first round, sixth-seeded Brooklyn 4-1 in the second round and first-seeded Indiana 4-2 in the Eastern Conference Finals.
LeBron James once again raised his game to the next level as Miami has looked more or less unbeatable throughout.
Let’s take a look at how they match up
Miami’s number-two seeding aside, it’s fairly clear that this year’s Finals will feature the two best teams in the NBA. San Antonio won a league-best 62 games and Miami cruised through the Eastern Conference with the fewest playoff losses in the entire post-season field.
Not too much can be gleaned from their regular season head-to-head match-ups as they only faced each other twice and in both cases the home team was victorious by double digits.
One thing is for certain though: Miami will need to find a way to slow San Antonio’s prolific and efficient offense. The Spurs are averaging 106.6 points per night in the playoffs compared to just 99.1 for the Heat.
The Spurs’ offensive system is difficult to defend because it relies on an evenly distributed attack. On the contrary, the Heat depend on big numbers from their scoring all-stars, James and Wade.
LeBron is averaging 27.1 points per game in the post-season, second only to Kevin Durant. No San Antonio players are ranked in the top 25 in playoff scoring, with Tony Parker leading the team with 17.2.
From a coaching point of view I’d give the slight edge to Coach-of-the-Year Gregg Popovich. He’s been with the Spurs since December of 1998 and is the longest tenured coach in the NBA. He’s a mastermind whose teams are a threat to win the title year after year.
That said, Spoelstra has been with Miami for six seasons now and he’ll be coaching his team in the Finals for the fourth year straight. He takes a lot of slack for being the figurehead on a team full of superstars, but it’s an unfair criticism given the level of success he’s achieved.
Why the Heat bring home the three-peat
King James may not officially be the NBA’s MVP in 2014, but he’s unofficially the best basketball player in the world. Dwyane Wade has returned to form after resting his knee for much of the season and Chris Bosh has been solid in the middle as always. This team seems to be peaking at just the right time.
If Tony Parker’s ankle continues to give him trouble, the Heat will find it much easier to employ a penetrate and kick-out offense scheme to generate easy baskets for James and Wade and three-pointers for the team’s shooters. Miami has averaged more than nine treys per game throughout the post-season.
Why Tim Duncan will hoist his fifth trophy
This Spurs team features unprecedented depth and with so many different rotations to play they’re able to keep legs fresh throughout. Incredibly, not even the team’s superstars averaged 30 minutes a night during the regular season. If that’s not a testament to how strong your bench is, I don’t know what is.
Popovich is a strategic genius and the way his team moves the ball is a work of art. The Spurs play offense with an aura of grace and beauty unlike any other team in the league and on defense they’ve got a way of negating the effects of opposing stars that is seemingly effortless.
The road through the West was much more challenging than the one Miami faced in the East, which plays to San Antonio’s advantage as their team has been in clutch playoff form for longer.
Win one for the Gipper
Conventional wisdom says stick with the defending champ until they are eliminated, but I think that a lot of people don’t realize how good this Spurs team really is. They went (62-20) in a season when the West was perhaps the strongest conference top to bottom of all time and at one point they won an incredible 19 games straight.
This could very well be Tim Duncan’s final season so don’t be surprised if his teammates really put out that extra effort. They’d love to see the greatest player to ever suit up in a Spurs jersey goes out in style.
Let’s not forget that this team was less than ten seconds from winning the title against the Heat last season. If it weren’t for Ray Allen’s miracle three-point bomb to send game six into overtime we wouldn’t even be talking three-peat.
It’s going to be a back and forth battle, but I’m taking the Spurs in six.
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