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Finals Game 1 Review / Game 2 Preview

Game 1 Reflection:
Here’s my synopsis of Thursday night’s games in very broad strokes: The Spurs looked like a team that hadn’t played in 9 days (because they hadn’t), and Miami looked like they had just been in a knock-down drag-out fight (because they had). In the beginning quarters, San Antonio let the Heat get away with a few transition baskets and took some time getting up to speed. Because of this, Miami definitely controlled the tempo, leading by 7 or 8 points throughout pretty much the entire game until there was about 5 minutes left in the final quarter. At the end of the game, Miami seemed to rush possessions, throwing the ball away uncharacteristically. The Spurs – who had completely shaken off the rust by this point – took the lead in the closing minutes, and Tony Parker iced it with his unbelievable shot.

So despite playing some of their best basketball so far in these playoffs, the Heat couldn’t deliver that knockout punch down the stretch. And of course being the veteran team they are, San Antonio hung around and took advantage of those late Miami turnovers to steal homecourt advantage.

I don’t think this is a LeBron problem, although many people think that he was too passive in Game 1. He finished with a stat line of 18-18-10, which I have absolutely no issue with. He made the smart decision almost every time the ball was in his hands as he usually does. Although he wasn’t shooting as often as he usually does, he made up for it by passing the ball off and creating opportunities for teammates a few more times than usual.

James did his part, Wade and Bosh both contributed (even though Bosh thought he was Ray Allen at times), and the bench held up – so why did they fall apart down the stretch?

It has to be fatigue. One could assume that the Spurs got off to a late start because they had so much time off. The Heat had the complete opposite problem, feeling drained after a physically and emotionally demanding series with the Pacers.

Game 2 Preview:
I expect tonight’s matchup to look very similar to the type of game we saw in Game 1, at least during the middle quarters. There won’t be a slow start for San Antonio, just like Miami shouldn’t struggle with fatigue late in the fourth quarter. Miami will try to play the more physical game, pushing the pace as often as they can and using their athleticism as their main advantage. If they can do this without the frequent turnovers we saw in Game 1’s fourth quarter, they can put themselves in position to blow the game open and deliver the knockout punch that will prevent any more late game antics by Parker or anyone else.

If Miami lets San Antonio hang around again though, they lose the advantage. And of course its possible that the Spurs control the game by grabbing a few of the rebounds that they missed on Thursday, in which case Miami will find themselves on the other side of a blowout.

Any of these scenarios could play out tonight, but I expect James to take more shots than he did in Game 1. The Spurs seem quite alright with letting him – or Bosh – taking perimeter jumpshots. If he falls into this same trap that was set by the Mavericks a couple years ago, San Antonio should win. However if James and Bosh don’t settle for those outside shots, Heat should come out on top.

Sticking to my guns because it’s still possible, and I’m not wrong yet. Heat in 5.


The Gang Previews the NBA Finals

Heat Spurs Finals pic

This seemed to work well when we did it for Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, so we decided to do it again. The gang breaks down the upcoming NBA Finals between the San Antonio Spurs and the Miami Heat… Enjoy.


If you had to choose one characteristic of each team that is the reason why they are playing for the NBA championship, what would it be?

Evan Sally: Throughout the Heat’s 66 win regular season, which included a historic 27 game winning streak, Miami’s startling efficiency on offense carried them. However in the playoffs, when the quality of opponent increases and offense tends to stagnate, it’s their stifling defense that’s carried them to this point. Miami’s scrambling D forces turnovers and easy baskets allowing them to go on scoring runs.
San Antonio returns to the Finals following a 15th straight 50 win season by using the same formula as every other year: consistency and a commitment to their system. Tony Parker, Manu Ginobli and Tim Duncan always give a consistent effort on the defensive end and are committed to good ball movement on offense. Their mentality instills a similar style of play from the role players on the team, allowing them to excel as well.

Nick Wershing:Heat bought into the team factor. They no longer have the problem as to whose team it is. This is LeBron’s team and everyone, including Wade, has bought into it. That allowed them to play to their full potential. Spurs are here because of Pop. Yes, the team has three future Hall of Famers. But they are all in the tail end of their careers. Popovich’s system has allowed all of the role players to perform at a high level, which in turn allows the big three to continue playing well.

Jim Bearor: The Heat are in the NBA Finals not only because the extraordinary level of talent they can put on the court at any time, but also because they react when they are challenged. Throughout the regular season, Miami would dominate teams but it would often take two or even three quarters for them to start rolling on all cylinders. This was one of the few knocks on them throughout the season and they’re playing for another NBA Championship because they’ve been able to turn it on when it matters most. This is most noticeable on defense, and Game 7 against the Pacers – maybe because it is freshest in my mind – is probably the best example. Even though it seems that this team has an on/off switch, they’ve been able to flip it at the right times.
When I think of the San Antonio Spurs, a few words come to mind: Veteran, Organized, and Fundamental. For the most part, the foundation of this team has been together for about a decade – and in some instances longer. This, combined with the emergence of young talent like Tiago Splitter and Danny Green makes San Antonio so well rounded, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that they are the team to come out of the West. They have it all: size, depth, experience, youth, coaching. The Spurs are a melting pot of everything an NBA team should have.


Matchup advantages either way?
ES: LeBron James on Kawhi Leonard. I know LeBron has a physical advantage against essentially every player in the league that would defend him. But I want to look at this matchup from the opposite perspective. Leonard provides valuable athleticism and floor spacing for the Spurs offensively. If LeBron can shut down Leonard’s offensive production, the Spurs will have a tough time scoring when the other, more inconsistent role players struggle to hit shots.
Also, while Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole always produce nicely for Miami, their production will pale in comparison to Tony Parker. Parker has played his best in the past two series against two tough matchups, Golden State and Memphis. Look for Cole to try to slow down Parker, but also look for Parker to use his experience to create openings for himself and teammates.

NW: Its hard for me to give either team an advantage. Experience wise, the Heat are going to their third straight Finals, but the Spurs have been doing this for a decade. I would give an edge in depth and size to the Spurs, but the edge in athleticism and defense to the Heat.
JB: LeBron James has a clear-cut advantage over anyone who the Spurs decide to put on him – most likely Kawhi Leonard – but this series may come down to the Green/Ginobli on Wade matchup. Yes, it is a Jeckyl and Hyde-type deal with Wade, but – like Batman, actually – he tends to produce more often than not when he is needed most. Needless to say, the Heat will need him to produce in the Finals.
As for the Spurs, their biggest advantage seems to be Tony Parker versus Mario Chalmers/Norris Cole. But again, I believe the most important advantage will be different than the most obvious one. I wonder who Spoelstra will decide to put up against future-Hall-of-Famer Tim Duncan. Whether it is Haslem or Bosh, there are going to be serious issues covering Duncan down low.

Keys to a Heat W
ES: The keys to Heat win in this series are containing the Spurs size, rebounding, and the reemergence of Dwyane Wade. Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter can’t be allowed to repeat what Roy Hibbert did to the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. This goes in concert with my second key, controlling the boards. Despite their size San Antonio is a poor rebounding team. However, they have improved as of late, so Chris Bosh and the three headed center combo of Chris Andersen, Udonis Haslem and Joel Anthony must improve on the interior. And obviously the Heat aren’t going to be able to win a title without a major contribution from Wade on both ends of the floor. The Spurs are a better team than Indiana; they will take advantage where the Pacers were not able to if Wade falters once again.
NW: Rebounding and 3-point shooting. LeBron and Dwyane Wade are great slashers, which collapses the defense. Once the defense starts trying to double on these drives, players like Battier, Allen, and Miller need to step up and hit shots, something they did not do in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Spurs are also a very fundamentally sound team, so the Heat need to grab all of the defensive rebounds and not allow for second chance points. Bosh, Haslem, and Anderson need to cover their assignments here.

JB: I believe the most important factor for Miami is going to be whether or not they can keep up the intensity on defense throughout the series. When they play with energy, they make it difficult for the opposition to get more than one good look per possession. Obviously it is going to be a different story covering Tony Parker as he brings the ball across half-court, but they can’t let up. The second biggest element of the game that the Heat need to focus on is stealing some rebounds from Splitter and Duncan. This isn’t a battle that they are going to win, but they can’t let San Antonio’s big men have their way down low. For the Heat, it is going to come down to how long it takes them to find and maintain that unmatchable level of intensity.

Keys to a Spurs W
ES: The keys for the Spurs are defending the 3 and ball movement. The Heat are at their most dangerous when Wade, James and Bosh are attracting double teams and Heat’s shooters can get wide open threes. The Spurs must find a way to double and still be able to get out and get a hand in the face of Allen, Battier, Miller and the Heat’s litany of shooters. Ball movement also will be able absolutely crucial to a San Antonio victory. The reason why Dallas succeeded where Oklahoma City failed when facing Miami in the Finals the past two years is because they realized the best way to attack the Miami D is with quick passes and back cuts to find open guys as opposed to attacking with dribble penetration. San Antonio has a similar roster with more experience than Dallas; we’ll see if they can also use that blueprint.

NW: Role Players. Typical of any Pop team, the Spurs are very deep. The Big 3 matchups will be exciting. But I think the Spurs win if players like Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter, and Danny Green step up.

JB: The Spurs best shot in beating Miami lies in how well they can lock down Dwyane Wade. If you limit LeBron’s options, he’ll be forced to try and beat you himself – which although possible, is less likely. The Pacers did the best job of this throughout the Eastern Conference Finals, most notably in Game 6. There is no way you are going to stop James from getting his, but if you put an embargo on him, you force him to take the shots instead of passing off to the talent around him.

Player to watch
ES: Ray Allen and Norris Cole. Even though Allen has struggled throughout the playoffs, his track record of shooting excellence gives him the best chance to be the non-Big 3 player to have the biggest effect on this series. Norris Cole also will have a major effect by utilizing his quickness to try and slow down Tony Parker.
Danny Green. The San Antonio role player has impressed with consistent shooting and excellent D in the postseason. It’s important that his run of good play continues because he will still get plenty of good shooting opportunities and take a crack at defending Wade.

NW: Manu Ginobili. We all know Tony Parker was amazing this year. Duncan will be a force down low. Manu is the X-factor to me in this series. If he can take advantage of the hobble Wade, the Spurs will have a much easier series. If he starts trying to force shots and not play Spurs basketball, the Heat defense will swallow him up.

JB: It has to be Dwyane Wade. In a strange turn of events, the pressure isn’t on LeBron anymore – he has nothing left to prove on the court. Whether due to his injury or some other reason, there is doubt surrounding Wade right now. If the old D-Wade we all know and love shows up, this could be a rather quick series. It’s a matter of if and when he makes an appearance that will decide this series.


Pick a Winner

ES: While the Spurs have an excellent team and can exploit the Heat in several areas, Miami has the ultimate advantage in that the best player in the world plays for their team, LeBron James. He’s been playing at an extremely high level since last year’s Finals and I see no reason for that to end. The Spurs will push Miami, winning games through extreme efficiency from the 3 point line. But’s it’s really hard to beat LeBron 4 times in 7 games when he’s playing this well. Heat in 6 games.

NW: I’m going to take the Heat, just because they have home court advantage and are the defending champs. This is going to be a great series either way. We also have no results from the year to base our decision on, since key players sat out of both meetings. It will be a great series, but I am going to take the MVP and the Heat in six.

JB: I did say that I believed the Pacers may have had a better shot to beat this Spurs team, but the return of Wade and the supporting cast in Game 7 has swayed me. I like the Heat’s bench better than San Antonio’s, and I believe Miami has the chance to perform better in some of these matchups than we expect them to (Chalmers/Cole on Parker). LeBron will be LeBron and likely win the MVP, but Dwyane Wade will reemerge and contribute early and often. Heat in 5.


Quick Thoughts on Dwight Howard

Dwight Howard on his way out of Los Angeles?

If I was Dwight Howard, I’d start looking for places to live near Houston but I wouldn’t start packing yet. At the present moment, it looks like the Rockets would undoubtedly the favorite spot for him to land if he chose to leave the Lakers. They’re essentially a better version of the Orlando Magic, where Howard was most successful. They’ve got a very talented backcourt who can shoot the ball extremely well, and although Asek is no scrub, Howard would be a definite upgrade at the center position.
The only reason I would say that Howard should hold up on making this decision is because the Lakers have a history of retooling these disappointing teams seemingly overnight. When Kobe threatened to leave, Kupchak went out and got him Pau Gasol. Also, not many franchises could deal Shaq in his prime and still compete at the level Los Angeles did.
Right now, the smart money says Howard should go to Houston, but I’m just saying wait a second and let one of the best front offices in sports do their job. I know Kobe is old and hurt, Gasol is probably on his way out, Nash is just plain old, and the coaching situation is a clusterf***. They’re still the LA Lakers we’re talking about, and because they’ve proven they can rebound from tough situations like this, I have reason to believe that this may be a different story a few weeks from now.