For basketball fans, last year’s NBA finals epitomized why the sport is amazing. The series was a battle between two diametrically-opposed teams—the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat—and both showcased their unique talents and abilities. On the one hand, the Miami Heat played aggressive defense and let their star players—namely, Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh—dominate their offensive possessions. On the other hand, the San Antonio Spurs were content to let Miami settle for jump shots, protecting the key instead; and on offense, their superior ball movement enabled them to pick apart Miami’s defense. The Heat were chasing a repeat title, while the Spurs were trying to return to that pre-eminent position atop the league. Lebron James was trying to prove his detractors wrong, and Tim Duncan was trying to cement his greatness. In the final seconds of Game 6, Ray Allen hit an improbable three-point shot to help send the game to overtime and save the series for the Heat. A Game 7 victory gave the Heat their repeat title, and the Spurs were left kicking themselves for letting a title slip through their fingers.
Fast forward a year: the Spurs and Heat are back in the NBA Finals for a repeat matchup of last year’s thrilling series. For the Heat, playing in the anemic Eastern Conference, the road to the Finals was rather easy, as a few tough games against the Indiana Pacers and Lance Stephenson’s on-court antics were the toughest road blocks to overcome. By contrast, the Spurs had to slug it out to get to this year’s Finals, barely surviving a first-round scare from the Dallas Mavericks and having to vanquish the formidable Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Finals. Regardless, though, this is the matchup that impartial basketball fans wanted as soon as the final buzzer sounded in last year’s Game 7.
The matchup this year proves to be just as close as last year’s. The Spurs are older, and the Heat are more self-assured, seeking the first three-peat since the Shaquille O’Neal– and Kobe Bryant-led Los Angeles Lakers. The Heat are back with their now-signature band of mid-level-exception former-starters-turned-bench-warmers, who have shown that they can still ball when their number is called. However, if Tony Parker’s ankle heals well, the Spurs could be better than they were last year, as dominant role players like Kawhi Leonard are playing at a higher level. Factor in the Spurs’ size advantage and superior depth, and the Heat could very well be looking down the barrel of a gun.
This list, then, looks at ten reasons why the Spurs will win the NBA Finals this year. Both teams are solid, but several factors point decidedly in the direction of the Spurs. In any case, this series will be closely contested and hard-fought, a boon for basketball fans everywhere.
Unlike the Heat, the Spurs score symmetrically in that the bench puts up marginally less a game than the starters. Of course, Manu Ginobli, the Spurs’ beloved sixth man, skews this number somewhat, but there is still a good deal of depth on this roster to imbue the Heat with trepidation. Danny Green has shown that he, at any moment, he can go off with a three-point barrage. Matt Bonner and Aaron Baynes can also give the Spurs good minutes in the post, which will help keep Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter relatively fresh. Last, Marco Belinelli cannot be forgotten, as he can, like Danny Green, put up a torrid shooting performance at any given moment. With this kind of depth, the Spurs can stay competitive if the starters have an off night.
9. Boris Diaw
Boris Diaw was not mentioned in the last section because he deserves his own. Indeed, the Frenchman will be vital to the Spurs success in the NBA Finals. On offense, his ability to stretch the defense and knock down long jumpers and three-point shots will both create more space for Tony Parker and Tim Duncan and tire the Heat’s big men, who will be forced to repeatedly close out on him. More importantly, however, his mobility will help take some of the defensive burden off of Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter, as he will be able to close out on Chris Bosh, who has developed into a deadly and game-changing three-point shooter. He is not known for his defensive prowess, but his presence in Bosh’s face should do enough to curb his three-point shooting.
8. Ball Movement
As mentioned in opening section, the Spurs are amazing with regard to ball movement. In fact, they are the best passing team in the NBA, as they led the league in assists per game with 25.2. To put this number in perspective, Tony Parker only averaged 5.7 assists per game this season; the Spurs, then, pass well as a team. With good team ball movement, the Spurs will wear down the Heat, since the Heat are not as deep and like to play pressure defense. Given last year’s series and how closely contested it was, an over-reliance on dribbling will prove risky in the final moments of games, when players are prone to making mistakes and turning the ball over. In theory, the pass-first-dribble-second mentality should enable the Spurs to limit turnovers.
7. Three-Point Shooting
The Spurs’ superior ball movement will enable their three-point shooters to hoist up more uncontested shots. As the Spurs’ past series against the Oklahoma City Thunder proved, this team can break your spirit with the three-point shot. Danny Green, Marco Belinelli, Manu Ginobli, Boris Diaw, Matt Bonner, and Kawhi Leonard can all knock down open three pointers. This is an impressive arsenal of three-point threats in that one could step up if the others are struggling. Tim Duncan’s low-post prowess and ability to pass the ball, coupled with Tony Parker’s dangerous ability to penetrate the defense, should likewise free up these shooters for more uncontested bombs.
6. Big Men
The Spurs’ advantage over the Heat inside will pay dividends for the team over the course of this series. Rebounding in a series that will undoubtedly feature a good deal of outside shooting cannot be overlooked, and the Spurs have the advantage on the offensive and defensive glass. If the Heat’s talented backcourt players resort to driving, the Spurs’ big men will disrupt those lanes. Given the team’s aforementioned depth, foul trouble will not be disastrous to the Spurs’ game plan on defense, as Gregg Popovich will cycle players in and out if one gets into foul trouble. Moreover, Chris Bosh’s inability to defend effectively down low will be a real concern for the Heat, and Tim Duncan will exploit that weakness.
5. Tony Parker
Tony Parker will present real matchup concerns for the Miami Heat. No point guard on the Heat can guard Parker, who is unmatched in his ability to put up good shots in traffic. Of course, the Heat could place Dwyane Wade or Lebron James on Parker, but that will create a mismatch elsewhere, as Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, and Manu Ginobli cannot be overlooked. In last year’s NBA Finals, Parked showed how lethal he can be, and Lebron James took to guarding him in the final moments of games. If Parker comes back healthy, the Heat will be in trouble.
Perhaps claims of the Spurs’ professionalism have become overblown, but, nevertheless, this team has managed to stay relevant for 15 years, without a significant drop off in production. They are consistency personified, and one could chalk it up to Popovich, Duncan, the team’s front office, or a confluence of these factors. In any case, the Spurs, having emerged from the competitive Western Conference, are battle-tested. In addition, there is an element of the “je ne sais quoi” about this team (and no, this is not an oblique allusion to the team’s French players), one that ostensibly enables them to maintain their poise in pressure situations. Overblown? We’ll see.
3. Gregg Popovich
In the matchup between the team’s coaches, the Spurs decidedly have the advantage. Incidentally, following his team’s Game 6 loss against the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals, Frank Vogel’s postgame comments about Lance Stephenson illustrate why Popovich is in a league of his own. Vogel told reporters that he would never want to “tug on Superman’s cape,” but that he would take Stephenson’s competitive edge any day. By contrast, Popovich would not stand for Stephenson-like antics, and his ability to control his team, yet not infantilize them, cannot be overstated. Popovich is a master of managing games and series, and this quality will undoubtedly come in handy in the NBA Finals.
2. Home-Court Advantage
As intimated above, the Spurs play exceptionally well at home, and their boisterous crowd certainly plays a part in their home-court success. With home-court advantage in this year’s NBA Finals, the Spurs have a big advantage, knowing that the Heat will have to defeat them at home, if this series goes 7. This series looks to be close, so home-court advantage cannot be overlooked. Players like Danny Green have shown that they play better at home. And if the series goes 7, the gravity of the situation and the chance to win one more championship will not be lost on Tim Duncan.
1. Residual Bitterness
Athletes hate to lose, especially when they think they should have won. Deep down, the Spurs know they should have won last year’s Finals, and the bitter feeling of that loss is still burning inside of them. Up five points with less than thirty seconds to play in Game 6 of last year’s Finals, it all quickly unraveled for them. They have had to endure another year of doubts, as many have questioned them on the basis of their age. Well, fans should expect anything but geriatrics from this year’ Spurs.