Miami vs. San Antonio
I’m anxiously awaiting Zach Lowe’s NBA Finals preview. I expect it to be released tomorrow as his usual weekly Tuesday column, but then again I wouldn’t be surprised if it isn’t released until Wednesday or Thursday. I’ll post my tonight, and I’ll include my five impact players along with a winner and MVP prediction. This series is what’s best for basketball. Miami had an easy road to the Finals, which as been well documented. This San Antonio team is better than last year’s. Kawhi Leonard has really come into his own on the defensive end, earning a second team mention today. His big hands have been profiled ever since he entered the League, but it’s worth repeating how he can impact a game on either end of the court with the size of his hands and wingspan. It’s clear he’s not there yet offensively. He sometimes takes rushed shots, or looks lost within the offense. He’s a good finisher and 3-point shooter, but he’s not there yet with his passing and decision making. The Parker-Green-Leonard-Diaw-Duncan line-up who might start Game 1 were 19-5 in games they started this year, including a double-digit victory against Miami. I detailed early questions about this series last night here. Miami used Rashard Lewis in four games during the conference finals, and he finished with a plus 59. He won’t be that impactful against the Spurs, though. Coach Spo will have to figure out his rotation, and he won’t have Mike Miller to start if things don’t go Miami’s way on offense. I assume Pop won’t play a Splitter-Duncan combo at all this series. He learned last year that’s not possible. Splitter is only usable as a backup center against small ball teams or against bigger fronts. Splitter helped the Spurs big time against Dallas and Portland, and even in the first two games against Oklahoma City before Serge Ibaka came back and Scott Brooks tweaked his rotation majorly.
Five impact players (not including either Big Three):
He’ll need a strong series. Miami needs consistent 3-point shooting, especially since San Antonio has held opponents to 33 percent from three this postseason. Allen has made 38 percent of his threes this postseason, and he’ll need to continue his strong shooting. Allen is shooting 45 percent from threes in the second half of playoff games, according the NBA.com.
Last Finals, Gary Neal had a game for the ages. As the backup point guard, Neal carried plenty of the scoring load as he scored 24 points. The Spurs made 16 threes during that epic Gary Neal game. Belinelli can have a similar impact for the Spurs. Belinelli’s a fantastic 3-point shooter. He also has a very solid mid-range game, and can handle the ball well. He was limited at times against OKC and Dallas, but really had a strong series against Portland. He’ll get his opportunity against Miami, just like Danny Green and Neal did last June. Belinelli just needs to capitalize.
Chalmers is averaging seven points and four assists in his 15 starts this postseason. James covered Tony Parker at times last Finals, but he won’t be able to defend him each possession. That’s where Norris Cole and Chalmers come into play. Chalmers will need to keep TP in check. Parker is basically unstoppable in pick and rolls when he gets into the teeth of the defense. He sliced Portland up pretty big.
Diaw did a brilliant job on LeBron James last June. He let James settle for jumpers, which even though LeBron hit some of them, it prevented James from doing what he wanted to do (get his teammates involve/attack the rim). Diaw has yet to miss a three against Miami this season (just something to keep an eye on). It’s important who Miami puts on Diaw. Will it be Lewis or James? Or Haslem? Or Beasley even? Maybe Chris Bosh? The Heat could very well run Bosh-Birdman against Diaw-Duncan/Splitter. Diaw could really hurt Bosh inside. According the NBA.com, Diaw is shooting a sizzling 79.2 percent from inside five feet in the second half of games this postseason. (Again, just a number to keep an eye on).
The Spurs use their “other” guys more than Miami does, so it’s only fitting that more San Antonio players make this “impact-player list’ than Miami. Mills was just a bystander last Finals, but his role has increased substantially. Mills is a freaking awesome 3-point shooter, and he’s never shied away from the big shot.
Pop trusts Mills in any situation. He’ll either use Mills or Ginobili as the primary ball handler if TP’s on the bench. Parker’s injury is obviously an area of concern for San Antonio, so the Spurs might need Mills more than they’d like. He has to be ready, though. Mills has struggled in second half of playoff games from three (shooting 25 percent from above the break), but he’s a very solid 52 percent from mid-range in the second half of playoff games.
Yes, LeBron James is very good. He averaged 16 points in the first three games of last year’s Finals. He averaged 31 points in the final four. That’s what champions do. They rise their game to another level when their team needs it the most. As much as Ray Allen gets credit for “saving” James, it was LeBron who saved his own self during Game Six. I think too much has to go right for Miami to win this series. I think San Antonio is too talented, too savvy and too committed on winning this year. The Spurs have the most efficient offense, and lead the league in assists. They have a number of high volume 3-point shooters, including Danny Green who absolutely kills at home. Green knocks down threes in his sleep in San Antonio. The Spurs have their rotation settled thanks to Oklahoma City. That’s another crucial part of that Thunder series. The best thing happened when Ibaka came back because it forced the Spurs to adjust. San Antonio could no longer afford to start Splitter, so Pop used Matt Bonner just to stretch the floor. Of course Diaw was the really benefactor as the power forward in small ball line up. He led the Spurs in scoring in the clinching game during the conference finals. The Spurs clearly messed up last June, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this series is Duncan’s last. Just a gut feeling that Duncan will hang it up win or lose. It’s part of the reason why I think he so confidently said that the Spurs would take care of it this time. Of course I really have no idea when Duncan will retire, but wouldn’t it be great if he could lead his team to his fifth title against the player who might go down as the greatest ever? He had that opportunity just one season ago, and his team coughed it up, but this year is different, and this year San Antonio takes the title with Tim Duncan winning his fourth Finals’ MVP.