For the first time since Utah lost to Chicago in back-to-back years in the 1990s, the NBA will have a Finals rematch. San Antonio squandered the opportunity to beat Miami last June thanks to miss free throws by Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard, and a 3-pointer from Ray Allen that will go down as one of the biggest made shots in NBA history. It saved LeBron James from having a 1-3 career Finals record, which would have taken a substantial hit in LeBron’s chase of being the GOAT. This year’s Finals has even more at stake, especially when considering the careers of James and Tim Duncan. Duncan’s trying to win his fifth ring, and he’ll have a chance at his fourth Finals’ MVP (which would make him second all-time to Jordan). James could lead the Heat to the first three-peat since the Shaq-Kobe Lakers (00-02). He could also snag his third straight Finals’ MVP, which would tie him with Duncan, Magic Johnson and Shaq for second all time, and he’s 29!. No way does LeBron James leave Miami if the Heat win this year’s title. I’m gonna take a minute to thank Leonard, Ginobili, Duncan and Boris Diaw for saving Game Six for the Spurs. San Antonio lost Tony Parker for the game, and Diaw stepped up big time. He made some big shots, including three triples. (Diaw did not miss a three against Miami this season, as he shot 5-5, by the way). Duncan had mismatches towards the end of the fourth quarter and in overtime. He made some timely buckets and free throws that ultimately gave the Spurs a win. But let’s make no mistake about it, the Spurs would not have won without Ginobili’s 3-pointer and Leonard’s strip of Westbrook. Ginobili missed six threes in Game Six, but he made the one San Antonio needed him to make. That’s the thing about Ginobili. He could have an off-shooting night like he did last night, but he’s never been afraid of taking the most important shot. It’s part of the reason why he’s one of my three favorite players ever. The Thunder had a good chance of tying the game with under a minute left in overtime on a 3 on 3 fast break with the best guard in transition Russell Westbrook leading the attack. Leonard stripped Westbrook in what might be remembered as Leonard’s signature play if San Antonio can win the 2014 title. Parker’s health, however, is the ultimate key for San Antonio. For those of you who don’t remember, Parker injured his hamstring in Game One of last year’s Finals. He wasn’t the same player for the rest of the series, and San Antonio still should have won. Parker needed this extra rest to gear up for what should be another all-time great series.
Three early questions about this series:
1. Who will Gregg Popovich start?
Last June, Pop learned he can’t play Splitter and Duncan together against Miami. The Spurs started the first four games against OKC with that Splitter-Duncan line-up, and all though it worked well in San Antonio, it was awful when Serge Ibaka came back. When the Spurs were fully healthy against Miami during their second matchup (a Spur double-digit win) Pop started Parker-Green-Leonard-Diaw-Duncan. That lineup was 19-5 on the season. Don’t be surprised if Pop starts that same unit on Thursday.
2. Who will step up for Miami?
The Spurs aren’t the Pacers. They will score points. Lots more points than Indiana scored. Miami will need someone to have a Mike Miller-type impact in this series. San Antonio replaced Gary Neal with Patty Mills and Marco Belinelli. Miami really didn’t replace Mike Miller. Norris Cole, Mario Chalmers and Rashard Lewis will need a group effort.
3. Can Diaw and Leonard slow down LeBron James?
Last summer, San Antonio did a great job of slowing down James in the first three games, but James played on another level in the final four games. Check out James’ numbers through the first three games compared to the final four.
First three: 16 PPG, .39 FGP, .24 3FGP (1-2 record)
Last four: 31 PPG, .47 FGP, .42 3FGP (3-1 record)
Can it be Thursday yet???