Tuesday, June 11, 2013

J-Speaks: An Epic NBA FInals

It is that time of the year again. That time of the year where the grass is greener than ever. Kids are studying for finals, while taking time to have fun outside playing. This is also the time where there are just two teams remaining in the National Basketball Association (NBA) postseason as they battle for the Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy. This year's finalist consist of two teams who have been regular participants in the Finals over the past 14 years. Representing the Western Conference is the San Antonio Spurs (58-24), who have gone 12-2 entering the Finals and are seeking their fifth title in franchise history and representing the Eastern Conference is the Miami Heat (66-16), who have gone 12-4 in the postseason and are trying to win back-to-back titles. So far through two games of the Finals both teams have shown why they are just four win away from a championship.

The Spurs captured Game 1 last Thursday behind guard Tony Parker, who scored 10 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter, including hitting a fall away jumper in the closing moments that sealed a 92-88 victory. It was San Antonio's seven straight victory in the postseason and their seventh win on the road in eight chances.

Forward Tim Duncan had 20 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks in Game 1. Swingman Manu Ginobili had 13 points off the bench. Guard Danny Green had 12 points going 4 for 9 from three-point range and forward Kawhi Leonard had 10 points and 210 boards

Two other big reasons why the Spurs were able to steal the home court advantage from Miami is that they committed just four turnovers and they held the Heat to just 5 for 18 shooting in the final stanza while also forcing six Miami miscues as well.

While the Heat got a triple-double from LeBron James of 18 points, 18 boards and 10 assists, he was the only one of the "Big three" of he Chris Bosh, who had 13 points and five boards and Dwyane Wade, who had 17 points, to score in the fourth quarter.

As loss like that could be devastating, especially for a team where their success for the season is based on winning it all. What Miami had in its favor is that when they have had a setback this postseason, they have bounced back in a big way. They faced those circumstances five times this postseason and all five times they have won in convincing fashion.

They put their best foot forward in Game 2 last Sunday when they broke open a close game with a 33-5 run which began at the 7:58 mark of the third period that turned a one-point deficit into a blowout as Miami won the contest 103-84 to tie up the Finals at 1-1.

The Heat went 12 for 13 from the field, including connecting on 5 for 5 during that run. They held the Spurs to five points on 2 for 10 shooting during that time span and they forced six turnovers.

Miami captured Game 2 thanks in large part to forcing 17 Spurs turnovers, which lead to 19 points. San Antonio had just four miscues in Game 1.

Despite going 10 for 20 from three-point range, the Spurs shot just 41 percent from the field and Parker, Duncan and Ginobili scored a total of 27 points on 10 for 33 shooting in Game 2.

Miami conversely shot 49.4 percent from the floor, made 10 of 19 three's and for the first time since the Conference Semis against the Chicago Bulls, in which they won in five games had offensive balance.

Starting guard Mario Chalmers led the way with 19 points. James shook off a shaky beginning to finish close to another triple-double with 17 points, eight boards and seven assists to go along with three steals and three blocks, including one fantastic one that he had on Spurs starting center Tiago Splitter. Guard Ray Allen had 13 points on 5 for 8 shooting from the field, including 3 for 5 from three-point range. Wade and Bosh, both of whom have had their struggles scoring wise recently had 12 and 10 points respectably. Bosh did have 10 boards, four assists and three steals. Forward/center Chris Andersen and swingman Mike Miller had nine points off the bench.

Both the Spurs and the Heat have shown through two games how they have gotten them within three games of claiming the ultimate prize. For both of these teams getting to this point has been a process that has required commitment, focus and a hunger to win another title.

For the Spurs this is their first trip to the Finals since 2007, where they claimed their fourth title over a young LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in a four-game sweep.

In the year that followed they have lost in the Western Conference Finals twice 2008-Los Angeles Laker in five, 2012-Oklahoma City Thunder in six); twice in the quarterfinals (2009-Dallas Mavericks in five, 2011-Memphis Grizzlies in six) and in the Conference Semis in 2010 in a four-game sweep to the Phoenix Suns.

For most teams, they would be beyond thrilled to win one championship in as many chances that the Spurs have.

To put the Spurs run of success into perspective, since they drafted Duncan with the No. 1 overall selection out of Wake Forest in 1997, the Spurs have made the playoffs every season since. They have won 62.2 percent of their regular season games. They have won 50 games or more in the regular season 15 out of 16 season. Their four titles (1999, 2003, 2005, 2007) are 2nd only to the Lakers five titles (2000, 2001, 2002, 2009, 2010) in this time span.

In the 10 seasons that Duncan, Parker and Ginobili have been teammates, the Spurs have won 70.7 percent of their games in the regular season and 63.2 percent of their playoff games. The Spurs have won 98 playoff games behind the dynamic trifecta, which is 2nd all-time in NBA history and their 22 playoff series wins are the most in the NBA since 2003.

For the Heat, their climb to the mountain top of the NBA began in the 2003 draft when they selected Wade with the No. 5 overall pick out of Marquette.

They finished the 2003-04 season at 42-40, good for fourth in the Eastern Conference. In the playoffs they defeated the New Orleans Hornets in seven games. Their season though ended at the hands of the Indiana Pacers who defeated them in six in the Semis.

In the off-season, the Heat acquired from the Lakers, current NBA TV/TNT analyst center Shaquille O'Neal to team alongside Wade.

The duo helped guide the Heat to the best record in the East at 59-23. They made it all the way to the Conference Finals where they fell to the Conference champion Detroit Pistons in seven games.

In the off-season, the Heat added some key veterans to the roster to go alongside Wade and O'Neal as they signed guards Gary Payton and Jason Williams and forward Antoine Walker.

After a rough 11-10 beginning to the season where team president Pat Riley relieved then head coach Stan Van Gundy of his duties and became the head coach. The Heat finished the season at 52-30, winning their second straight Southeast Division title.

They made it back to the Conference Finals meeting up with the Pistons again and this time they defeated them in six games.

After dropping the first two games of the 2006 Finals to the Western Conference Champion Mavericks, the Heat on the back of Wade who scored 42, 36 and 43 points in Games 3, 4 and 5 that gave the Heat a 3-2 series lead. The 2006 Finals MVP finished the Mavs off in Game 6 with 36 points and led the Heat to their first NBA title.

The next four seasons saw the Heat go from the top of the NBA hill to the cellar.

In 2007, the Heat's championship reign came to an end at the hands of the Chicago Bulls in a four-game sweep in the first round.

The next season, injuries to Wade limited him to 31 games and as a result the Heat went just 15-67, the worst record in the league. Midway through that season, the team traded O'Neal to the Suns and Riley resigned as head coach returned to being president of the organization.

In the off-season long time assistant Erik Spoelstra was promoted head coach.

With their new head coach in place and a healthy Wade, the Heat bounced back the next two seasons winning 43 and 47 games respectably. Their seasons ended in first round to the Hawks in seven games and to the Celtics in five games. 

After those two straight early exits in the playoffs, the Heat went to work to improve the team in the off-season and struck gold in free agency signing Bosh and James and resigning Wade and heralded forward Udonis Haslem. 

In what was supposed to be a time of happiness and optimism in South Florida, it ended up being an all out assault of dislike, criticism and hatred toward the team. 

That avalanche began when James on live television to then ESPN reporter Jim Gray, "This fall, I'm going to be taking my talents to South Beach and join the Miami Heat." 

When the new "Big 3" of James, Bosh and Wade were introduced to the Miami faithful at American Airlines Arena, James said how the Heat would win not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven titles, it drew the disdain of many NBA fans across the country. 

Despite the scrutiny, the Heat finished 58-24, second in the East and winning their first division title since 2006-07. The made it to the Finals renewing acquaintances with the Mavs. 

After taking a 2-1 series lead, Dallas won the last three games, including the last one on Miami's home floor to take the Finals 4-2 winning their first championship in franchise history. 

Miami bounced back the next season going 46-20. They made it back to the Finals matching up with the Thunder. After dropping Game 1 in Oklahoma City, the Heat won the last four games and captured their second title in franchise history and the first title for James, Finals MVP and Bosh. Wade won his second championship. 

What made winning this championship very special for the Heat is that it was the first time in NBA history that a team won it all after trailing in three playoff series. 

They Heat fell behind 2-1 to the Pacers in the Conference Semis a season ago and won the next three games to win the series in six games. In Game 4 at the Pacers, James had a memorable performance with 40 points, 18 rebounds and nine assists. In the Game 6 clincher, Wade had 41 points and 10 boards. 

In the Conference Finals, the Heat lost Game 5 versus the Celtics to fall behind 3-2. Facing elimination James rose to the occasion in Game 6 in Boston with 45 points 15 rebounds and five assists on 19 for 26 from the floor in a 98-79 win to tie the series 3-3. 

In Game 7, James came through again with 31 points and 12 rebounds as Miami beat Boston 101-88 to get back to the Finals. James got a lot of help from Wade, who had 23 points, six boards and six assists and Bosh had 19 points and eight boards. 

In the Game 5 championship clincher versus the Thunder, James capped off his championship journey with 26 points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists capturing Finals MVP honors. He averaged 30.3 points, 9.7 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game in the Finals. 

This season, Miami was head and shoulders above everyone else in the East. They won a franchise best 66 games, which was the best in the East. For a 52 day stretch during the season, the Heat won 27 games in a row, the 2nd best winning streak in NBA history. Only the 1971-72 World Champion Lakers have won more games in a row in a season with 33. 

James captured his fourth MVP award in five seasons averaging 26.8 points, eight rebounds, 7.3 assists and 1.7 steals on career-best 56.5 percent from the floor and 41 percent from three-point range. 

Miami began defense of their title by sweeping the No. 8 seed Milwaukee Bucks in four games in the quarterfinals. In the Semis, they knocked off a depleted, but gritty Bulls team in five games. 

In the Conference Finals, they had to scratch, claw and hustle their way past the Pacers in seven games to advanced to their third consecutive trip to the Finals. 

Earlier I mentioned that in the past 14 seasons, the Spurs and Heat have been frequent participants in the Finals. Both teams have gotten to this point through making the right moves in free agency and the draft. Both teams have set high standards that they have lived up to. More than anything else they have had coaches who stressed those high standards. The Spurs with Gregg Popovich and the Heat with Spoelstra. 

One of these two teams when this series ends with have their season end in disappointment. If the Spurs fall, it won't be a big deal. If the Heat lose, it will be considered a major failure because of the kind of hype the trio of James, Bosh and Wade have generated since they came together three seasons ago. 

It is that kind of drama, thrill and theatre that makes watching the remainder of the Finals special. 

Information and statistics are courtesy of Sporting News Official 2006-07 NBA Guide; Game 1 and 2 of the 2013 NBA Finals between the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat on ABC with Mike Breen, Jeff Van Gundy, Doris Burke, Michael Wilbon, Earvin "Magic" Johnson, Jalen Rose and Bill Simmons; www.espn.go.com/nba/boxscore; www.opposingviews.com article "2012 NBA Eastern Conference Finals Recap: Heat vs. Celtics Game 7;" en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_Antonio_Spurs; en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miami_Heat; en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LeBron_James; en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dwyane_Wade;