Sunday, June 8, 2014

J-Speaks: Heat and Spurs Meet in The Finals Again

It is very rare that the same two teams that met in the NBA Finals the prior season get a chance to renew acquaintances. In the last 25 seasons, it has only happened twice. The Los Angeles Lakers and the Detroit Pistons represented the Western and Eastern Conference respectably in 1988 and 1989. The Lakers took the first match in 1988 winning the series in seven games. The Pistons swept the Lakers the next season 4-0 to win their first of back-to-back titles. The Utah Jazz and the Chicago Bulls squared off in the 1997 and 1998 Finals where the Bulls won both times in six games to secure their second three-peat. The 2014 NBA Finals features the San Antonio Spurs of the Western Conference and the back-to-back-to-back Eastern Conference Champion Miami Heat who played a thrilling seven-game series a year ago with the Heat winning their second straight title. The second time around for both represents an opportunity both for the stars of their teams as well as the teams themselves to add to their legacy and complete a long journey that has had its trials and tribulations.

In the case of the four-time Southeast Division Champion Miami Heat (54-28), they took a long term approach to this season. The team took that approach especially with All-Star guard Dwyane Wade, who sat out 28 games during the regular season to rest his sore knee and he rarely played in back-to-back.

While he averaged just 19.0 points per contest, the second lowest of his amazing career, he shot a career-best 54.5 percent from the field and grabbed 4.5 boards and dished out 4.7 assists per contest.

Another part of the long term approach is that they did not put any emphasis on being the No. 1 Seed in the East, which the team's archrival the Indiana Pacers talked about all season long of having. They finished second in the East.

On top of that, the Heat had a belief in the supporting cast of the roster that surrounded Wade and fellow All-Stars LeBron James and Chris Bosh even though there have been times this season that supporting cast from the outside point of view has not measured up to the the supporting cast of the three previous Heat teams that have made it to the Finals.

There is no Mike Miller, who played this season with the Memphis Grizzlies. Swingman Shane Battier's (4.1 ppg, 38.2 FG%, 34.8 3-Pt.%) shot has been up and down this season. The point guard tandem starter Mario Chalmers (9.8 ppg, 4.5 apg, 45.4 FG%, 38.5 3-Pt.%) and understudy Norris Cole (6.4 ppg, 41.4 FG%) have also been inconsistent and the two major signings during the offseason in forward Michael Beasley (7.9 ppg) and center Greg Oden (2.9 ppg) have not had the impact they were expected to have. On top of that forward Udonis Haslem, who has been the "heart and soul" of the team for a long time was held back this season along with Wade to be ready for the playoffs when called upon.

The two constants of the supporting cast of the Heat have been back-up center Chris Andersen (6.6 ppg, 5.3 rpg and 1.4 bpg) and back-up guard Ray Allen (9.6 ppg and 37.5 3-Pt%).

The question has been, how would this Heat team that was very different from a season ago do in their journey to win a third straight title.

Well all they did was go 12-3 through the first three rounds defeating the No. 7 Seeded Charlotte Bobcats in the first round 4-0. They got past the Brooklyn Nets in the Eastern Semis 4-1 and they defeated the arch rival Pacers 4-2 in the Eastern Conference Finals.

The "Big 3" of James, Wade and Bosh have played at their usual spectacular level averaging 27.0, 18.7 and 15.4 points respectably. The supporting cast of Battier, Chalmers, Cole, Haslem, Andersen, Allen and forward Rashard Lewis, who has been starting at small forward lately have played big roles in the Heat's first 12 victories this postseason.

When the "Big 3" of James, Wade and Bosh came together four seasons ago, it was about one thing and one thing only, winning championships. After failing to meet those expectations in year one where they lost to the Dallas Mavericks in six games, they have won two straight titles beating the Okalhoma City Thunder in five games two years ago and the aforementioned Spurs in seven games last season.

The Heat with their four straight appearance in The Finals are the first NBA team to accomplish that feet since the Boston Celtics lead by Hall of Famer Larry Bird, who made it to the championship round from 1984-87 winning it all in 1984 and 1986.

The one thing that is not in the favor of the Heat is that if this series goes seven games, which is expected, that coveted seventh game will be in the Spurs house this season and not Miami's.

If Game 1 was a sign of things to come though, especially when the Heat lost James to cramping in the final minutes, the Heat reign could be over.

With that being said, if there is one thing that the Miami Heat have shown in the "Big 3" era is resolve. Whenever they have been counted out they have responded and with a leader like head coach Erik Spoelstra leading them along with James, Wade and Bosh, they will not go down without a fight.

Speaking of those Spurs, the Southwest Division champs were on the door step of their fifth title in franchise history as they led the Heat by five with under 30 seconds remaining. However two three-point connections by the Heat, including the game-tying one by Allen near the end of regulation off a Bosh offensive rebound sent the game into overtime and the Heat prevailed by three 103-100 in overtime and took Game 7 95-88 to win the series.

When the Spurs met in training camp to begin the 2013-14 NBA campaign, they watch Game 6 and 7 and used that as motivation to get back and this time finish the deal.

That motivation led the Spurs (62-20) to not just the best record in the very competitive Western Conference, but the entire league as they won 60-plus games for the fourth time under head coach Gregg Popvich.

Included in those 62 victories was a franchise record 19-game winning streak from Feb. 26 to Apr. 2.

What made this season so remarkable for the Spurs is the fact that they used over 30 different starting lineups this season because of injuries to key people like stars Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and Tiago Splitter. The Spurs also rested players during the season, especially on back-to-back nights.

Despite those injuries, the team was able to maintain their winning ways because their amazing system and the fact that the likes of Patty Mills (10.2 ppg, 46.4 FG%, 42.5 3-Pt.%), Marco Bellinelli (11.4 ppg, 48.5 FG%, 43.0 3-Pt.%) and Boris Diaw (9.1 ppg, 4.1 rpg) have had solid seasons to career seasons, especially in the case of Mills.

The start of the playoffs for the Spurs in their journey to get back to The Finals was not an easy one.

They were taken to seven games by their in-state and division rival the No. 8 Seeded Dallas Mavericks. In that Game 7 though, the Spurs would have the last word as they defeated the Mavericks 119-96.

In the Semis, they made short work of the up and coming Portland Trail Blazers and they defeated them in five games win the four games by an average of 19.5 points.

In the Conference Finals, the Spurs won the first two games over the Oklahoma City Thunder as they put on an offensive display that had the Thunder wondering what hit them.

When the seen shifted to Oklahoma City, the Thunder ran the Spurs off the court in Games 3 and 4 as they gave up 106 and 105 points respectably. The Spurs after scoring 122 and 112 points in the first two games, scored just 97 points in Game 3 and 92 points in Game 4.

A big reason for the Spurs misfortunes at the Thunder was the return of Oklahoma City's shot blocker Serge Ibaka, who was out the first two games of the Conference Finals because of a calf strain.

The Spurs turned things around in Game 5 as they took it to the Thunder 117-89 to take a 3-2 lead.

They followed that up by winning a tough Game 6 112-107 in overtime to win the series 4-2.

Ever since the Spurs drafted Duncan with the No. 1 overall pick 17 seasons ago, they have not looked back. Ever since 1997, they have not missed the playoffs. Prior to their loss in The Finals last season, in their four prior trips to the final round in 1999, 2003, 2005 and 2007 they have won.

The Spurs in terms of their legacy in NBA history is set in stone. The likes of Duncan, whose won two MVP trophys (2002-03), made 14 All-Star apperances and won three Finals MVPs and Popovich, who is a three-time NBA Coach of the Year (2003, 2012, 2014) will be in the Hall of Fame once they say goodbye to the game. Ginobili and Parker have cemented themselves as two of the greatest international players of all-time.

A victory in the Finals would add to that amazing legacy for the Spurs, it would if just for a minute wipe away the pain from letting last season's collapse.

They showed that in Game 1 as they used a 14 for 16 output from the floor, which included going 6 for 6 from three-point range and had 12 assists in the four quarter to take Game 1 of The Finals over the Heat 110-95.

Duncan was magnificent with 21 points, 10 boards on 9 for 10 from the field. Parker had 19 points and eight assists. Ginobili, who had a Finals to forget a season ago had 16 points, 11 assists, five rebounds and three steals off the bench. Splitter scored 14 and Green had 11 of his 13 points in the fourth quarter.

For both the Heat and Spurs, this rematch brings a lot to the table. Star players trying to add another great chapter to their legacy. One team trying to continue making history and the other trying to added on to their history. If one thing that was made clear in Game 1, these two teams will not back down from one another and it will take everything and a lot more for one team to win this Larry O'Brien Trophy.
Information and statistics are courtesy of and