NBA

A lot of people hate San Antonio. A lot of people hate Miami.

It should be no surprise people aren’t watching this NBA Finals like they were last year, right?

Wrong. If you’re not paying close attention to this series, you are not a true basketball fan.

Let’s take a look at San Antonio.  I used to be a SA hater.[1]  I used to think they were the Suns’ arch nemesis, that they played dirty, and were overrated.  I thought they were boring and I relished every early playoff exit, setback, and misfortune they experienced.

But I was wrong.  The Spurs have been the most consistent team over the last decade and there’s absolutely no argument to be had otherwise.  They’ve dominated the league, going to the Finals four times and coming out with the trophy four out of those four times (1999, 2003, 2005, 2007).

Save for 2005 and 2007, most of those teams look pretty different.  1999 had Duncan and Robinson.  2003 was mostly Duncan.  It wasn’t until 2005 and 2007 that the Big Three really took shape.

The San Antonio Spurs of 2013 look radically different from any of those teams.  Guys like Bowen and Kerr and Horry are replaced with the likes of Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, and Tiago Splitter.  Respectively, they were the 15th, 46th (!!), and 28th picks in their respective drafts.  RC Buford and his staff really know how to get the most out of their draft picks and trades.  These guys could very well have been completely irrelevant anywhere else in the league[2], but instead, Leonard is doing a swell job guarding LeBron James, Green is knocking down every open three he gets, and Splitter is getting DESTROYED BY LEBRON (But seriously, The Spurs don’t get past Memphis without Splitter).  You have to respect a team that can string together low draft picks and glue guys to play such beautiful basketball.

And it is beautiful.  Anyone who says San Antonio ball is boring is fooling themselves.  Gregg Popovich’s system is meticulous, but so wonderfully calculated.  They take care of the ball (Four TO’s in Game 1).  They take efficient shots.  They swing the ball.

Popovich has gotten every member of the San Antonio Spurs over the last 14 years to play for something greater than their individual selves[3].  They play team ball in a league that has become a star’s league.

And at the center of it all is Tim Duncan, their humble, team-first star, and the greatest player of the generation.[4]

Now let’s look at the Miami Heat.

If we’ve ever talked basketball before, surely you’ve heard my distaste for the Heat.  I stopped liking them sometime after the first championship, when it became Wade’s team.  I despise the player Wade has become (he was all heart in 2006; now he’s just a dirty player).  Then the big “Decision” of 2010 and LeBron James decided to take his talents to South Beach.

Has there ever been a more distasteful way for a free agent to switch teams before??!!

I digress.  So now, the Heat has its superstar lineup with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh.  I hate it when teams do this.  How many times have teams tried to mash a bunch of superstars together and hope they get a ring out of it?[5]  It’s pretty much the exact opposite of what the Spurs did.  Except this time it’s even worse, because the players decided to do it.  Do you think Michael Jordan would have ever teamed up with Clyde Drexler or Reggie Miller?! Hell no!!!!!!

So LeBron and the Heat fell quickly out of my good graces.  I booed them, cheered against them, laughed at them when they couldn’t figure it out that first year.  I’d celebrate LeBron’s shortcomings and ridicule his passiveness.

I proudly wore my “LBJ SUX” shirt last year during the playoffs.  Until Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals at least.  Facing elimination against the Celtics, LeBron hit a new level.  He went off like I’ve never seen a player go off before.  He destroyed the Celtics.  Here’s a refresher:

Game 6: 45 points, 19-26 FGA/M, 15 REB, 5 AST, 1 Broken Hearted Celtics Fan 😦 

 

He’s been a changed player since then.  He’s redefined his game.  He’ll kill you inside or out, and if you double up on him, he’ll find the open man.  It’s impossible not to admire it.  The “LBJ SUX” shirt hasn’t left my closet in a while.  I just can’t justify it anymore.

The Miami Heat have done a really great job at surrounding James with the right players.  Spot up shooters like Mike Miller, Ray Allen, and, occasionally, Shane Battier (He made an absurd 15-26 threes in the Finals last year, but still only shot 38% for the whole playoffs.  What????!!!!! I still try to tell myself that the Heat only win with Battier shooting like that), rats like Norris Cole and Mario Chalmers, and then balls-to-wall nutso guys like Chris Anderson make for a pretty solid supporting cast when you have two superstars and best effing player in the world.

I may not personally like them, but the basketball fan in me has to appreciate the 2013 Miami Heat.  How could you not?  The way they can really, really pour on the defense for periods, run the fast break, hit open shooters…it’s impressive.

So now we have two great teams playing each other in the Finals.  Yet, viewership is down 12% from last year, because we don’t have two superstars going at each other like last year.  I’ve got news for you.  This will be a far more memorable series than last year’s.  In a lot of ways, it already has been.  San Antonio stole Game 1 from Miami.  Miami destroyed San Antonio in Game 2.  Those are both big deals.  Remember, the Finals has a 2-3-2 format, so the next THREE games will be in San Antonio.

There have been plenty of highlights so far too.  Tony Parker’s buzzer-beating bank shot and LeBron’s aforementioned ownage of Splitter stand out.

There are a ridiculous amounts of little side stories surrounding this game.  Will LeBron repeat?  Does small ball work?  Can Popovich hit an even higher level of coaching? Will Tim Duncan get his fifth ring 14 years apart from his first?

Think about that last one for a second.  To my knowledge, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar holds the record for longest gap between his first and last championship (17 years).  But still, Kareem wasn’t impacting the game in his last championship run like Duncan is now.  Duncan’s numbers have hardly even changed over that 14 year span.  Do you still think Kobe is the best player of the generation?

The 2013 NBA Finals have two great teams, each of which fully deserve to be there.  The Spurs are probably playing their last Finals with Timmy.  The Heat are trying to cement themselves as a dynasty.  There are countless Hall of Famers playing.  It’s an old school matchup and truer basketball than what we have seen in a while.  It’s fun.  I originally predicted Miami in 6, but I think this thing has potential to go 7 games.  That’s only happened 17 of the 66 NBA Finals.  Either way, it’ll be a grind out series.  I’m in the process of moving right now, so I don’t even have cable; I’ve been watching the games on my phone.  That’s how exciting this series is.  So why wouldn’t you be watching?


[1] If you’re a Suns fan like me, you’ve probably hated the Spurs at one point or another. But make no mistake, the Los Angeles Lakers are our rivals. The Spurs just happened to be the best team in the league when they ousted us in 2005, 2007, and 2008.  I’ve come to accept this.  I think.

[2] Can you imagine if Phoenix took Leonard over Morris Twin A in the 2011 draft? He’d probably be on his way out of the league by now, the way we develop our rookies…

[3] Exception: Stephen Jackson

[4] It’s not Kobe. It’s just not.  He’s had too many dark years (2004-2007). He doesn’t win the first three wings without Shaq and having Gasol in his prime certainly didn’t hurt for the next two.

[5] Case in point: 2012-2013 Los Angeles Lakers Experiment

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