This NBA Finals Preview detailsÂ of one of the most anticipated NBA Finals matchups in recent memory.
Itâ€™s the first NBA Finals rematch since the Chicago Bulls and Utah Jazz faced each other in consecutive years. This one has a much different feel though, as the two-time defending champion Miami Heat take on a San Antonio Spurs team that believes they should have won last yearâ€™s Finals in six games. In fact, the Spurs odds of winning what could have been a decisive Game 6 were as high as 99.3% before Gregg Popovich made two of the most questionable moves in his decorated coaching history. Two times in the final 28 seconds, Pop made the decision to replace Tim Duncan, who is third on the all-time NBA Playoff rebounding list, in favor of Boris Diaw. Each time, Miami came up with a key offensive rebound, and the rest is history. You can credit Ray Allen, you can blame Manu Ginobili, but tonight, nearly a full calendar year later, none of that matters. That was 2013, and this is 2014.
This year is a different story. Last year, Miami was the top team in the NBA, coming into the playoffs with a 66-16 record. The Spurs were the 2 seed in the Western Conference, finishing up the regular season at 58-24, eight games behind the Heat. This season is almost the polar opposite, with the Spurs boasting the best record in the NBA at 62-20, and Miami coming in as the 2 seed in the Eastern Conference at 54-28, eight games behind the Spurs.
Last year was the final year of the 2-3-2 format, which makes home-court advantage even more valuable, with Games 6 and 7 at home. This year, the Spurs have home court, and for the first time since 1984, the format has returned to 2-2-1-1-1. A big key in this series will be how these two teams play on the road, and that is one area where San Antonio has a significant advantage. The Heat were only 22-19 on the road this year, a number that is even more significant when you look and see that there were EIGHT teams in the Western Conference with at least 23 road wins. In contrast, the Spurs were five games ahead of any team in the NBA with a 30-11 road record, which is the best road record in the NBA since the Celtics went 31-10 in the 2007-08 season.
Defensively, these teams are almost mirror images. The Heat allow 97.4 PPG, the Spurs allow 97.6. On offense, the Heat score 102.2 PPG, the Spurs score 105.4. But these arenâ€™t numbers that will blow you away, or even decide a series. Last year featured a few anomalies that Iâ€™d like to point out.
1. Manu Ginobili turned the ball over 22 times, which equated to 23.3 turnovers per 100 possessions, while sporting a 22.4% usage rate. In this yearâ€™s playoffs, he is averaging a 15.2% TO/100 rate, while his usage has increased to 27.1%. Manu was not good last year outside of Game 5. Iâ€™m not saying he will revert to his old ways, but he certainly wonâ€™t replicate those numbers.
2. Chris Bosh averaged nearly 3 offensive rebounds per game in the 2013 NBA Finals, and is averaging just 1.4 ORPG thus far in this yearâ€™s playoffs. Bosh has never been an elite rebounder, especially on the offensive end, and those numbers were certainly an exception to the rule. In fact, Bosh has only amassed 21 total offensive boards throughout his 15 games in the 2014 NBA Playoffs, all against inferior competition (Neither Charlotte or Brooklyn would have even come close to the playoffs in the Western Conference).
3. Bench play. During this yearâ€™s playoffs, Miamiâ€™s starters have averaged 77.2 of their 99.1 points per game, including 61 from the “Big Three”. In contrast, the Spursâ€™ starters have averaged just 64.2 of their 106.6 points per game, with the “Big Three” averaging just 48. That gives Miami 38 points per game outside of James, Wade and Bosh, but the Spurs have the luxury of a monster 58.6 points outside of their stars. Sure, Miamiâ€™s Big Three will produce, but they canâ€™t win this series without supplemental scoring. Someone will need to step up off the bench. I think we are all wondering who that will be.
I have made it clear that I am an unashamed, die-hard Spurs fan, but I am still able to be subjective at times. Call me a homer, call me biased, but I challenge you to use statistics to prove to me that Miami is a better team. In my mind, it really isnâ€™t that close. The Spurs were the better team last year (not by much) in my mind, and this year saw the Spurs improve and the Heat regress.
Spurs in Five. Duncan takes down his fifth title to cement his legacy as the greatest PF ever to play the game. Fortunately for the Heat, the fans will probably be long gone, and this time there will be no miracle comeback.