By: Daniel Reynolds and Dave Osubronie
With Game 1 of the NBA Finals tonight, the Same Page brought together two of its contributors to answer a few key questions. In one corner, Dave Osubronie, from the basketball blog Game 6ix, an avowed Miami Heat superfan and in the other, Daniel Reynolds, basketball connoisseur. Let the debate commence!
Who is the biggest X-factor in the Finals this year?
Osubronie: I can imagine Daniel’s hesitation to ask for my thoughts on the NBA Finals this year. I mean who would a want a die-hard Heat fan using this platform to constantly gloat about how his team (Miami) is in the Finals for the third straight year, how they have the greatest player in the world playing at a super-human level, and have the possibility to get even better. Lastly, how likely a premature prediction during a little celebration, is VERY close to becoming a possibility. OK, I guess I should answer the first question now before I get fired?
Let me start by saying I’ve spent my childhood/adult life up idolizing two players: Gary Payton and – someone who idolized GP – Dwyane Wade. The early 2000’s were miserable for me to watch a slower, older Payton hobble down the court. Sure, he still trashed talked every opposing player but he wasn’t the defensive beast he once was. Luckily he was a contributing factor to the championship that no one else around here cared about besides me, the 2006 Finals. Payton retired shortly after knowing his body couldn’t sustain his game anymore. I’m afraid these days are closer than I’d like to believe for the obvious X-factor of the 2013 NBA Finals, Dwyane Wade. The years of slashing and cutting to the rim, and the recent extended seasons (2010, 2011 playoffs) have taken a dangerous toll on Wade’s knees. Averaging 14 points in this years playoffs, Wade looks like a shell of the man he was in 2006 when he won his first title. He has found other ways to contribute, but has been increasingly absent on the offensive front. He did find find a way to dig deep in Game 7, as he scored, rebounded and completely disrupted the Pacers defense to help Miami advance to the Finals. It’s a mystery to know if he can do it four to seven more times before a much need extended rest. If he can’t, the Heat will lose and will resemble a 2007 Cavs team, led by Lebron, that got swept out the finals.
Reynolds: The term x-factor, to my mind, recalls the unknown element to a mathematical equation. As in, x+2 = 5. The x-factor is a mystery (well, sort of) but it is necessary to find the solution. The Miami Heat equation is profound: 1/0, a broken, undefinable answer. That’s how things go when the seemingly limitless Lebron James is involved. For the Spurs, the equation is elemental: 1+1+x=3. That x? That unknown? Manu Ginobili.
With Manu, the linearity of the equation, the point A to point B predictability of it is tossed out. His game is no longer infinite, like Lebron, but rather, it is totally random. Both the Spurs and the Heat are very well coached teams. The Heat have their superstar players, and amiable cast of role players (Allen, Andersen, Chalmers, Cole,
Battier, Miller). The Spurs have their superstar players and cast of role players (Leonard, Green, Diaw, Bonner, Splitter). While it is true that players like Kawhi Leonard and Brazillian man-mountain Tiago Splitter will be huge in this series, they are known quantities. The truth is, Manu is not putting up huge numbers anymore (11.5 ppg, 5.4 apg) but he will always be ahead of the curve. In a game that is increasingly talked about in terms of efficiency, advanced statistics and math, the Spurs will always have that wild number, that unsolvable equation. For the Spurs to really make a run, Manu will have to be more than the 1+1+1 linearity of basketball. Fortunately, he has spent the last decade plus doing just that.
What is the key matchup between the Spurs and the Heat?
Osubronie: While its expected to focus on the stars during the Finals, the supporting casts of both teams are far more interesting. Miami and San Antonio might be led by a collective of Hall of Famers, however, it’s the 8 minutes between the end of the 1st/3rd and the beginning of the 2nd/4th quarters that will make a difference in each game. Lebron and Tony Parker will each be on the court for 48 minutes, but can the guys they’re making plays for make shots when needed? I guess no better time to find out than the NBA Finals. No pressure at all…
I don’t want to admit it but the Spurs have the advantage because they have Mano Ginobli coming off their bench. It might have been a while since he won the NBA sixth man award, but he is still highly effective at spreading the floor, charging to the basket and getting to the line (flop or no flop). With proven veterans in Boris Diaw, Matt Bonner, Gary Neal and the surprising but hardworking play of Cory Joseph (Shout-out Toronto!), the Spurs clearly have one of the deepest benches in the league. Production can be attributed to having one of the greatest coaches off all time behind you (Gregg Popovich), but the players still deserve a lot of the credit.
Like the Spurs, the Heat have one of the most talented benches in the league. When Pat Riley Dwyane Wade convinced Lebron and Bosh to come to Miami the plan was simple. Load the bench with three point shooters who can make wide open shots. Signing Mike Miller, Shane Battier and Ray Allen are pretty good choices, are they not? While all thrive off James and Wade’s ability to spread the floor, their ability to hit these open shots cause chaos for opposing defenders. Yes, even they can go into slumps, but when they make shots, Miami is undeniably the most dangerous offense in the league. Credit must also be given to the best mid season pickup this year, Chris Andersen. Miami wouldn’t have gotten past the Pacers without his ability to defend big men, his efficient scoring in the paint, and most importantly, his energy. “Birdman” must continue to excel and the three point shot will have to drop for Miami to beat the Spurs.
Time will soon tell which bench can prevail and get the rings they most certainly deserve. (Yes, even you Tracy).
Reynolds: I won’t spend any time talking about best power forward of all time, Tim Duncan, in here. At this point, the only thing he is matched up against is Father Time. Sure, Bosh will stand in there against him, and maybe Haslem. Perhaps Birdman will take a few swipes. Duncan will do what Duncan does. The song remains the same.
The real story of the series will come down to the true modern superstars of each team: Lebron James and Tony Parker. If you’ve been following along at home, Tony Parker just spent the past few weeks ruining the lives of everyone under 6’5” in Los Angeles, outplaying the young messiahs in Golden State, and humbling the already woefully modest guards of Memphis. In Game 4 of that last series, Parker poured in 37 points on 70% shooting. Those are mercy kill numbers.
On the east coast, meanwhile, Lebron was putting the finish touches on his masterpiece, dragging along two struggling superstars (Wade, Bosh) and then annihilating the latest threat to his throne (RIP Paul George). My feeling is that at some point Lebron will be tasked with containing Parker. Lord knows Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole will be out-wiled, and Wade will be saved the indignity. As with his Derrick Rose assignment in the past, Lebron may get to dust off his solar eclipse routine and attempt to snuff the offensive life out of one of the truly more unstoppable players in the NBA. It is not 2007 anymore. The Parker/Lebron showdown will be the one to watch.
Final question: Who wins? (And, in how many games?)
Osubronie: Heat in 5 – Miami is too quick and athletic. Sure, the Heat will be out coached at times by Pop and maybe look confused on some plays, but it’s always hard stupid to bet against the best player in the world. I just hope WHEN Miami wins, Chris Bosh is no where near the open champagne bottles.
Reynolds: Let’s get real here: you were excited when the Pacers won Game 2, and Game 4, and Game 6. Hey, you thought, the Pacers are pushing the Heat. It all seemed possible! The Pacers lost, but that underdog story remains unclaimed. Who can beat the Heat? Now, while I acknowledge that the Grizzlies are all about grit and grind, the Spurs are actually like a grinding wheel. Spinning, relentless, and wearing down all opponents into eventual nothingness. A narrative emerges whereby the classic Spurs, Duncan and Popovich, go for one more title. It would be Duncan’s fifth, the big three’s fourth, a full 14 years after the first for the franchise. It feels right. The grindstone spins on and on.
There is a problem though: The Heat care not for your narratives. They just got finished crushing a nascent underdog, a Pacers team that was desperate in their attempts to smash the Heat into submission. The Heat’s response after six games? Super nova, world’s end, apocalypse. Paul George limped off like the Omega Man. Now we are in the Finals. The Spurs are the smartest team in the NBA, the best coached, with the most championship experience.
But this is not a story, this is not art. This grindstone will not help shape a masterpiece. This is science. Miami in 6.