Of all of the things that were written about last year’s NBA Finals the theme was always the same: the Spurs choked. Or the Spurs gave it away. Or the Spurs fumbled a title. Or the Spurs couldn’t close. Rarely was there any mention of what the Heat did when they were desperate, when it appeared they had lost. Other than Ray Allen’s three point shot, not much was said about Lebron James or Dwayne Wade or Mike Miller. When the Heat win they are given no credit other than to say they have the best player in the world. But when they lose they are riddled with blame. Such is the reality of a team put together artificially. Instead of organically moving pieces around, taking a few years to mix and match, the Heat players decided to make the decisions themselves. From the very beginning it has rubbed the public the wrong way. It is as if these modern players have to create a perfect environment. They refuse to accept struggle. They cannot tough it out. Of course none of that is true. Lebron toiled in Cleveland. Dwayne Wade hung in there in Miami after Shaq was traded. Chris Bosh suffered in Toronto, was on the team that gave up 81 points to Kobe Bryant.
The truth is the Spurs are the gold standard. Their players take less money. Their players are not self promoters. Their players are willing to give up their own glory for the success of their teammate. They embody what many people would like to be but are not. Unselfish. Gracious. Sharers. So of course the storyline is going to be about them, the angelic ones of the NBA. It will always be about them.
But what Lebron has in his sights is what Kobe and Jordan have been able to do: three-peat. If he can pull it off it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy. At their impromptu press conference, their congratulatory exercise in egoism when they all came together, Lebron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh reveled in the titles they would win. They went as far as to predict 7 in a row. They were largely excoriated for their lack of manners. But really, think about. This is 4 straight trips to the Finals. The numbers may have been off but they knew what they were capable of, they knew what lay ahead.
Keeping them from this quest of three in a row which hasn’t been done in 12 years since the Kobe/Shaq Lakers swept the New Jersey Nets in an uninteresting NBA Finals are the San Antonio Spurs who are on a redemption quest. Last year they had game 6 won; that is what everyone wants to believe. But you only have the game won when the game is over. And as long as the Heat have Ray Allen and Dwayne Wade and Lebron James the game is never over. The Spurs lost game 7 too but no one seems to consider that, as if it didn’t happen or as if it doesn’t really matter. It does. It was a 2 point game in the last minute. Then Tim Duncan turned into Kwame Brown, missing shots at the rim. Then the Spurs only had sorrow.
This year the Spurs are better than last year. Paddy Mills is better. Danny Green plays well at home, so-so on the road. Marco Belinelli has been a lifesaver. Manu Ginobli has had an incredible playoff; he is the Spurs X factor. Boris Diaw does all the little things that no one talks about but that deliver wins and every 5 games or so he makes shots. Tony Parker’s ankle is suspect especially having to defend the small lineup of the Heat that live off of fast break points.
The Heat are not better than last year. Shane Battier has had a miserable season but he can still defend. Mike Miller is gone. Mario Chalmers disappears and reappears on a whim. Norris Cole seems to get excited as the playoffs become more intense. Dwayne Wade is rested, unlike last year, and is as healthy as he is going to get. When Rashard Lewis is the X factor, there are problems with the rotation. But the Heat still have Lebron James. And the quickness that the Heat play with will cause difficulties for the Spurs especially upfront with Tiago Splitter. He hasn’t gotten any quicker in a year.
A 5th ring for Duncan will augment his legacy as a defining player of his generation. But before legacy talk, he has to play as he did against the Thunder, like the old Timmy. But it will be a challenge. The Heat cause so many problems because of their athleticism and quickness. It is the biggest burden this series has. But in the end, what it comes down to for both teams, is making threes. Whoever makes the most threes will win game #1. I’m guessing that will be the Spurs.