The 2013 NBA Finals is set to kickoff on Thursday night between two teams that have been on a crash course with each other for most of the season.
The San Antonio Spurs would have been the top seed in the Western Conference had they not cruised over the finish line and allowed Oklahoma City to pass them. But since taking the floor in the postseason, the Spurs are 12-2 and have found plenty of chances to rest their famously aging lineup.
The Heat haven’t looked the indefatigable champion that many expected them to be, but their 12-4 record in the postseason puts them in the finals for the third straight year as the favorites to win it all. Miami faces perhaps its greatest challenge yet in their streak of finals berths, going up against a team that is built around a core that has won it all multiple times.
The matchups in this series are tantalizing and probably the best across the board that we’ve seen since the playoffs tipped off in mid April. While Miami may be the favorite, I’m not sure it would really surprise anyone if the Spurs were to force a game 7 or even win the series given not only their experience, but their playmaking pedigree and the incredible strategizing ability of Gregg Popavich. So, let’s take a look at how these two teams shake out against one another.
Tony Parker vs Mario Chalmers
This seems like a no brainer, but we shouldn’t be so fast to judge. Parker’s ability to pretty much do anything he pleases hasn’t been very well inhibited by any of his opponent’s this postseason including defensive stalwart Mike Conley of the Memphis Grizzlies, but Parker may have a tougher time in this series than many expect.
Few point guards are better at defending the pick and roll, a go-to play for Parker and the Spurs, than Chalmers who has started to make his presence felt for the Heat over the last two series. If Chalmers can make life difficult for Parker, his average of 9 points and 3.5 assists won’t seem like such a weak output.
Danny Green vs Dwyane Wade
Another no brainer right? Not necessarily. Green is a solid defender going against a guy whose health has him at clearly less than 100%. Averaging a steal per game to go with his 10 point, 4 rebound and 2 assist playoff averages, Green is capable of matching Wade or at least serviceably slowing him down.
Wade’s game 7 performance was inspiring to say the least, but questions are still swirling over whether or not he can maintain that in a seven game series. This matchup is much bigger for the Heat than it is for San Antonio, because if Wade can’t do better than he managed to against Lance Stephenson, scoring less than 15 points in two of Miami’s three losses to Indiana, the losses won’t be nearly as narrow as they were against the Pacers.
Kawhi Leonard vs LeBron James
If there is a chance for Leonard to get his superstar wings, opportunities don’t come any bigger than this. Facing off with the league’s MVP, Leonard has one job, keep LeBron James under 30 points each night. If he can do it and force the rest of the Heat to beat San Antonio, the Spurs really do have a shot to win this thing. Luckily for them, defending just happens to be Leonard’s strong suit.
The two didn’t face each other in the regular season, so it should be interesting to see how this matchup transpires over the course of the series. James is playing at the highest level of his game right now, just keeping up would be a massive achievement for Leonard. The Spurs expect nothing from the small forward on the offensive end, so his only priority in the series is to focus on defending James, but clearly the advantage is tipped in favor of Miami.
Tim Duncan vs Udonis Haslem
A two time MVP and four time champion, Duncan has a pretty clear advantage against Haslem in all departments. For starters, Duncan has 3 inches of height on the Heat forward and is an active part of the Spurs offense, a stark contrast to Haslem who is his team’s fifth option for the most part.
The one area where Haslem can have an impact is with similar shooting to what he did against Indiana in games three and five of the Eastern Conference Finals. In order to have an impact, Haslem has to pull Duncan away from the painted area, otherwise Duncan may average 3 blocks per game the way he did against Memphis. But from a scoring and rebounding perspective, it’s pretty obvious that Duncan has a significant advantage.
Tiago Splitter vs Chris Bosh
While Splitter has developed nicely over the last year, he’ll be going up against a player who is significantly better than him. Bosh hasn’t been the $20 million a year type star the Heat need him to be, but he has a prime opportunity to exploit a mismatch against Splitter who is in his first trip to the NBA Finals and isn’t nearly as athletic.
The matchup also favors Miami because of the fact that they generally station Bosh on the perimeter, allowing them another opportunity to pull a San Antonio big man out of the paint. Of course, Popavich will have considered how to combat this over the last week, but if Splitter gives Bosh too much space in an attempt to play more like a traditional big man, he’ll become a liability.
Ray Allen vs Manu Ginobili
Each team possesses a future Hall of Fame shooting guard that comes off the bench and each could prove the difference in the series. If Allen can knock down timely threes and give the Heat a good source of points from the perimeter, the Heat will be tough to beat. From the other side, if Ginobili is at his best shooting from the perimeter with efficiency and getting to the basket for easy buckets, the Spurs become a multi-dimensional nightmare for the Heat to deal with. Each leads a decent bench, and each has the ability to change the game, so be ready for the pair see significant opportunities to do just that.