The old adage that the best team wins is coming to life before our eyes in the NBA Finals.
With continued excellence from three point range, team ball movement and more solid defensive basketball, the San Antonio Spurs have positioned themselves one victory away from an NBA title and they’ve done it with more than just their version of the big three.
They’ve done it with role players like Kawhi Leonard making life difficult for LeBron James and Gary Neal filling big minutes in place of Tony Parker whose injured hamstring has slowed him down. They’ve done it with some inspired play on both ends from Boris Diaw and what is already the greatest three point shooting performance in Finals history from Danny Green.
In my finals preview I had said that there wasn’t a chance Danny Green was going to back down from the challenge of playing head-to-head against Dwyane Wade and that he could match Wade’s offensive output if Wade struggled. What I never would have thought is that Green would provide the Spurs with a huge chunk of their offense and prove to be more a pivotal player in the series than Wade has been.
Green leads all Spurs in scoring during the finals and is shooting 65% from downtown. Perhaps most importantly, what his presence is doing is spreading the floor even more for guys like Kawhi Leonard and Tim Duncan to get their points in the paint. Miami can’t win if they crash on the Spurs interior players because Duncan or whoever is in there can kick out to the waiting hands of Green, Neal and Parker. If they play them straight up, Duncan has been able to get his, finishing with 17 points and 12 rebounds in game 5 after good scoring numbers throughout the series.
Defensively, Green has been solid as usual. He finished game five with three blocks and matched up with LeBron James at times as well as he did with Wade. His off the ball movement and ability to run the floor and play transition defense has been a major factor in the series and spoiled several buckets the Heat usually convert in game 5.
Surprisingly, so much of this series hasn’t been about the superstars. The Heat brass did their job last night with Wade, James and Chris Bosh combining for 66 points 19 assists and 16 rebounds. They were matched in this game by the Spurs big three of Duncan and Parker combining for 43 points, 6 assists and 13 rebounds and the impact of Manu Ginobili playing in a starting role and getting going from the beginning to score 24 points and 10 assists. From here on out, Ginobili might be as much an x-factor to the series as Green.
Having taken the pole position for Finals MVP, Green is one Spurs victory short of living every player’s fantasy of rising to the cream of the crop on the biggest stage. Going from stints in the D-League and being cut to the best player of a championship series is quite a journey, as is being one of the oldest and most underrated teams entering the postseason and going on to win the title.
The stats from game five don’t bear much analysis. The Spurs won the rebounding battle 36-34, Miami had a +5 turnover margin and the Heat actually hit more threes than San Antonio. Both teams pushed the pace with the Spurs winning the fast break battle 18-16 as well as the points in the paint war 50-40. The stars cancelled each other out the night, and in the end, what we see is that the Spurs were simply the better team on the evening.
With see-saw nature of the series, game 5 might be a distant memory on Tuesday as Miami dominates, who knows? All we can guarantee is that it’s going to be interesting how it all unfolds because it’s bound to have at least a few surprises intertwined in the story line.
One thing that isn’t surprising in all this, however, is San Antonio. They had one of the top offenses in the league, particularly in the fourth quarter where they tended to flourish during the regular season. They had one of the best scoring benches in the league and have a lineup with defensive juggernauts in it like Leonard and Duncan. So, no, you shouldn’t be surprised that San Antonio is one game from defeating the defending champs, but perhaps you should be surprised at the defeated body language of the Miami Heat players at times.
When this series started, I purposely avoided making predictions because it’s the Spurs. While others insisted it was just a matter of how many games it would take the Heat, I have been taught over the years not to go against the Spurs more times than I can count. So here we stand, San Antonio leading the NBA Finals 3-2 and while fans shouldn’t be surprised that the Spurs have a golden opportunity to be the second Western Conference team to hoist a trophy on the American Airlines Arena floor in the last three years, something tells me you will be if they do it.