I hate to say I told you so, but I did correctly predict both Conference Finals series (Heat in 6 and Spurs in 6), so I kind of did tell you so.
If my Conference Finals preview wasn’t enough to convince you to stray away from ESPN’s 24 hour coverage of these playoffs, then hopefully this NBA Finals preview will be enough to convince you that Chipps can indeed see into the future (put that on the record).
For the first time since the great Chicago Bulls vs. Utah Jazz Finals in 1996 and 1997, we have a rematch in the NBA Finals.
Last year’s NBA Finals was one for the ages. Between Tony Parker’s game winning layup in Game 1, to LeBron’s block on Tiago Splitter in Game 2, to Ray Allen’s series saving three-pointer in Game 6, to LeBron’s 37 point barrage in Game 7 to seal the championship, last year’s Finals was the arguably the best we’ve seen since the Jordan days.
Here’s a recap in case you forgot how epic this series was a year ago:
Now looking towards this year’s NBA Finals, it’s the same two teams with the same rosters, just a year older.
Tim Duncan has never been one to trash talk, but after the Spurs’ series clinching win against the Oklahoma City Thunder Saturday night, Duncan made it clear that his Spurs will not lose to the Heat again.
“We have four more [games] to win,” he said during a postgame interview. “We’ll do it this time.”
Before the series begins on Thursday night and kicks into high gear, take a look at the top five keys to the NBA Finals.
5. Spurs Spacing
The Spurs are the best team in basketball. Not because they have the best players or the best coach, but because they play the game of basketball better than any other team in the NBA.
Head Coach Gregg Popovich’s motto has always been to play “our way” not “your way.” Over the past 18 seasons, Pop has molded a foundation of team basketball that revolves around a systematic offense where passing is a player’s first prerogative.
This video perfectly shows the Spurs passing ability and why they are such an elite team.
After losing two straight in Oklahoma City, the Spurs went back to what they do best: pass first. The Spurs are a selfless team that is willing to pass up a good shot for a better shot.
The Spurs gave the Heat trouble last year because they couldn’t close out on defense, leaving shooters like Danny Green wide open on the perimeter.
Watch out for the Spurs spacing on the offensive side of the floor, they do it better than any other team in the league.
If the Spurs can exploit the smaller Heat frontcourt, look for the Spurs big men to unload by backing down the smaller Heat defenders and kicking it out to Manu Ginobili and Green for an array of three pointers.
If the Heat can’t lockdown and keep the Spurs from spacing the floor, this year’s Finals may flip in San Antonio’s favor.
4. Which Team has the Better Bench?
Who would’ve thought that the bench players would’ve made the difference in last year’s NBA Finals?
Shall we reminisce on Ray Allen’s incredible three-pointer to tie Game 6 (sorry Spurs fans).
This video is a friendly reminder that the role players are just as vital to a team’s success as the star player, especially in the NBA Finals.
Both teams rely on their bench heavily, but especially the Spurs with their go-to sixth man Manu Ginobili (who was basically non-existent in last year’s Finals).
This year’s Finals is much of the same. For the Spurs, Boris Diaw has come alive this postseason and has been huge not only with his strong shooting but especially his great passing. Look for the Spurs to go to Diaw and journeyman Matt Bonner to throw the Heat off guard. Diaw and Bonner will stretch the floor and allow the bruisers Duncan and Tiago Splitter to work the smaller Heat forwards in the paint.
On the Heat’s side, their role players will also be counted on to contribute and complement the Big Three.
Ray Allen killed the Pacers in the fourth quarter of Game 3 during the Conference Finals, going 4-4 from long-range, and he’ll be expected to throw the knockout punches again.
Allen, Shane Battier, and Norris Cole will be leaned on to play defense on the perimeter and hit open three’s when LeBron and Dwayne Wade kick it out to them.
Don’t forget about the Birdman filling the lane and providing much-needed energy off the bench as well.
Whichever team gets the better production from the bench will win this series.
Mark my words.
Spurs: Kawhi Leonard
Leonard is averaging 13.3 ppg and 6.8 rpg during the 2014 postseason, but it’s his play on the defensive end that will have everyone talking during this series.
Leonard will be tasked with trying to defend LeBron, something he was unable to do last year, especially in Game 7 when LeBron scored 37 and hit two clutch shots in the final minutes of the fourth quarter.
If Leonard can at least slow down LeBron and keep him from taking over games or force him into foul trouble like the Pacers were able to in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals, the Spurs will be able to control the speed of the game and give themselves a huge advantage.
But Leonard is the X-Factor not only because of his defensive skills and his offensive firepower, but he gives the Spurs an added dimension of athleticism and youth on the offensive end. Leonard can not only drive to the basket with force and efficiency, but he’s also become a sound three-point shooter that is an added spark behind Manu and Danny Green.
If Leonard can go over the 20-point mark at least two times during the Finals, this series may be tilted in the Spurs direction. He was the difference maker against the Thunder in the Conference Finals, and he’ll be the spark plug for the Spurs in this series as well.
Heat: Chris “Birdman” Andersen
Andersen missed Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals, and the Heat suffered without him because they weren’t able to match the Pacers’ intensity all night.
Andersen isn’t your ideal center, but he’s exactly what the Heat have needed. He is a “hybrid” center, meaning he’s a bit undersized to play against Roy Hibbert or Dwight Howard, but he has great energy and provides a spark off the bench.
Whether he’s gathering offensive rebounds, finishing off a break with a big dunk, or making a huge block to swing momentum, the Birdman brings an added juice to the Heat lineup.
Andersen’s role in this series will be key. He won’t fill the stat sheet or score a lot of points, but if he can come off the bench and give the Heat some much needed energy with his ability to grab offensive rebounds and hit easy buckets, that will be a huge plus for a smaller Heat frontcourt.
Watch out for the way the Spurs defend Andersen during this series, because he was virtually unstoppable last year.
2. Which Coach Makes the Better Adjustments
With today’s stars all across the league, we often forget that the coaches are the ones usually calling the shots.
When it comes to making team adjustments, no one does it better than Popovich. Time after time, Pop has made slight adjustments to his lineup in order to fill a hole or exploit an advantage that ultimately gives his team the upper hand.
In last year’s NBA Finals, Pop inserted a struggling Manu Ginobili into the starting lineup, and he wound up playing his best game of the postseason.
During this year’s Western Conference Finals, after Serge Ibaka miraculously came back from his calf injury and helped the Thunder tie the series 2-2, Pop made a drastic move in his starting rotation.
Pop took out starter Tiago Splitter and replaced him with bench warmer and three-point shooter Matt Bonner. Bonner stretched the floor and dragged Ibaka out to the three-point line, allowing Duncan to have more room down low and create more space for the Spurs shooters, ultimately winning Game 5 and taking the series in six games.
On Miami’s side, although Spoelstra doesn’t get much of the credit because he has the best basketball player on the planet, Spoelstra has also made good adjustments during this year’s postseason.
In this year’s Eastern Conference Finals, Spoelstra made an interesting decision to take Shane Battier out of the starting lineup and replaced him with Udonis Haslam. This move allowed the Heat to be a bit more physical in a series where they were heavily undersized.
In today’s NBA, we don’t give enough credit and place enough emphasis on the importance of the coach’s adjustments, especially their mid-game adjustments.
Popovich is an elite coach because he can exploit mismatches and fix problems mid-game.
I truly believe that because this series is a rematch and these teams know each other very well, this series will come down to which coach makes the better adjustments.
If Popovich can find a weak link in the Heat’s lineup, he will take advantage and exploit it.
If Spoelstra can find ways to get his team to the foul line and draw fouls on the Spurs big men (aka give the ball to LeBron), then the Heat will win this series. But if the Heat became stagnant and solely depend on LeBron to win this year’s Finals, the Spurs may get revenge.
Keep close taps on which coach makes the first major adjustment in this year’s NBA Finals.
1. Can Anyone Stop LeBron?
And finally, we’ve reached number one.
Are you surprised this tops the list?
You shouldn’t be, because this is the same question analysts have been asking themselves for the last ten years.
In last year’s NBA Finals, the Spurs couldn’t contain LeBron.
Kawhi Leonard couldn’t stop LeBron in Game 7 from hitting big shots and driving into the lane for easy buckets.
The best way to stop LeBron is to keep him off the free throw line, but even that’s a struggle.
In this year’s playoffs, LeBron is averaging 8.7 free throw attempts per game. Even if you keep LeBron off of the free throw line, he’s still shooting a ridiculous 56 percent from the field and is averaging 27 ppg.
The Spurs are the better basketball team, but they won’t have the best player on the court.
This series, like the ones before it, will come down to whether or not the Spurs can slow down LeBron.
If they can somehow manage to get LeBron into foul trouble like the Pacers were able to in Game 5, the Spurs have a chance.
But if LeBron plays with the chip on his shoulder that he normally does, this series will be over before it starts.
PREDICTION: Heat in 6