NBA Finals: Over?

By: Shawn Davis

For the life of me I cannot fathom that the Finals will decided this evening. It has nothing to do with the basketball mastery the San Antonio Spurs have shown or the Miami Heat having their on/off switch under construction over the last week. The basketball fan in me wants the series to continue?

Will it? I think so.

Writing about Game 3 didn’t inspire me because it was such an anomaly of a shooting night for the Spurs that anyone wearing their jersey – I’m including out of shape fans and others who don’t even play sports – could have checked into the contest and hit a shot. Nothing tangible would have come from that so I wanted to wait after Game 4 for some analysis; a larger sample to examine.

Over the last three years the Heat – even when their offense was disrupted on a given night – has always had a devastating, hyper-drive-like defensive gear. One that leads to incredible dribble pressure, steals, length-of-the-court passes and highlight reel plays for LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. The only player of the Heat capable of reaching that higher level of defensive intensity is James. He cannot do it on his own, it’s too tough a burden.

I don’t know if his knees are giving him problems, or he’s just truly a diminished player, but Wade cannot be relied upon on either side of the ball for long stretches of play. Chris Bosh has “elevator games” (up one day and down the next) which is hurting his effort defensively so it’s hard to tell what he’ll provide from one game to the next.

There is nothing the Heat can do to deal with the depth the Spurs trot on the floor. The ability to dress three stars is a luxury to have but a strong counter is to have three stars and five or six additional players with them that deserve a good deal of defensive attention in their own right. Sheer volume and endless options have the Spurs one game away – and the championship trophy in Texas this evening…waiting to be claimed.

Miami’s trapping defense which confounds most NBA teams, and turned Manu Ginobili into a drunk, dribbling mess last year, has been rendered inoperable. Why? The Spurs ball-movement and their extra-pass mantra has been moving the Heat all over the place, unable to locate the shooter until the ball has been released; which is bad when the Spurs have a high level of shooting prowess no matter which unit they have on the floor.

It’s hard for the Heat to counter the depth they’re facing unless James, Wade and Bosh all have great nights in the SAME game and it better come this evening or confetti is sure to fall. The role players of the Heat thrive when their stars are dictating terms (not the other way around) and they play to their strengths when they are simply asked to carry what their particular roles entail.

LeBron James is the only given on his team right now. Can anyone truly believe that Wade and Bosh are going to have dominant performances? Even if they are limited offensively, they must play great on defense. I don’t knock Bosh because he plays a ball-dependent position whereas Wade still has his hands on the ball in ways to make his presence known. He just hasn’t been able to be the true, second star, that he’s proved to be over the last two seasons. If the Heat falls in this series I am keenly interested in how the front-office handles his contract this summer.

Seeing the Heat for the second June in a row has armed the Spurs with a familiarity that can only be gained through repetition. They’ve seen, studied and lost to their Finals foe and that has been a valuable tool in this season-long quest to get back to this exact position.

If the Heat plans on getting back to Florida, for, you know…a basketball game, they better find that missing defensive flair. The Spurs have averaged 106 points per game in these Finals compared to the Heat’s 92.7; a 14 point score differential says it all. If the Heat cannot keep the game in the high-80’s to low-90’s, there will be a parade in Texas one day next week. Triple-digits are the death of the defending champions because they are not a formidable offensive team and the Spurs have been taking good care of the ball since Game 2 so no easy buckets there.

The fact that any team won two consecutive games in this series is eye-opening but the thought of the Spurs getting a third seems too much. Am I wrong for thinking that?

Yes, the Heat are representing a weak Eastern Conference so maybe they’re not as good as they seem while the Spurs play in the death march that is the Western Conference but are they that much better than their opponent to end the Finals in five games?

Boris Diaw being in the starting lineup gives the Spurs two point guards whenever he is on the floor – and he has been incredible to watch. Directing the offense in the half court sets, making the extra pass, taking smaller defenders – usually Wade and Rashard Lewis – into the post and playing like he did in Phoenix gives them a lift they didn’t have last year. He’s not dominating in any area but he is excelling across the entire stat sheet.

Anything can happen in a closing game so be prepared to see the Heat play with desperation defensively, something clearly missing in Game 4. The game should be tight and I think James will have to be in the 30-42 point range (with a near triple double) to get this series to a Game 6.

Will the Spurs win it all this evening? Can the Heat beat the Spurs in three CONSECUTIVE games to make history?


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