If this would have happened a year or two ago, all the talk would have been about the Big Three from the Miami Heat – LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh facing off against the Big Three from the San Antonio Spurs – Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. But the 2013 NBA finals are going to be very different by definition, with a whole of a lot more moving parts that will determine the outcome.
First of all, there’s no big three on both teams. Chris Bosh will no doubt find himself a little bit more free to improve on his 11 points and 37.7% from the field against the Pacers. While the Spurs do present their big man problem of their own, it isn’t in the form of a 7’2 center that wore out Bosh on both ends of the floor. On the other side, Manu Ginobili does have his moments of stardom and clutch, but it doesn’t have to do with opponents. He simply has a harder time being dominant for more than a few minutes in each game, averaging 11.5 points on 38.3% from the field in the playoffs so far.
The Miami Heat have a big two, or one and a half, depends in how much pain Dwyane Wade is in on game day. His 21 points against the Indiana Pacers in game 7 of the conference finals was his only 20-point performance in the postseason, and the question is: Was that a turning point for the Heat in the way they approach their offense, and for Wade, in how aggressive and active he’ll be in the finals, or just a one-time thing, before they revert to a one-player mode once again?
LeBron James was at his best in the conference finals, even though sometimes James at his individual best means the rest of the team doesn’t do what it’s supposed to. Finding that balance between taking too much on himself offensively and scoring/shooting at just the right amount is hard to find, and there seems to be some underlined ego battle between him and Wade about who told who what before the final game of the series, but they probably found the right way of approaching things, just like they did 12 months ago, having a happy ending to the season.
James averaged 29 points on 51% from the field in the series against the Pacers, adding 5.3 assists per game as well. The Spot up shooting, mostly created by James driving to the basket, is what offsets defenses. Quick ball movement, a drive to the paint and an open shot. That’s about 20% of the Heat’s offense, and something they’ll have to do well, like they did in game 7 or game 3 of their series against the Pacers.
The Spurs have Tim Duncan and Tony Parker as their big two. Duncan is averaging 17.8 points per game in this postseason, but for the first time after three series, he and Tiago Splitter will face a different kind of team – one without any inside presence at the beginning of a possession. While Duncan is a formidable blocker, both he and Splitter aren’t the kind of deterrent Roy Hibbert was for almost six games, and the Heat got over that fear eventually as well.
What does Duncan bring to the table that the Heat haven’t seen before? A big man who isn’t going to try and shoot all the time, but mix it up. The Pacers didn’t do it much, but when their ball movement was spot on, the Heat had a hard time chasing them around, eventually countering that with early traps and intense pressure they’ll need to show for more than just one game in the finals against the Spurs.
That’s where Tony Parker comes in, after a fantastic series against the Grizzlies, averaging 24.5 points and 9.5 assists. The Spurs and Parker kept slicing that defense up with Pick & Rolls, and if the Heat don’t find a way to counter, once more, their size problem against the Spurs’ two big men who are very efficient in finishing these kind of plays, they’re headed into another series with a lot of questions asked of them.
One interesting stat tidbit that might have some influence on this series is actually the “big threes” not playing against each other in their full lineup since March 2011. Since then, the Heat’s big 3 has outscored the Spurs’ big three by almost 18 points per game, which highlights the importance for the Spurs to force the game on James, and for the Heat to keep Kawhi Leonard from having the kind of playoffs he’s been having so far.
Prediction – The Spurs had too long of a rest entering game 1, which is never good in the playoffs. The Miami Heat, at home, with the same kind of mindset they have against the Pacers, should start the series the right way, although we’ve seen that a game 1 loss means nothing to these guys. It ends in favor of the Heat in six.