Not the most expected of four-team combinations reached the conference finals in the 2013 NBA playoffs. The Miami Heat and the Indiana Pacers in the East; the San Antonio Spurs and Memphis Grizzlies in the West.
The series between the Spurs and the Grizzlies begins today, Sunday, May 19, with game 1 on 3:30 PM Eastern time. The Eastern finals begin on Wednesday, May 22, on 8:30 PM Eastern time. One interesting anecdote before we kick off: The Miami Heat, the favorites to win the NBA title, have lost only one game so far in the postseason.
For the first time since 2004, the Pacers are in the conference finals, paving their way through the postseason with a 4-2 win over the Atlanta Hawks in the first round and a 4-2 win over the New York Knicks in the conference semifinals, so far going undefeated in their home games this postseason. They also beat the Knicks despite not having home court advantage. They finished the regular season with a 49-32 record, finishing on top of the Central division for the first time since the 2003-2004 season. In the playoffs, they’re being led so far by Paul George, averaging 19.1 points per game, followed by George Hill (15.6 points) and David West with 15. They played the Miami Heat three times during the regular season, winning twice at home (in double figures) and losing in Miami. They played the Heat last year in the conference semifinals, losing in six games.
The clear favorites to win the NBA title for a second straight year, this time entering with home court advantage all the way through. The Heat had no problem sweeping through the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round, needing 5 games in a tougher, physical series against the Chicago Bulls. It is their third consecutive year reaching the conference finals, passing through on the two previous times. They finished the season with a 66-16 record, the best in franchise history. LeBron James is leading the team in scoring so far with 24 points per game, followed by three players in double figures: Chris Bosh (13.2), Dwyane Wade (13) and Ray Allen (12.2). The Heat beat the Pacers once in the regular season during their 27-game winning streak, losing in their two visits to Indiana.
Are we witnessing the same run the Houston Rockets had in 1995? The Memphis Grizzlies have taken two series despite not having home court advantage: Beating the Los Angeles Clippers 4-2 and the Oklahoma City Thunder 4-1. This is the first time in franchise history they’ve reached the conference finals, currently on a three-year postseason streak, tied as the longest in franchise history. The Grizzlies played in the same division as the Spurs, finishing with a 56-26 record, two games behind them. So far, Zach Randolph is the team’s leading scorer in the postseason with 19.7 points per game. He’s followed by Marc Gasol scoring 18.3, Mike Conley averaging 17.6 and Tony Allen with 11.1 points. The Grizzlies met the Spurs four times during the regular season, winning their two home games and losing their two on the road. The two teams last met in the postseason in 2011, as the Grizzlies beat the Spurs in the first round.
San Antonio Spurs
Getting older and younger all at once, the San Antonio Spurs have proven in these playoffs and especially in the semifinal series against the Warriors that it’s not all up to Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan, but also about Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter. They swept the Lakers in the first round and needed six games to dispatch the Warriors in the next. They finished second in the west, going 58-24, making the playoffs for a 16th consecutive time, and the conference finals for a second time in a row. Tony Parker is their leading scorer in the postseason with 22.4 points per game, followed by Tim Duncan (18.7), Kawhi Leonard (13.7), Manu Ginobili (12.1) and Danny Green (10); the only team with five players averaging in double figures. They’re 2-2 against the Grizzlies in the regular season.