The San Antonio Spurs are a great team and it’s a great story that the aging team is back in the finals for the first time since 2007—and the fifth time in the legendary pairing of Tim Duncan with coach Gregg Poppovich. They’ve been written off as too old (at least by this writer) for each of the past two seasons and yet this year the Spurs have emerged from the Western Conference ready to take on the winner of the East, presumably the Heat.
But the finals is where this great story ends—at the hands of the Heat, which should soon be rid of a pesky Pacers’ squad.
Why? Let’s go over the reasons.
1. The Spurs didn’t have to beat the best team in the west—the Thunder.
Yes, Oklahoma City lost to Memphis before they could take on San Antonio and the Spurs beat Memphis, but Thunder guard Russell Westbrook’s torn meniscus completely opened up that side of the playoffs, and the Spurs were the willing beneficiaries.
Let’s be honest. If Westbrook is healthy the Thunder are a different team—a team that could certainly get past San Antonio in the conference finals, like they did last season, especially with homecourt advantage this time around. Losing Westbrook in the middle of the first round made it very difficult to adjust on the fly and the team predictably lost to Memphis, in five games, one round later.
2. After a closer look, San Antonio’s sweep of Memphis wasn’t as impressive.
Let’s first get this straight: any postseason sweep is a worthy feat. That being said, the Spurs’ four-game ouster of the Grizzlies was partially fueled with a major motivational advantage: revenge for 2011. Memphis, remember upset the then top-seeded Spurs in 2011 in the first round as an eight-seed. The early defeat of an aging team set off a flurry of “the Spurs are officially done” opinions blasted all around the sports world for San Antonio to hear—a flurry added to by this writer.
On the other hand Memphis, which has never even been to the finals, was just a five-seed this season. Following the mid-season trade of scoring-wing Rudy Gay (for salary cap purposes) they were probably (and understandably) happy to just get this far.
3. The Heat and Pacers match up well with San Antonio.
The Spurs’ offense no longer runs through the long arms of the 37-year-old Duncan. Poppovich has point guard Tony Parker to run the offense through now, and he’s done well with it. But Miami’s strength on defense is on the perimeter.
The Heat held opponents to 95 points per game in the regular season (fifth best mark in the league) despite not having a shot-blocking presence in the lane. Chris Bosh leads the team with a pedestrian 1.4 blocks per contest.
But the Heat are relentless outside the lane. With defenders LeBron James (five first-team All-Defensive honors), Dwayne Wade (two second-team All-Defensive honors), and Shane Battier (two second-team All-Defensive honors) manning the perimeter, Tony Parker will have an uphill battle all series long against the Heat.
Should the Pacers shock the world and prevail against LeBron James and the Heat in the conference finals they would present nearly as big of a problem on defense: seven-foot, two-inch center Roy Hibbert, who blocks 2.6 shots per game—good for fourth in the league.