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Of Rhythm And The NBA Finals

Andrew Seah |
June 4, 2013 | 3:00 p.m. PDT

Staff Writer

Wade and Bosh are the two members of the Big Three not picking up the slack. (Mark Runyon/Basketball Schedule)
Wade and Bosh are the two members of the Big Three not picking up the slack. (Mark Runyon/Basketball Schedule)
And so, just as soon as it began, the 2012-2013 NBA season is coming to an end. It will be a momentous end to what has been a truly magnificent season, with its wheels well-greased and its momentum surging, and yet, after 82 regular-season games and another 78 more during these playoffs, one final, and potentially epic, series awaits.

In one corner, the San Antonio Spurs: a metronome of sustained excellence, unassuming in their ways, dedicated to all things fundamental, and primed to make their critics eat their words once again - just like every other year. In the other corner, the Miami Heat: a collective of overwhelming talent, ostentatious in their ways, dedicated to all things unorthodox, and primed to make their haters flip tables and bemoan helplessly. One is led by a living legend and the greatest player of his generation - 37-year-old Tim Duncan - and the other is led by an otherworldly superstar who's peerless amongst his peers - reigning MVP LeBron James. Two teams whose personnel could not be more different in stature and disposition, but have similar approaches, similar successes, and one singular goal in sight: to become champions. 

Eighty-two regular-season games taught us that the three-headed behemoth from South Beach is the force to be reckoned with. After all, the Heat went on a historically great binge, winning 27 games in a row before gliding through the first two rounds of the playoffs with a 8-1 record. They dispatched the Milwaukee Bucks and Brandon Jennings' over-exuberant trash talk with laughable ease, and Nate Robinson's incomprehensible explosions barely made a dent in Miami's armor. (To term the 5"9' point guard's performances as mercurial would not be representative of the scale of its audacity.) 

But the aura of regular-season dominance can dissipate as quickly as it comes, as evidenced by the Heat's arduous struggles against a formidable and severely underrated Indiana Pacers. The common wisdom was that the Heat had too many weapons for the Indiana to handle, and the blanket statement was that the Pacers had no chance against Miami. Alas, the accurate wisdom was, and should have been, Miami had potent haymakers, but Indiana has a really strong chin. 

Between swingman Paul George's sudden ascendance to elite two-way terror status, Roy Hibbert's shot-altering presence (and unexpected offensive polish), and the entire team's undeniable defensive acumen, Indiana evolved and grew, stronger and closer. And even though they weren't able to complete their fairytale, to borrow a phrase from LeBron himself, the Pacers met the Heat at the summit. In the process, they bruised the reigning champions' ego, exposed their frailties, and, more importantly, gave rise to a remarkable thought: Miami is actually very, very beatable. It is a notion that was not so long ago banished beneath the spoils of protracted success. 

Before, we saw the weapons, the talent, and the unstoppability of the Miami Heat. They had a star-laden trio, the greatest shooter of all time, and the intangible, sabermetrics-inclined presence of Shane Battier. All proven entities who could accomplish anything on the court - shoot, penetrate, defend and win. Now, the Big Three seems more like LeBron, LeBron, and more LeBron. Dwayne Wade is a pale shadow of his former self (although he did appear rejuvenated in their crucial Game 7 victory), and Chris Bosh is only mentioned in reference to his disappearance. No one seems to be sure what's going on with Ray Allen, and Battier's inability to make corner three-pointers has seen him relegated to the end of coach Erik Spoelstra's rotation. Blowing out the Pacers in Game 7 by a decisive 23-point margin was a performance befitting of the reigning champions. But the damage has already been done. Miami looks exceedingly vulnerable at the worst possible time. 

Tim Duncan will be seeking his fifth NBA title. (miu3112/Creative Commons)
Tim Duncan will be seeking his fifth NBA title. (miu3112/Creative Commons)
San Antonio can only be licking their chops. If the Heat are humbly hobbling into Game 1 of the NBA Finals, the Spurs are confidently striding. They had a nine-day rest - virtually an extended holiday during playoff season - while LeBron and Co. were pushing, shoving, and getting worn out. They avenged their second-round playoff loss to the Memphis Grizzlies two years ago by sweeping them 4-0 in utterly convincing fashion. They did so by nullifying the low-post beast - Zach Randolph - that was once their tormentor. Their defense looked as sharp and as relentless as it's ever been this season, especially with small forward Kawhi Leonard getting his huge hands on passes that shouldn't be within anyone's range. San Antonio boasts a 95.4 defensive rating, the best in the playoffs.

And on offense, Tony Parker is brandishing a deadly game that blends deft touch with searing determination, all to the tune of a 24.17 PER, bettered only by LeBron James (Chris Anderson is a higher PER than either but in far fewer minutes). He is as confident with his pull-up jumper as he is with his patented teardrop, and he's orchestrating San Antonio's attack with surgical precision so much so that coach Gregg Popovich could be forgiven for breaking into a smile. The 31-year-old Frenchman looks out to prove that he is the best point guard in the league - and it's hard to argue with him right now. All this and I haven't even got to Tim Duncan and his renaissance. Such is the rhythm in which the Spurs are in, fluent and commanding on offense and defense, on and off the court, and physically and psychologically. 

Game 1 of the NBA Finals begins this Thursday at American Airlines Arena. Aided by their home crowd, and with perhaps a little rust on the visitor's side, the Heat could very well run away with a 1-0 lead and re-establish the rhythm and flow that was so often lacking against Indiana. That's more than a plausible possibility. Momentum can shift on a dime, and teams can rediscover their form as easily and quickly as they lost it. 

Current commentator and former coach, Jeff Van Gundy, often espouses the phrase: "It's a make-or-miss league." Basketball, on such a scale as the NBA Finals, is exceedingly complex, with inexhaustible scouting and game plans upon game plans, but there is some level of truth to the phrase. A lucky bounce can be the difference between a morale boosting home victory and jubilation on the road, one that could potentially alter the landscape of a series. 

Miami and San Antonio experienced divergent paths towards their respective NBA Finals berths, with the Spurs in ascendency. The Spurs are in rhythm; the Heat are still searching for theirs. The Spurs are by no means the favorites, but their stock is as high as it's ever been. But everything can change on a dagger three-pointer, a deflected pass, a well-positioned charge. In hindsight, a revision is in order; it's not a make-or-miss league, it's a league where every little action matters. 

Come Thursday, you best not blink. 


Reach Staff Writer Andrew Seah here



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