5 Deciding Factors in the Spurs-Heat 2014 NBA Finals Rematch


Jun 18, 2013; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat center Chris Bosh (1) defends San Antonio Spurs power forward Tim Duncan (21) during the third quarter of game six in the 2013 NBA Finals at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The basketball gods have truly outdone themselves this year.

Although most fans wanted to see a match up between the two best players on the planet in Kevin Durant and LeBron James, the gods opted to go another route, one riddled with themes of redemption, revenge and closure.

It was only right that the San Antonio Spurs, one year removed from absolute heartbreak at the hands of the Miami Heat, would be in position to redeem themselves from last season’s failure at winning a fifth championship.  This rematch also will decide the individual rubber match between two of the top greatest players ever to step on the NBA hardwood, Tim Duncan and James.

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While there would have been more fireworks and SportsCenter-worthy plays in a series featuring Durant and LeBron, it would have ultimately been a hollow matchup at the expense of the old guys in black and white.

This may be the Spurs last crack at winning a championship with their Big Three, so it seems only fair that they would have the opportunity to vanquish their painful memories from last year’s Finals and replace them with memories they’ll treasure long after they’re done with basketball.

While most of the faces are the same for both teams, the teams slightly differ from last season.

San Antonio will have home court in the Finals due to their exemplary performance in the regular season in the most competitive Western Conference in recent memory, possibly ever.  Spurs role players have matured and gained more experience, but LeBron has another year of dominance under his belt and is ready to establish this Heat team as one of the greatest dynasties the NBA has ever witnessed.

Will The Spurs Be The 2013-2014 NBA Champions?

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The Spurs have more bumps and bruises than the Heat due to their arduous NBA Finals journey.  Dwyane Wade is considerably more healthy this time around.

Although the entire narrative is chock full with compelling story lines, it is now up to both teams to produce their own desired ending.  There are some very obvious factors that will play a determining role in who wins this series: “stopping” LeBron (typing that made me laugh), keeping the Spurs from going bonkers from three, etc.

I have narrowed it down five factors that will truly determine who is crowned as the 2013-2014 NBA Champions.

1. Limiting the damage of LeBron and Wade in the paint

Jun 20, 2013; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat small forward LeBron James (6) and Miami Heat shooting guard Dwyane Wade (3) react against the San Antonio Spurs during the third quarter of game seven in the 2013 NBA Finals at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

This is the biggest factor.  Much of the Heat’s offense is predicated on Wade and LeBron’s dribble penetration and the ensuing ball movement that results because of it.  Although most of the NBA knows that the Heat’s bread and butter is their drive-and-kick offense, there’s a difference between knowing what’s coming and actually being prepared to successfully defend against it.

The Spurs just ousted a team whose two stars don’t score in the paint as much as LeBron and Wade do. Durant practically lives on the perimeter, and Westbrook is prone to falling in love with his jump shot: Both players respectively scored 38.9 percent and 48.5 percent of their total points in the paint this postseason.

In comparison, in the postseason LeBron has scored 46.7 percent of his points in the paint—a step down from his regular season average of 53.2 percent—while Wade has scored 49.5 percent of his total points in the paint, a significantly lower percentage than his regular season percentage of 57.8.  It is important to clarify that though these percentages are lower, this isn’t an anomaly for individual players in the playoffs due to series-specific schemes, tougher defenses, etc.

LeBron: 1 Playoff assist shy of joining Jordan & Kobe as only 3 players ever to record 4000+pts, 1000+rebs & 1000+asts in the postseason

— NBA.com/Stats (@nbastats) June 3, 2014

Although the Thunder and Heat run completely different offenses, it is still important to understand that the Spurs should now at least be slightly prepared for the hard-nosed and almost unstoppable drives of Wade and LeBron.

As hard as it was for the Spurs to defend Westbrook, probably the most violent and uncontrolled dribble-driver in the NBA, they’ll basically have to defend two players who live in the paint.  I’d also claim that neither LeBron nor Wade get to the rim as uncontrollably and fast as Westbrook, which may be a good thing for the Spurs rim protectors.

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  • For San Antonio to keep the Heat’s offense at bay and to stymie their role players, they have to make LeBron and Wade beat them from the perimeter.  This is the same strategy Pop has used against LeBron in both Finals match ups in an effort to take away LeBron’s “easy” points in the paint: pack the paint against the Heat superstars and make them beat you with their jump shots. Sure, Wade shot well from behind the arc against the Pacers, but you’ll live with him taking those shots.  The same thing goes for LeBron.

    You can’t ever completely stop LeBron, so you have to give up something when guarding him, which has been his perimeter shots.  For the Spurs defense to succeed in this series, they have to stick to the game plan and trust that their team defense will be enough to contain the Heat.

    2. Limiting Miami’s bench

    Mar 6, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; Miami Heat guard Ray Allen (34) shoots the ball over San Antonio Spurs guard Danny Green (4) during the first half at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

    Miami’s bench has been inconsistent this season, but they always seem to step it up when it matters most. The biggest weapon of the Heat bench is their propensity to get hot from three.

    In last season’s Finals, Miami’s bench scored more than half of the team’s three pointers (57.8 percent).  Led by Ray Allen, Mike Miller and Shane Battier, the Heat’s bench was a major reason why they prevailed over the Spurs.

    With Miller gone and Battier struggling this season, the Heat have relied on the three-point shooting of Allen and Norris Cole to fill up the stat sheet. You know that the Heat’s bench players will play up to the moment, so the Spurs must make a concerted effort to defend the three-point line.

    This factor is ultimately connected with the Spurs ability to keep LeBron and Wade out of the paint. None of the Heat’s bench players are known for their ability to put the ball on the floor and create their own shot.  They rely on the open looks presented to them because of Wade and LeBron’s dribble penetration.

    As the Spurs painfully know, they can’t let Ray Allen and company beat them behind the arc.  The Spurs must make them put the ball on the floor and run them off their spots so that they don’t kill them from three.

    Furthermore, the question is how are the Spurs supposed to clamp down on the Heat’s spot up shooters and keep LBJ and Wade out of the paint?  That’s a terrific question that will become evident as the series progresses.

    Of course the Spurs need to close out hard on shooters, be active defensively and communicate at all times, have good defensive rotations, etc.  The Spurs seemingly have to pick their poison, but I trust that Pop will have his team prepared for what the Heat will throw at them offensively.

    3. Who wins the stretch-four battle?

    Oct 19, 2013; Miami, FL, USA; San Antonio Spurs power forward Boris Diaw (33) is pressured by Miami Heat small forward James Jones (22) during the third quarter at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

    Watching the chess match between Eric Spoelstra and Gregg Popovich unfold will certainly be something to keep an eye on. The one lineup match up I’m curious to see is if Pop will opt to start Boris Diaw after his huge role in the Thunder series.

    If you don’t remember last season’s Finals, Tiago Splitter was bullied by the athletic Heat, similar to last round against the Thunder.  Plus, the Spurs offensive spacing is much more condensed when they have both Tiago and Timmy out on the floor together.

    It would seem to be a good idea to have two good rim protectors and rebounders on the floor together, but Chris Bosh puts a kink into that option; because Bosh is simply a 2-guard in a forward’s body, Bosh doesn’t hang around the paint too often.  What’s the point in having two good rim protectors if they’re being pulled out to the perimeter to close out on much more nimble and quick shooters?

    It will be especially interesting to see if Spoelstra opts to start Rashard Lewis at the four spot.

    This was the strategy he decided on against the Pacers in an effort to bring David West away from the basket.  Because of the size disparity between the Heat and Pacers, he decided to counter the Pacers size with floor spacing and shooting.  Lewis’ spacing was the best option to bring West away from the basket and provide more room for LeBron and company to operate.

    In Games 5 and 6, Lewis performed exceptionally well, making a combined 9/16 threes and averaging 15.5 points per game.  I expect Pop to start Boris Diaw and to continue the same rotations he used against the Thunder—using Matt Bonner and Boris as stretch fours and playing Timmy and Tiago exclusively at the five spot—so that the Spurs won’t be giving up so much ground to the Heat’s shooters.

    The Heat are statistically the worst rebounding team in the NBA, but the Spurs will have to be extremely diligent in boxing out all the Heat’s rebounders in an effort to keep them off the offensive glass.

    Boris is playing at an unbelievable level right now, and if his play and aggression from the Thunder series can carry over into the Finals then the Spurs have another weapon to utilize against the Heat’s swarming and athletic defense.

    Plus, don’t you want to see a guy who is nicknamed the Land Walrus who can pass like a point-guard, shoot the three at a high percentage, dunk (!), and gobble up rebounds even when he’s lounging on the court get some heavy minutes?

    Of course you do.

    If you say the Spurs are boring, then you haven’t seen the type of show that the Spurs can put on when Boris is on the floor.  For the Spurs, starting Diaw is the best option both offensively and defensively and could ultimately be the deciding factor in this series.

    4. Marco Belinelli—Will the real Belinelli please stand up?

    May 8, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward Marco Belinelli (3) celebrates a score with San Antonio Spurs guard Manu Ginobili (20) against the Portland Trail Blazers in game two of the second round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

    Where has Jean Reno’s doppelganger been this postseason?

    After finishing the regular season as the Spurs second-leading scorer off the bench (11.4 ppg), Belinelli has been MIA (great pun, I know) for a majority of the postseason.  You can’t really blame him for his ineffectiveness against the Dallas Mavericks, since the Mavs onus was not to let the Spurs three-point shooters shred them.

    Marco seemed to reintroduce himself after the first two games of the Trail Blazers series when he finished with 19 and 13 points, respectively, but hasn’t scored in double figures since.

    People have been quick to bury Belinelli after his no-show performances through the postseason, which isn’t really fair for a guy who was a major cog in the Spurs bench unit and one of the reasons the Spurs even have home court.  While it’s obvious that the Spurs didn’t need Marco’s offense versus the Blazers and Thunder (who both have mediocre benches) since they, well, beat them, they’re going to need him against the Heat.

    When either LeBron or Wade take their seats on the bench, the Spurs really need to take that time to exploit the Heat’s second unit.

    If the Spurs have Manu Ginobili, Boris, Patty Mills, and Marco clicking on all cylinders, then the Spurs are going to be incredibly tough to stop.  In Marco’s absence, Manu and Boris have really picked up their offensive production.

    While this is great and all, the Spurs need to be able to rely on Marco to put pressure on the Heat’s defense with his outside shooting and constant off-ball movement.  With Belinelli back in the fold, the Foreign Legion could really make their imprint on the series and put less pressure on the Spurs starters to carry the load offensively.

    This Thursday we’ll be cheering for Marco Belinelli, first Italian to play in #NBAFinalshttp://t.co/GdwRIFq2qj pic.twitter.com/HzI6LdSlbQ

    — Italy Magazine (@ItalyMagazine) June 4, 2014

    Marco just needs to hit his shots and play some respectable defense, which he should be able to do as long as he’s not guarding Wade or LeBron.  For the sake of the Spurs title hopes Marco needs to live up to the moment and do his part in helping the Spurs hopefully win another championship.  He came to San Antonio wanting to win a championship. Now is his time to earn it.

    5. Tony Parker’s effectiveness

    May 21, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker (9) shoots against Oklahoma City Thunder center Steven Adams (12) in game two of the Western Conference Finals of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center. San Antonio beat Oklahoma City 112-77. Mandatory Credit: Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports

    Tony Parker needs to be the best player in a Spurs jersey this series.

    With Parker struggling due to a hamstring and ankle injury, Parker was noticeably just a shell of himself versus the Thunder.  In last season’s Finals, Parker also wasn’t 100% healthy as he was playing through a Grade 2 hamstring strain.

    Due to his injury and the Heat’s defensive strategy of doubling every pick-and-roll to force the ball out of Parker’s hands, Parker was uncharacteristically inefficient for a majority of the Finals. Injury or not, Parker has to be the man for San Antonio this time around.  This doesn’t mean that he has to put up 25+ points every game and score at will, but he does need to be the maestro (cue funny and nostalgic Seinfeld memories) leading a Spurs offense that has been compared to listening to Mozart’s music.

    The Spurs offense, much like the Heat’s offense with LeBron and Wade, is at its best when Parker is getting in the paint and either scoring or kicking it out to open shooters.  Since the Heat don’t have a shot-blocking presence anywhere close to the imposing Serge Ibaka (sorry Birdman), Parker should be able to do his thing and get to the rim.

    If he’s playing gimpy, then the Spurs are going to be in a lot of trouble.  They may have been able to get away with Parker not playing in the second half against the Thunder in Game 6, but there’s no way they’re winning the series if Parker can’t play.

    If Parker does play and the Heat opt to double him every pick-and-roll and make force the ball out of his hands, I think San Antonio is better equipped this year at exploiting the Heat defense than they were last year, especially if Boris is in the lineup.  If Boris or Timmy are the ones receiving Tony’s passes, then the Spurs should be in good hands with their decision-making.

    However, these four on three opportunities won’t be available if Parker isn’t a threat offensively.  For the Spurs to beat the Heat four times, they need their MVP to play up to his arguable title as the best point guard in the NBA.