Monday, June 17, 2013

NBA Finals: A Ball of Brilliant Confusion

This has been a strange series. Game 1 had us thinking we were in for a series of close games a la 2011. What happened over the last four games is nothing short of confusing.

Two blowouts thanks to a silly 33-5 Miami Heat run in Game 2 and Gary Neal/Danny Green going bonkers in Game 3. Game 4 saw Dwyane Wade rise from his shooting slump followed by Manu Ginobili doing the same in Game 5.

Even weirder? All four of those games I mentioned seemed to shift in the third quarter. Games 2 and 5 had runs that started in the third and spilled over in the fourth.

So either we have teams that are remarkably balanced except for a 10-minute stretch or both teams figuring the right time when to use their advantages and pour it on. Got it? Good, cause I don't?

You could criticize LeBron James but how? He's averaging 21.6 points, 10.2 rebounds and nearly seven assists this series despite shooting 45% from the field against a great Spurs defense. His impact is not for lack of effort - the Spurs aren't letting him do what he wants and when he gets to the rim, everybody collapses.

Besides Wade has only played well the last two games and has far more demerits in my mind. I still feel like James is picking his spots and overthinking what to do yet I see the Spurs masterfully limiting his ability to score in the paint. How else would you explain him having only 10 free throw attempts in the first four games?

Maybe we should be praising Kawhi Leonard averaging a double-double and having more of an impact than Chris Bosh? Leonard's done two things well - be the consistent inside/outside presence the Heat are lacking and step up as a role player contributing with confidence.

Kawhi Leonard's hustle, three-point shooting, tough defense and inside presence has been a key factor why the Spurs are up. As for Chris Bosh? He's putting up numbers but his impact besides Game 2 and 4 has been hard to see.
Speaking of which, where's Miami bench been the last few games? Besides Ray Allen and Mike Miller's Game 3 cameo, nobody has been noticeable. Norris Cole's been used as a turnstile for Tony Parker and Ginobili to get easy buckets. Chris Andersen? Udonis Haslem? Shane Battier?

That's where I'd start if I was Erik Spolestra. Miami's head coach needs to find a way to re-instill confidence and trust in his bench. Without them, it won't matter what his Big 3 does. Balance is how they ran through the regular season and survived the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Heat need to be counteractive instead of reactive. In fighting, you have the upper hand when you control tempo. If your opponent reacts to your moves, you're in more control of what happens. It's only when they counteract and create an opposite strategy that you're on your guard.

Meanwhile, Tim Duncan has been Mr. Consistent as usual. Bank shots here, blocks there, last line of defense always. He's taken a back seat to Parker and Green on the surface but his presence has kept his starting backcourt steady.
And what would I say to Gregg Popovich? What adjustments would I give a team that has played an excellent game plan most of this series? Keep doing what you're doing. Nothing else. You never know who'll show up with them and that's the mastery of what Pop's strategy is.

Who else would think to start Manu in a pivotal 5th game? Who would know to spark the confidence in his struggling sixth man and reward him with a chance to start things on a better foot? Those are the buttons that Pop has pushed and it's paid off because he's not afraid to adjust and he trusts his players. The best coaches do that.

That's probably why I couldn't break down what both teams can do in Game 6. Miami has to do a lot more and San Antonio just has to stay the course. Yet for the Spurs playing so well, they haven't won back to back games. Neither have the Heat.

Does that mean Spolestra must be doing something right? Is this whole post going to be rendered moot if this series holds to form and Miami wins Game 6? Who knows.

The only constant I can see is Danny Green and that might be the weirdest twist of all. A guy most famous for pregame dancing and posterizing one of my least favorite Duke players is now on track to be the most unlikeliest Finals MVP ever.

Call him the Green Ranger because just like in Power Rangers, you were initially focused on the five main characters they introduced Tommy. Once he became the Green Ranger, he stole the show and added an extra cool to it.

That sums up how strange this series has been. In a series where Tony Parker has had his way, LeBron James has been Mr. Do-Everything in spite of swarming defense and Wade/Ginobili have made their mark, it's Green who's perhaps the most impressive player.

Miami's season is on the line in Game 6. San Antonio's dynasty is one step closer to adding another bookend. Who knows what'll happen and maybe it's better to enjoy this ball of confusion because either way, it's ending this week.

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