Tuesday, June 25, 2013

2012-2013 NBA Finals Recap Part 1 of 3 (sport)

I feel that this year's NBA Finals was so good that it'd be a shame to just move on to the draft or the next sport without discussing it some more. It really had something for everyone, from casual bandwagon fans (the Heat and especially Lebron James) to the hardcore basketball fans (the Spurs and their amazing, but aging, team play). It was a back and forth affair with close games, routs, huge swings of momentum, iconic moments, and did not lack for drama. For the basketball purist, there was excellent team defense (mostly from the Heat) and excellent team offense (the Spurs' pick and roll game), along with excellent individual efforts from superstars and role players alike. Even though I'm not going to go into detail, I'm still going to split my recap into 3 parts. Part 1 will focus on game 7, while part 2 will go through the series as a whole, and part 3 will discuss the legacies of many of the players involved.

I thought this game 7 was one of the most remarkable final games of any sports tournament I'd ever seen, not just in basketball. To me, the thing that stands out about the final game of a long series is the finality of it. No matter what craziness there had been throughout the series, it all ends that night. What stood out to me about the game was how close it was throughout, and the building tension that time would inevitably run out for one of the teams. For most of the 4th quarter, Miami led by anywhere from 1 to 7 points, but never seemed to be able to pull away. I wrote that the Spurs would have to channel their inner Rocky, and they did just that. They took everything Miami could throw at them but were still within striking distance.

The beautiful San Antonio offense was already gone. Age and fatigue had caught up to the Spurs. Parker was so gassed (and possibly hurt) that Miami played off him on the pick and rolls, and he didn't have the legs to put up the midrange jump shot. The very jump shot that turned him from an all-star to a superstar was gone. Yet San Antonio kept finding ways to answer, whether it was Duncan down low or a vintage Ginobili drive or a Kawhi Leonard three. It was just grit and determination at that point, and as the Heat kept trying to pull away, San Antonio just would not go down. I found myself yelling "No pain! No pain!" at the television.

But there was no magical movie ending for the Spurs. They kept the game close, but couldn't get over the hump to tie or take the lead. Their last best chance came with the ball in the hands of Tim Duncan, but it was not to be.

And so the finality and inevitability of time running out came over the Spurs. Even Duncan knew it. Him slapping the floor in frustration was about as much emotion as he'd ever demonstrated on the court in his career.

In a series marked by back and forth adjustments from two of the best coaches in the NBA, it was, in my view, the team that made the last adjustments that won. I had written in my Finals preview that "Miami pulling out the first game actually delayed the realization that they had to constantly adjust to what Indiana was doing." Similarly, the Spurs almost winning game 6 put them in a situation where Miami was the one to react in game 7, while San Antonio was trying to do the same thing and hoping the result would be different.

Shane Battier became a key player and San Antonio didn't realize it early enough to close out on him better. Both Lebron and Wade were dribbling to shoot, but the Spurs defenders were still playing off them. Whereas in previous games Lebron's jump shots were out of rhythm because his motion was often awkward and indecisive, it seemed to me that during this game he dribbled solely with the intent of getting himself into rhythm for a jump shot, knowing they'd give him the shot. I felt at the time that the Spurs' defenders were right to continue to let him shoot, but that they had to worry a little less about the drive and do a better job of disrupting his rhythm.

I also felt that Boris Diaw should have been in during the final half of the 4th quarter. I understand that Popovich was looking for offense since his team had been trailing, but I think the problem really came on the defensive end. I don't think Miami was ever shut out for three straight possessions during that entire final stretch. So while San Antonio did an admirable job of answering everything Miami did, much of it was still trading baskets while down and with time running out. Since they were going to play off Lebron anyway, my guess is the 6'10 Diaw would have been better at affecting the shot from far away.

Between the coaching and the tired and hurt players, the game was indeed rather sloppy. Especially when you consider the level of play that we had already seen from both sides throughout the series. But that allowed the humanity of the players and their determination and will to shine through. It's why we don't watch a bunch of robots playing sports, and it was a fitting final game to an epic NBA Finals series.

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