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NBA Finals 2013: Key storylines to get you ready for Spurs vs. Heat -

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If the conference finals were age-old battles of sluggers versus finesse, the Heat and Spurs are more like two brilliant boxers with enough power to deliver convincing knockouts. There are remarkable similarities between the two teams and just enough differences to make for a compelling matchup, perhaps the best the league has to offer.

They were the two best shooting teams during the regular season, making liberal use of the three-pointer, especially from the corner. Neither team makes hitting the offensive glass a priority. Miami was a little better offensively, primarily because they get to the free-throw line at a much higher rate, while the Spurs were more stout on the defensive end thanks to a strong rebounding rate and an ability to keep teams off the line.

This not only feels like a long series, it feels like it will be an epic long series, complete with subtle adjustments from two of the league's savviest coaches. Beyond the X's and O's, there are legacies on the line, from LeBron James' quest for a second ring to Tim Duncan's push to get one for the thumb.


Great article! As is this Grantland piece on the 7 main issues:

"This feels like an NBA Finals two years in the making, and not only because the Thunder knocked the league off this course last season by pummeling the Spurs. The Heat are a much different team than they were in LeBron James's first season on the beach. Miami carved out a new identity, in part by applying basic San Antonio principles to its own starry personnel — careful spacing, whip-smart ball movement, smaller lineups, and buckets of 3-point shots."

My biggest question is how healthy Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh are.

From the Grantland article:

Who Guards LeBron? And How?Have fun, Kawhi. Leonard has played exactly one career game against LeBron, so we've no clue whether he's up for this. He has the tools, and he showed in that one game — in January of last season — that he can battle LeBron in the post and force him into some tricky shots. Green may also get a few chances since Leonard has to rest sometime, and the Spurs — absent a Tracy McGrady resurrection — have no true backup small forward.9

Leonard should be able to handle James without dramatic help, though the Spurs will send some swiping arms toward the post and occasionally overload the strong side against LeBron isolations:


But this is more about team versus team than Leonard versus LeBron. Simple high pick-and-rolls with James won't be good enough against the Spurs, just as they weren't against Indiana, even if Bosh can get all the pick-and-pop midrangers he likes. The Spurs on those plays will drop their big men back toward the paint, hoping to corral James before he gets to the basket:


LeBron has the tools to foil that strategy and get Duncan in foul trouble if he treats Duncan like Ian Mahinmi instead of Hibbert — that is, if he attacks the rim like a madman instead of worrying about getting his shot rejected. Duncan is a great defender and Splitter a good one, but they're not as big as Hibbert, and even Duncan doesn't protect the rim as well.10 LeBron should be in attack mode from the jump.

And the Heat can stymie that defense by rediscovering all the passing and cutting and misdirection and 3-point shooting that made their offense whir all season — a return to form that will be much easier if the Heat get back to small ball. They'll use some of the same sideline pick-and-rolls that hurt Indiana, and they can make Parker work by having Chalmers and Cole set picks for LeBron. Using LeBron as a screener is always a good idea, and in past meetings against the Spurs they have used the LeBron/Wade pick-and-roll — remember that? — to get some juicy switches.

What makes the Spurs so good?

They're the best passing team in the NBA.

Nearly 24% of San Antonio's made baskets were assisted this year, the highest percentage in the league. They've developed a system where every play has multiple options, and almost none of their possessions end in a player trying to go 1-on-1.

Even when the Spurs benched their Big 3 against Miami earlier this year, their back-ups still kept it close because they play the same exact system no matter who is on the court.

All that passing is designed to create high-percentage shots, regardless of who's taking them.

60% of San Antonio's shot attempts came either at the rim or behind the three-point line (the two most efficient areas in the game). They whip the ball all over the place until someone ends up with an open look, and over the ~95 possessions that comprise of an NBA game, that usually results in a win.

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