The NBA finals are here and we have some guest authors sharing their opinions on each time. One wrote about the Heat winning, while the other wrote about the Spurs winning. We all know how I feel about the Spurs (https://touchmyculture.com/2014/05/27/the-spurs-need-to-win-the-nba-championship-to-help-preserve-the-beauty-of-the-game/) Here’s some great insight from a couple of Bulgarian mushes. Enjoy the culture touch.
Eastern Conference Preview
By: Konst Dimov
The following two statements are not my opinion. They are the consensus opinion of anyone that knows anything about NBA basketball.
1.If you replay the last 20 seconds of game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals, the Spurs win 9 out of 10 times.
2.The current Spurs team is better than last year’s team; The current Miami team is worse than last year’s team.
Having said that, the Miami Heat will be the 2014 NBA Champions.
After seven games last year, I do not think many NBA fans are complaining that we are getting a rematch. These truly are the two best teams in the NBA; they bring out the best in each other; they each play an attractive, aggressive brand of basketball; there are polarizing personalities on each bench. These finals are an NBA fan’s dream. However, as much culture as this series may provide for you, the viewer, I am disappointed to inform you that the outcome will be predicated on a very basic, obvious basketball truth.
Lebron Evelyn James is the best basketball player in the world, and it’s not even close.
Since 1989, there have been only two teams who have won an NBA championship without the best player on the court. These two teams were the 2004 Detroit Pistons (who played the Shaq/Kobe Lakers) and the 1989 Detroit Pistons (who played Magic and his Lakers). The reason I am using 1989 as a benchmark is because who is to say who was the best player in those previous finals (Magic or Bird? flip a coin). You could also make the argument for the 2011 Dallas Mavericks fitting into this category, but I will leave them out. Dirk Nowitzki was the best player in that series. Lebron was always the superior talent, but he wasn’t a champion yet in 2011. Since that defeat, Lebron has evolved from a great talent with a questionable mentality to a ruthless, unstoppable, efficiency-driven machine. He has answered questions about his ability to shoot in the clutch. He has won two finals MVPs.
Both the ‘89 and ‘04 Pistons were able to abuse the rules in order to gain an advantage on the defensive end and therefore beat the superior talent they were facing. In today’s NBA, the Spurs are not able to exploit any such rule. Low-scoring, defensive rock fights are out. Offense is paramount (the game is about buckets). Since ‘04, the rules have changed so that officials are trained to call fouls against the defense in most 50-50 situations. More fouls equals more stoppages/free throws equals a higher scoring game equals higher TV ratings.
The point is this: casual fans like to watch high scoring games so the NBA changed the rules to make it easier to score. Lebron’s only weakness is that he is not a pure off the bounce shooter. Given the current state of the rules, however, it is impossible to limit him to mid-range, contested jumpers. Lebron knows if he just drives to the bucket and initiates contact, he will get himself to the line. The Spurs can
- Play off Lebron and let him shoot wide open long range shots, but completely clog any driving lane (this was the 2013 game plan)
- Close out on him. Play aggressive defense and live with him blowing by their defenders regularly and getting anyone near him in foul trouble, but limit his threes.
Neither one of these are winning strategies. Lebron isn’t a great outside shooter, but he is good enough. In game seven of the finals last year, he only scored 37 points with 5 three pointers, including a dagger uncontested long 2 to put his team up 4 in the final minute. The Spurs, Kawhi Leonard’s huge hands and all, cannot contain Lebron. This is no slight against the Spurs, Lebron is just the best player in the world.
At the end of the day, this simple truth is more important to the outcome of the series than anything else. You may say, ‘Basketball is a team sport!’ or ‘The Spurs system is more potent than any individual!’ But before you go down that road, understand this distinction: A system will put you in a position to win games over the course of a season; individuals will win you singular plays during the course of a game. Sports, by their very nature, are chaotic. Things can not go according to plan on every play. When this happens, you need individuals capable of stepping up and making a play for their team.
Do not misunderstand my praise for Lebron as an undermining of Miami as a team. Miami is a very good basketball team. They are strong defensively, they can score in the half-court, they can score in transition. They don’t turn the ball over. Yes, San Antonio is a better team (that’s why they are favored by Vegas), but it is very close. And when two teams are close in a game of basketball, more often than not, the outcome hinges on a few key possessions each game. Can this team get a bucket on this crucial possession? Can that team get a stop? Can this player manufacture a score in a situation most players would turn the ball over? Can that player get an offensive rebound they really have no business getting?
The answer is this: Lebron James can. What do the Spurs have to say to that?
Western Conference Preview
By: Tony Filipov
In the Post Jordan Era (PJE) the Western Conference has captured the Larry O’Brien Trophy 10 times out of a possible 15. Even more interesting is the fact that those 10 wins have come from 3 teams: The Los Angeles Lakers (5 titles), The San Antonio Spurs (4 titles) and The Dallas Mavericks (1 title). It’s safe to say that high-powered Western Conference teams have dominated the PJE. This year’s finals will see another dynamic Western team ascend to the top of the NBA.
It is fitting that the team that will win it all 15 years after Jordan’s 2nd retirement is the same as the fist to do so. The 1999 Spurs ripped through the lock-out shortened season and coasted to the NBA tittle. The first of the Popovich-Duncan titles ushered in an era of precision oriented, powerful yet humble, don’t back down basketball perfected by the Spurs.
Spurs gameplay is, to this analyst, a brand of basketball unseen elsewhere. The owner of the untrained eye utters the word “boring”. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Though the head Spur that pops into mind is Duncan, Parker is the real conductor of this potent offense. Greg Popovich has choreographed a game so beautiful around his point guard that it is surprising when the team doesn’t score. The perfectly timed screens, posts, and pick and rolls have proved to be so effective that the only logical (and highly improbable) conclusion is that each possible movement has been planned out in advance.
Defensively the Spurs are just as well prepared. The coaching staff has grasped the concept of preventing high percentage shots at all costs. This is not a back-handed compliment. Watch the Jazz defensively and notice that the paint is covered by one slow center and a helper who arrives too late, resulting in easy buckets. Conversely the Spurs block the paint with a minimum of 3 players, eliminate the easy buckets, and leave teams with low percentage shots.
One could go on and on about the amazing style of play but I will get to the reasons that the Spurs will oust the Heat, end the reign of King James, and send Chris Bosh into another disgusting display of poor emotional control.
Keys to the Spurs Championship: The Spurs are a better team the than the 2013 runner up that came within one rebound and 30 seconds of a championship. All players are at 100% or close to it (Tony Parker’s iffy ankle is reportedly OK) unlike last year’s squad that featured a banged up Kawhi and Manu.
The Heat lost a highly effective shooter in Mike Miller this past off-season. Not to mention that Shane Battier has seemingly forgotten how to shoot 3s from last year and Ray Allen has also lowered his shooting standard. To beat the Spurs the Heat need as many sharp shooters as an NBA roster can hold to counter the low amount of points in the paint allowed. The defensive scheme will push the Heat farther from the rim causing chaotic attempts from James, Bosh, and Wade.
This defensive scheme is particularly frightening for the Heat due to Lebron’s 2014 drop off in efficiency on shots further than 10 ft from the rim. Compared to last year Lebron is a much worse shooter from outside. This isn’t reflected in his total FG% due to the fact that he has dramatically increased his at the rim % (and the fact that the East was dreadfully bad with no real interior presence for any team). The Spurs will play their brand of offensive ball and severely benefit from James’ drop-off and the lack of shooters around him.
A big factor for the Spurs will be Boris Diaw. This Frog is shooting out of his mind during these playoffs. Seriously look at his stats. He is above 40% (the benchmark for long range shots) in all but one distance from the rim. He is picking all the right shots and making a crazy amount of them. Diaw, along with Tiago Splitter and Matt Bonner, will be instrumental in containing Chris Bosh. The Heat big man has been on a tear this postseason, but he has not run into any big men capable of a solid 48 minutes of defense. My Eastern conference counterpart Konstantin has even admitted that Diaw will be a huge problem for the Heat. Keep an eye out.
I want to add an aside to this preview and talk about what may be my favorite part of the playoffs and sport in general, the story lines. I was heartbroken when the 2012 Baltimore Ravens knocked off the football god Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. I quickly backed the 49ers to beat the Ravens. The Niners were a better team on paper. With what seemed like an endless pool of talent they were sure to win. Then the Ravens scripted the narrative and won the Bowl behind their retiring captain.
In these NBA finals all signs are pointing toward a Spurs led story. The first coach star due to play in finals 15 years apart. Duncan cementing himself as the best player in the first wave of players in the PJE. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili squatting in the first ballot hall of famer line. Beautiful basketball, meticulous preparation, and humble confidence prevailing over this:
Popovich jumping into the Mount Rushmore/Mount Olympus of coaching.
These story lines are so captivating that the country took notice.
Enjoy the finals friends, and Go Spurs. (Go Celtics)