Now that the San Antonio Spurs are getting ready to square off against the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals, one of the questions that’s been asked is if the Spurs are ready to face the team that broke their hearts in Game 7 of the Finals last season. San Antonio seems determined with Tim Duncan saying his team will get the win this time around, but are they really prepared to face Miami in a best of seven series?
This entire playoffs the Spurs have seen opponents that have prepared them for the next round and the Finals aren’t different. We’ll see how each team starting with the first round gave a foreshadowing of what the team would’ve seen next.
Dallas Mavericks: In the opening round, the Spurs saw their Southwest rivals in the Mavericks. A series that wasn’t thought to go more than 6 games, San Antonio saw their season possibly finishing before it started until they closed out the series in Game 7. The Spurs definitely weren’t prepared for the matchups that they encountered. Rick Carlisle’s two point guard lineup gave San Antonio fits as Tony Parker needed to use up energy on both sides of the floor against Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon. Vince Carter also gave flashbacks of what he used to be with clutch superstar like shots and a game winner that extended the series. In the end, it was Tiago Splitter’s MVP like performance against his counterpart, Dirk Nowitzki, that gave the Spurs the win to advance.
Portland Trailblazers: When the Mavericks were sent home, the Spurs saw an opponent that’s given them headaches in the regular season for the past few years. It seems that what ever defensive strategy the Spurs would throw at the Blazers, they basket would get bigger in their favor. This round was different, however. The Spurs were prepared to face them with what Dallas had presented. LaMarcus Aldridge had jaws dropping with his lights out shooting and scoring more than 40 points in two games in the opening around. While that was an impressive feat, the Spurs were prepared. Splitter was already comfortable guarding a shooting power forward in Dirk Nowitzki which made the coverage easier for him. Shawn Marion and his off the ball offense was a scheme that made Kawhi Leonard’s defense on Nicolas Batum easier and Damian Lillard’s play was foreshadowed by Monta Ellis’ play in the first round. The Spurs eliminated the Blazers in 5 games and looked dominant in every game but one.
Oklahoma City Thunder: The Thunder were the nightmare matchup every Spurs fan didn’t want to see. In 2012, the Spurs were up 2-0 and looked to be on their way to another NBA Finals until the Thunder came back to win four games in a row. This season was different with the Spurs taking out the Thunder in 6 games and dusting off any rumors it would be a repeat of the disappointing season two years ago. While it may not have been realized, the Blazers prepared the Spurs for what they would see in the Western Conference Finals. The Spurs defeated Portland’s “Big 3″ (Aldridge, Batum, Lillard) and encountered their first Big 3 of the playoffs in regular season MVP Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka. While Ibaka was rumored to be out for the remainder of the playoffs, he returned and became a force for Games 3 and 4 until the Spurs made the necessary adjustments to neutralize him. Although skill wise each player is different, they made San Antonio adjust on defense with their offensive abilities. Durant is a far superior player than Batum, but Leonard’s defense on both in which he forced them to shoot over him and contested the release of the ball was the same. He was also aggressive against both on the defensive end against their slimmer build. Aldridge foreshadowed Ibaka on offense with his mid-range jumper that has gave the Spurs difficulty. Splitter was forced off the floor against Ibaka due to his shot blocking abilities, but San Antonio played his jumper the best way they could by contesting it after a quick recover attempt. Lillard also made a switch on defense by Leonard and Danny Green more plausible on Westbrook since Pop put those two players on him during the second round and helped the defense know how they were going to help defend the superstar point guards. The Spurs ended the series in 6 games, although it could be argued that Coach Pop waited a second game before making the necessary adjustment to see if Ibaka’s injury would react in the second game. The Spurs may have been able to end this series a game sooner.
Miami Heat: The Spurs are now seeing another Big 3 with a dynamic guard, a superstar small forward, and a jump shooting power forward. Miami may be the defending champions and may present a similarity between the Thunder, but the Heat are by far a better matchup in San Antonio’s favor. The Thunder were an all around young and athletic team with the exception of Derek Fisher while the Heat are the complete opposite. Miami is an older team that has gotten slower depending mainly on LeBron James, who’s leading the team in points, assists, rebounds, and steals.
The Spurs have improved with the additions of Patrick Mills and Marco Belinelli, which have helped the team become a feared squad with an offensive minded bench that’s big minutes away from the starters with their scoring. Although the Heat tend to go “small” like the Thunder did in the playoffs by the positions on the floor, Miami’s “small” lineups are typically to open up the lane for their superstars and not for quickness or speed. The Spurs can counter that with their versatile lineups as they did with the Thunder and may also opt to play a traditional lineup that will keep up with the Heat’s shooting five that would be on the floor.
The Spurs have been seeing familiar foes this postseason, but they’ve all seemed to prepare them for the next upcoming opponent. Now that they’re in the NBA Finals, it seems the Thunder and Heat switched positions. While the Heat are defending NBA champions the Thunder were definitely the harder matchup for the silver and black and they will have prepared San Antonio for a lesser opponent.