During the NBA Finals, Philip Rossman-Reich of Orlando Magic Daily will be contributing to Project Spurs during the San Antonio Spurs' chase for title number five. Here is Phil's first post on which team, Heat or Pacers, San Antonio wants to draw in the Finals.
The easy instinct is to favor the Pacers as an “easier” matchup. The Miami juggernaut featuring a much more developed LeBron James than the one who was thoroughly dominated in the 2007 Finals – and if James is anything like the greats who came before him, he will not have forgotten that embarrassment.
As Indiana is proving in this series against the Heat, be careful what you wish for and what seems easy may not actually be easy.
No matter who the Spurs face in the Finals, it will be a difficult challenge and by no means should the Spurs think they can waltz to the title. Both teams in the East Finals are very good teams.
But both have their weaknesses. And both of those weaknesses play in San Antonio’s strengths.
For Miami, it is a bit harder to see, but Indiana has exposed it somewhat. The Heat lack a true stretch-4 which is so necessary for the team to keep open driving lanes. Miami, without a low post threat relies on pick and rolls and driving, needs to space the floor and make 3-pointers. That was what was key when Shane Battier and Udonis Haslem made jumpers in the Game Three blowout. By and large, they are not doing that.
Indiana has cracked much of Miami’s defense by being able to feed the ball into the paint to Roy Hibbert and David West in the post and then attacking the offensive glass. It has pulled Miami’s defense into the paint where Indiana’s skilled passers can get it back to the perimeter.
San Antonio is a team capable of doing this at a much higher and more efficient level because San Antonio has better shooters in the form of Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard particularly and in the form of point guard Tony Parker, a clear upgrade over George Hill or Paul George in attacking Miami’s defense.
It seems that San Antonio can upgrade every way Indiana attacks Miami.
Not so fast. They are different teams.
The Spurs do not feed the ball into the post as consistently as the Pacers do and Tim Duncan is not quite able to carry a team in the same way David West or Roy Hibbert can and Tiago Splitter does not quite have the same skill as the secondary post option.
The Heat also have LeBron James which can be an ultimate trump guard.
The safe pick for the Spurs is to hope the Pacers edge the Heat out and make the Finals. Indiana very much resembles the Memphis team San Antonio just beat. The Pacers, like the Grizzlies, are a “star-less” team who rely heavily on balanced scoring and defense to win games. They are a big team with two strong post players.
The key difference is that Paul George is a budding star who fits in well with his teammates. Rudy Gay he is not, but he is the kind of player who can take over games in the way the Grizzlies were missing. Considering two of the four games went to overtime, maybe that does not bode so well for the Spurs if they draw the Pacers.
It is clear that in either case, San Antonio will have some advantages that will help the team win the championship. But the Spurs will also have challenges. At this stage of the Playoffs, it truly is pick your poison.