The San Antonio Spurs will face off against the Miami Heat tonight in Game 1 of the NBA Finals. This will be the first time the Spurs make the Finals without homecourt advantage against the best team in the East, the Miami Heat.
The Spurs will have their work cut out for them in the final series to determine the NBA champion and there will be three factors that will determine if the Spurs can overcome the Heat this series.
1) Tony Parker playing like an MVP
Parker has been the best player with the silver and black this season and has carried the offense on his shoulders when he's been on the floor. His improved passing and aggressiveness is what has made the Spurs dangerous this postseason and has countered the opposing team's top offensive player. This series Parker might meet a new defender worthy of shutting him down: LeBron James. Parker will have to earn his points this series, especially if #6 is going to be guarding him.
The Spurs will have to give Parker plenty of clean looks, including a good number of picks on his defenders to keep him and the rest of the defense on their toes. Parker would certainly be a tougher player to guard than anyone that the Heat met in the Eastern Conference Finals because of the team play the Spurs bring. Unlike the Indiana Pacers, the Spurs play with a healthy dose of pick and rolls or pops and motion on offense, a mentality that forces the defense to rotate and not stay set.
This strategy would force Parker's defender, if Lebron James, to move around and have his teammates to help him on the defensive end. This move would not only give the Spurs open looks but also give them favorable switches (i.e. Chris Both or Udonis Haslem on the faster Parker).
This is something the Indiana Pacers didn't have compared to the San Antonio Spurs.
In Game 7 of a series, Frank Vogul opted to rest Paul George and Roy Hibbert at the same time for a lengthy period of time. That move not only hurt Indiana on the defensive end, but also took away any offensive punch. Without those two players, Indiana had no threat on the floor that the defense could focus on. The Spurs don't have that problem.
The Spurs showed their depth during the Western Conference Finals when Gregg Popovich benched his entire starting five (Tony Parker, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Tim Duncan, and Tiago Splitter) for his bench early on to send a message that poor execution wouldn't be tolerated. The Spurs' bench came up huge against the Memphis Grizzlies' top rotation and brought the Spurs back in the game to sweep the series. The Heat really only have their Big 3 of LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh as the core group that will get them in games and give them leads. The Spurs have Manu Ginobili (a member of their Big 3), Boris Diaw, Matt Bonner, Gary Neal, and Cory Joseph as spark plugs to create some runs and stops on both ends of the floor.
The bench is not only full of energy guys, but also bring a different dimension than the starters and that causes problems for a team's strategy.
3) Let LeBron James win the series......by himself
As John Karalis mentioned in an article for Project Spurs, the best defensive strategy San Antonio can have is let Kawhi Leonard guard LeBron James by himself. While that may cause some to scratch their heads, it plays to the Spurs' advantage to have the reigning Most Valuable Player try to win a series by himself. With Leonard guarding James one on one, that will eliminate any threat from the beyond the arc from Miami. San Antonio can match two point shots against the Heat and exceed that with their depth behind the 3-point line. This would add more to James' plate, especially with Dwayne Wade (knee) and Chris Bosh (ankle) hurting this posteason.
James has averaged 41.2mpg this postseason and it has shown to take its toll on him during the Eastern Conference Finals. That was against a team with not much depth and with Paul George having to guard him while also being the first or second offensive option with Indiana. That won't be the case with Kawhi Leonard, who'll be guarding James the entire time (barring foul trouble) and being the third to fifth option on offense as a spot up shooter. If James has his hand in guarding Parker on the defensive end, we might see a repeat of 2007 since LeBron is likely to wear down if he has to play 40+mpg and be the primary option on both sides of the floor.
With the Spurs depth, LeBron would not only have to guard and match Parker's contributions but also match every other players' points for a whole series. He may be the best basketball player in the world, but he's still human. That would be especially true if the Spurs force him to play 1 against 10 regarding points, something that wouldn't be entirely impossible with Gregg Popovich's coaching mind.
The Heat are coming in with momentum while the Spurs are going into the Finals rested, but they'll still need their share of factors to defeat Miami n a 7 game series. If the Spurs can use 2 out of the 3 factors, it will be hard to imagine San Antonio not hoisting up it's fifth NBA championship.