With one of the best NBA Finals in recent memory now finished, it only makes sense to look at what we can learn from these two excellent teams.
Talent Trumps: I know that Blazers fans may not want to hear it, but sheer talent really, really matters in this league. People like to talk about the Spurs being a team built on being, well, a team, but I really can’t buy that. Tim Duncan was the first team All-NBA big this year, and Tony Parker was the second team All-NBA point guard. That is some serious superstar firepower, and technically even more than the Heat, who, yes, boasted LeBron as a first team representative, but Wade only made the third team. This is why I am against trading LaMarcus Aldridge right now – talent is incredibly scarce in the league. This emphasizes the importance of the Blazers’ front office nailing their drafts, since free agency is normally not as reliable of a method to bring in big names to the Blazers.
Threes Are Crucial: Mike “Mike” Miller. Ray Allen. Mario Chalmers (don’t laugh, it’s true). Shane Battier. Danny Green. Kawhi Leonard. Gary Neal. Manu Ginobili. Matt Bonner. The list of three-point specialists (or at least competent three point shooters) seems endless between these two teams. This is not a coincidence. Getting FIFTY PERCENT more points from a single shot as compared to another shot is an enormous difference, and in a sport where the talent level is so high, these small advantages add up. During the regular season, the Spurs had 10 players who shot over 35% on three-pointers. The Heat had eight such players. Removing Meyers Leonard and his three makes, the Blazers had four such shooters. I believe you can never have enough shooters, and that is why a while ago, I advocated that the Blazers chase Kyle Korver in free agency in my hypothetical plan to fix the Blazers.
No Defense, No Ring: I know I constantly rehash this topic, but watching these two teams really drove home the point. They were both excellent defensive teams, but they accomplished this in different ways. The Heat had elite athleticism that allowed them to swarm and chase everything, while the Spurs had some of the best discipline on defense I have ever seen. Their starting lineup used to close the series, which consisted of Duncan, Parker, Leonard, Green, and Ginobili, may literally be the starting lineup with the slowest foot speed ever to grace the Finals. Yet on sheer discipline, they took a “LeBron James in his prime”-led super team to the brink of elimination, and probably would have won, except for a timely Jesus Shuttlesworth three. I don’t see the Blazers having the athleticism to match the Heat’s defensive style in the near future, so the Spurs consistent discipline is what should be strived for.
Coaching Matters: I read a comment that said something to the effect that this may be the most cerebral Finals, if not playoff series, in a long time, perhaps even ever. I can’t disagree. Coaches Gregg Popovich and Eric Spoelstra played a chess game right before our eyes all series long, and neither team would have had even a fighting chance without their respective leaders. Gutsy calls, brilliant decisions, new strategies – you name it, and this Finals series had it. I have said before that during this past season, Terry Stotts did not impress me, but it is also far too early to pass judgment on him either way. With that being said, his past lack of success in the league troubles me. The Blazers hired him for a reason, though, so I look forward to what he can accomplish next year.
Lady Luck: I think most people inherently realize it, but for how little it is talked about, luck may as well be the elephant in the room. No team will ever win a championship in any sport without luck. If Parker is 100% healthy this whole series? The Spurs win. This is countered by the fact that if Dwyane Wade was 100% healthy, the Heat would have won with a bit more ease. What if Boris Diaw and Tiago Splitter didn’t miss extended stretches at the beginning of the Spurs’ playoff run? Maybe Tim Duncan could have rested a bit more and been just a tad bit fresher for the Finals. If Westbrook wasn’t hurt, could the Spurs have beaten the Thunder? Could the Heat have? If Kobe didn’t shred his Achilles, could he have willed the Lakers into, if not beating, at least posing a threat to the Spurs? Let’s back up more – what if LeBron tears up his knee on that NASTY fall he took against the Knicks? The Heat would have been done. We will never know how these scenarios could have played out. All we will know is that Lady Luck matters, and let us all hope she is kind to the Blazers in the future.