BY CHAYIM TAUBER
The casual fan could watch the 2013 NBA Finals and appreciate a difference in styles.
In the Eastern corner, wearing the red trunks and the red tops, you have the Miami Heat. South Beach. Glitz, glamour, fame, flash, panache. They have the young coach, they have the world’s greatest player, and they have athleticism to spare. They are a team with at minimum, three Hall of Famers and they are the team that absolutely dominated all comers during the regular season.
In the West corner, you have the same guys who’ve been there since the late 90s. Greg Poppovich’s squad has been the NBA’s version of the Atlanta Braves – being in the postseason and in contention every year since Tim Duncan’s arrival in ‘97-‘98. They are methodical, they are well-coached, and they rely on fundamentals rather than athleticism. A Tiago Splitter screen is just as important a part of their offense as a Tony Parker foray into the lane.
This series is old school vs. new school in so many ways.
It’s also a battle about legacies.
Tim Duncan’s legacy as the greatest Power Forward (he refuses to consider himself a Center) the NBA has ever seen is cemented. His four championship rings (the last of which came against LeBron James’ Cavaliers), two MVPs, three Finals MVPs, Rookie of the Year, 14x All Star, and the only player to be elected to the All-NBA and All-Defensive Team for each of his first 13 seasons. Duncan, “The Big Fundamental,” is known for his understated game. There’s a quiet excellence that allows him to fly under the radar. His signature shot is a bank shot, he doesn’t have a signature moment; even his philanthropic work is low-key. His pursuit of his fifth ring is merely a bookend to one of the most quietly great careers the NBA’s ever seen.
And on the other hand, you have LeBron.
LeBron’s legacy is one of the most hotly debated topics in sports today. He’s beloved for his raw athleticism and skill, the likes of which have never before been seen. He’s reviled for “The Decision” – the most Un-Duncan-like move a person could possibly conceive. He carried a talentless Cleveland team to the NBA finals but he choked away a chance at a ring with a more talented Heat team (two years ago). The numbers say he could be better than Michael. Michael’s fans say kiss his rings.
This is a matchup centered entirely around the Spurs defense. How well can the uber-versatile Kawhi Leonard defend James? A series after up-and coming defensive star Paul George did his best to contain LeBron (after bottling up Carmelo Anthony pretty well), Leonard will be asked to put the clamps on the world’s greatest player.
The other question defensively is the Spurs interior. Tim Duncan is an all-time great post defender – that’s non-debatable. He is the all-time leader in postseason blocks and has proven what a force he is on the defensive end of the paint. Tiago Splitter is listed at 6’11 and is extremely athletic. He and Duncan form one of the NBA’s fiercest defensive frontcourts…but they’re no Indiana. The Pacers dominated the glass and Roy Hibbert’s presence at the rim is something that the Spurs simply can’t duplicate. They can guard Chris Bosh better than Indiana did. They can keep Dwyane Wade off of the offensive boards better than Indiana did. But better defense? I doubt it.
I expect LeBron and company to win this series in 6. I expect LeBron to avenge his 2007 finals loss to Duncan, Parker, Ginobli and the Spurs. I expect the Heat bench: Ray Allen, Shane Battier, Chris Andersen…to have a significant impact on this series. I expect the Heat to be just a little too hot for one of the great dynasties (and marvels) of the Free Agency era.
Then again, based off of this past season and even more so, this postseason- mostly, I expect to be surprised.