Last year the San Antonio Spurs were one defensive rebound away from beating the Miami Heat in six games and capturing their 5th NBA Championship. They didn’t get that rebound and eventually fell to the Heat in seven games.
This isn’t last year.
With surgical precision the Spurs have dismantled the Heat every way imaginable. And, while the stars on each team get the headlines, we are seeing the emergence of a soft-spoken assassin who is taking this finals by the throat. After stumbling, and fouling his way through the first two games, Kawhi Leonard has emerged as the best player in the finals. His virtuoso performances in Games 3 & 4 have stymied the Heat at every turn and are turning these Finals into his personal playground.
Spurs point-guard Tony Parker is still driving the car, Tim Duncan is still reliably chugging along, and Manu Ginobli is still giving making his presence felt, but the stars of this series for the Spurs are Leonard and journeyman Boris Diaw. Diaw has been the consummate facilitator in a power forwards body. His versatility in defending Chris “Birdman” Anderson and then closing out on Dwayne Wade gives the Spurs a weapon the Heat just don’t have. Diaw’s decision-making has been impeccable. He is making the right pass, at the right time, perfectly delivered. Parker said last night that he knew what Diaw could do after playing with him on the French National team for several years.
We will save the post-mortem on the Miami Heat until they are finally put out of their misery. But, it doesn’t look pretty. Miami’s attack right now consists of a whole lot of LeBron James and nothing else. James is doing all he can to try to carry the Heat over the threshold, it’s just not enough. The Heat’s age and mileage is rearing its ugly head on the biggest of basketball stages and it’s clear to everyone, they are old.
Dwayne Wade looks way past his prime now. Sure, on occasion he can bust out with an elite performance, but superstars don’t flourish on occasion, they are consistently great, and Wade is no longer that guy.
Chris Bosh has always been a nice complement but he is nowhere near the player he was even last year. Bosh was always a supremely talented tweener. You don’t ever want to hear that name associated with your game, but in Bosh’s case it worked. He was able to beat you inside with his agility, and on the perimeter with his smooth left-handed jumper. Bosh has completely lost his identity with this team.
Mario Chalmers has been awful. Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra can’t afford to keep the guy on the floor. He isn’t making shots and is getting torched on the defensive end. You might as well go with Shane Battier who will at least give you a great defensive effort. Chalmers gives you nothing.
Ray Allen is one of the premier shooters in the game. But, right now it’s just not enough.
For the past year the Spurs have been salivating at the thought of a possible rematch with the Heat. Last year’s Finals loss was excruciatingly painful. A 5-point lead with 29 seconds left in Game 6 only to miss a couple of free throws and see Ray Allen hit a dagger three to send it to a Game 7 would have been too much for many teams to take. Not THIS team. Instead they have had one singular focus and that is get back what they feel is rightfully theirs, and that is the Larry O’Brien trophy.
The mission isn’t completed yet, but for the Spurs and their tremendous head coach Gregg Popovich, they are damn close.