The presence of Memphis, San Antonio and Indiana — three mid-market (at best) teams without a ton of over-arcing basketball history — as three of the conference finalists in this year’s postseason meant that we probably weren’t going to get a historically sexy matchup in this year’s NBA Finals. Still, of the potential Finals ABC execs were looking at, you’d have to think that Spurs-Heat was easily their first choice. It’s the pairing with the most combined stars, the most combined championships, and as far as I can tell, the most combined story lines. It’s not Lakers-Celtics or even Thunder-Heat, but given that it could’ve been a totally sexless Grizzlies-Pacers matchup (uhh, Mike Conley went to high school in Indiana? Both cities have a racing park? A fist fight might break out?), it’ll do.
So yeah, those story lines. Let’s review for Game 1 tomorrow.
1. Those classic regular-season no-show games.
Spurs-Heat Pt. 1 was already one of the most memorable games of the season before it even tipped off, with Gregg Popovich electrifying the hoops world with his controversial announced decision to not only rest four of his best players for the Spurs’ nationally televised game against the Heat in Miami (at the end of a long San Antonio road trip), but to send them home in advance of the rest of the team. Of course, the Spurs made things doubly interesting by actually making a game out of it, leading in the fourth quarter and being in it down to the final Gary Neal-suffocated minute. Then, the Heat returned fire in March by resting their own starters in San Antonio, though they left Chris Bosh in the lineup, who ended up having an awesome game and hit a last-minute three-pointer to win the game and shock the Spurs.
Aside from demonstrating to us how no two teams in the league are schemier — in either the sinister plotting sense or in the Xs and Os sense — than these two teams, the impact of these two regular season showdowns on the Finals are mostly two-fold:
1. We still have absolutely no idea what it looks like when these two teams play each other at full-strength, and, moreover, neither do any of the teams’ respective coaches and scouts.
2. We are going to have to endure a whole lot of “Pop resting starters” jokes on Twitter for four to seven games. Likely with diminishing returns.
2. LeBron James’ shot at vengeance against the Spurs.
The Heat have never played the Spurs in the playoffs, but of course, LeBron has. Before his ultimate anointment, King James and his Cavaliers got blitzed in four games by the Spurs in ’07, one of the least-exciting and least-watched Finals in NBA history. LeBron’s already gotten his vengeance against a number of the teams who have stood in his way over the years, namely the Pistons and the Celtics, but the Spurs — still the only (and very possibly the last) team to ever sweep LeBron in the playoffs — are no doubt still on his To Do list. “This is gonna be your league in a little while,” Tim Duncan memorably told LeBron after the ’07 crushing. “But I appreciate you giving us this year.”
Does six years count as a little while? Is LeBron still in a giving mood? Also worth noting: Timmy and the Spurs have never lost in the Finals, going 4-0 in their quartet of visits. Despite having won far more recently, LeBron is still just 1-2 for his career in the NBA’s boss stage. But in the immediate future, I don’t think it’s LeBron that Tim is really competing against for rings, if anyone…