With an Eastern Conference opponent yet to be determined, it’s impossible to break down individual matchups and schematic advantages. But what we know is that both the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat have the talent to compete with the class of the Western Conference in a seven-game series.
For the Spurs to add another title to their impressive trophy case, they’ll need to play elite basketball on the sport’s biggest stage.
The Spurs are no strangers to doing just that.
With a sweep of the Kobe Bryant-less Los Angeles Lakers in the first round and a 4-2 series win over the upstart Golden State Warriors in the conference semifinals, San Antonio proved it wasn’t yet ready to relinquish its throne as the NBA’s preeminent franchise. It would have to get past the Memphis Grizzlies first, however.
Memphis entered the conference finals a legitimate challenger to upend the No. 2 Spurs in a seven-game series. With upset wins over both the Los Angeles Clippers and Oklahoma City Thunder, the Grizzlies had plenty of momentum on their side and an NBA Finals appearance in their sights.
It took San Antonio just four short games to end that discussion.
Despite some terrific performances from Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, Memphis was unable to slow Tony Parker and the Spurs, never able to sustain enough momentum to take down the West’s most experienced squad. When all was said and done, San Antonio was on its way to a long rest and an NBA Finals matchup that should prove to be a tremendous series, regardless of the opponent.
Let’s take a look at what has made San Antonio so dominant in the playoffs and break down the team’s keys to victory in the NBA Finals.
It seems almost absurd to put the words “focus” and “Spurs” in the same sentence when talking about keys to victory, but there are far too many examples of teams suffering from a long layoff that leaves them rusty and unready for another seven-game series.
A veteran group led by Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili shouldn’t be in any danger of succumbing to those same pitfalls.
Still, stranger things have happened.
For San Antonio, focus will be critical to taking down either Miami or Indiana in the NBA Finals. With a 10-day layoff between their Game 4 victory and Game 1 of the finals, the Spurs will have plenty of time to rest and recover. But they’ll also have time to become complacent and unprepared.
Gregg Popovich is one of the best motivators in the game, and if he does his job—and Duncan, Parker and Ginobili do their part—getting fired up for Game 1 shouldn’t be much of a challenge. Theoretically, of course.
Balance, Balance and More Balance
The Heat and Pacers each present interesting matchups for the Spurs, but the same holds true against both opponents: balance wins ballgames.
The Spurs have gotten several huge performances from Parker this postseason, but relying on the league’s most underrated player against the Heat would be foolish considering their ineptitude in the paint.
Conversely, Indiana has struggled to contain Miami along the perimeter in its conference finals series, but it has routinely bullied Miami in the paint. Both teams play a very different style of basketball.
So why balance it out? Beat up on Miami under the hoop and attack Indiana from the perimeter. Easy.
In the NBA, predictability can be deadly, especially against coaches that have had to adapt their game plans all offseason to adjust to very different playing styles. If the Spurs can’t establish offensive balance in the finals, either potential opponent is going to find a way to adapt.
The Spurs have been dominant this postseason, but they’ve also been somewhat predictable at the offensive end. If San Antonio is going to bring home another title this year, it will have to keep its opponents on their toes with a healthy dose of physicality in the paint and Parker on the perimeter.
Defense Wins Championships
It’s an old cliché, but when discussing an actual championship series, free passes can be handed out.
Defense does in fact win championships, especially when four wins are all that stand in the way of hoisting a championship trophy.
Which player is most critical to San Antonio's success in the NBA Finals?
The Spurs are terrific at taking away their opponents’ greatest strengths, whether in the paint, along the perimeter or in shutting down a team’s best scorer. If the Spurs face Miami, the final option may not be all that practical, but they certainly have the defensive acumen to limit the damage.
Through three playoff series, San Antonio has held opponents to just 91.5 points per contest and 42 percent shooting from the field. Given both Miami’s and Indiana’s inconsistency from the floor at times in their series, San Antonio won’t have to do much out of the ordinary to limit the damage in the finals.
But that seems to be the formula for the savvy Spurs. If they continue doing what they’ve done throughout the playoffs, the Eastern Conference representative could be in for a rough NBA Finals matchup.