Here. We. Go.
After more than a month of uncertainty, mangled brackets and fierce competition, only the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs remain.
Although the NBA Finals is never short on storylines, this particular matchup is awash with hype.
San Antonio is looking to win its fifth title since Tim Duncan entered the league (fourth of the Big Three era) and extend the existence of its dynasty.
Miami is still on the outskirts, looking in at such status. One title wasn't enough—they want more; they want a chance to create their own dynasty. And their road to attainment now leads through the Spurs.
Can the Heat put an end to the Spurs' string of perfection in the finals (4-0 since 1999), or will it be Miami that gets hit with a reality check?
Successful postseason exploits can be traced back to matchups. What transpires in these NBA Finals will be no exception.
*All stats used in this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference, NBA.com and 82games.com unless otherwise attributed.
Tony Parker has this one.
Mario Chalmers rarely receives the recognition he deserves for his role on the Heat. Most point guards need to dominate the ball to be effective, but in playing alongside LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, Chalmers isn't afforded that kind of ball-wielding power.
Instead, he's expected to play off the ball, almost exclusively. And he's shown he can do so successfully.
Miami's off-ball point man hit on more than 40 percent of his deep balls during the regular season and even managed to dish out 3.5 assists per game despite deferring to James and Wade. A bulky build also allowed him to defend wings much larger than himself.
Chalmers has struggled to find his three-point touch during the playoffs, though. He's connecting on just 30.6 percent of his deep balls and hasn't been moving off the rock with as much precision.
To be fair, Chalmers never had an opportunity to take this matchup. Parker is one of the league's elite point guards and is playing on another level right now.
Since the playoffs began, he's averaging 23 points, 7.2 assists and 1.2 steals per game on 47.5 percent shooting, making him just the 10th player in NBA history to average at least 23 points, seven assists and one steal while shooting 47 percent or better from the field through a minimum of 10 playoff games.
Parker has the ability to carry his team to victory, whereas Chalmers is a complementary piece, not expected shoulder any specific burden.
Though he's not always recognized as one, Parker is a superstar. Chalmers, quite simply, isn't.
The temptation to go with Danny Green over Dwyane Wade is greater than it ever should be.
Wade hasn't delivered for the Heat consistently since the playoffs began. His knee is clearly bothering him, and point-blank shots that were once falling seem to trickle off the rim rather frequently.
New lows were reached against the Pacers. He averaged 15.4 points on 44.1 percent shooting for the series, but what we'll remember most is his performance in Game 6.
Wade shot 3-of-11 from the floor for 10 points in a potential series-clinching contest. Following that up with 21 points and nine rebounds in Game 7 was enough to repress some of the criticism, though not nearly enough to squelch it completely.
His defense hasn't suffered dramatically and he's handing out a cool 4.9 assists a night during the playoffs, but the Heat need more. And he might not be able to get it against Green.
Forget that Green doesn't come complete with nine All-Star selections and two championship rings; he's one of the most underrated guards in the league.
One of San Antonio's best-kept secrets is shooting lights out from beyond the arc, burying 43.1 percent of his treys for the postseason. Like Wade, he's also about his rebounding (4.1). Towering bigs won't prevent him from hitting the glass.
Green can't attack the rim or run the break like Wade can, but he's terrific at defending off the dribble and even off the ball. For someone like Wade, who feasts off dribble penetration and slashes, that poses a problem.
Is it a quandary that will leave Wade continuing to wallow in trammels of inconsistency? Possibly. Is it a problem that gives the Spurs the positional edge? Not quite.
Kawhi Leonard isn't going to make it easy on LeBron James.
Thus far, James has been defended by two of the best perimeter defenders the NBA has to offer in Jimmy Butler and Paul George. Now he's about to face another in Leonard.
What the reigning MVP has been able to do during the Heat's postseason run once again borders on the unprecedented.
For the third time in his career, he's averaging at least 26 points, seven rebounds and six assists on 50 percent or better shooting through a minimum of 10 playoff games. Only one other player in NBA history has done the same. His name is Michael Jordan.
His Airness hit such marks twice; James is en route to his third. So much for not being clutch enough.
James is the closest thing to perfection the NBA has. Not even Leonard can then expect to remove him from Miami's equation entirely; he can only hope to limit him.
Opposing forwards averaged a 14.3 PER per 48 minutes against Leonard during the regular season. He has the physical tools necessary to defend just about every feasible offensive scenario. On the block, behind the rainbow, off the dribble—it doesn't matter; Leonard can lock it down.
The second-year man can also score some too. He's averaging 13.0 points on 56.5 shooting (41.7 percent from deep) in the playoffs. Toss in his eight rebounds and 1.6 steals and he's just the fourth player ever to average at least 12 points, eight rebounds and 1.5 steals on 55 percent shooting through a minimum of 10 playoff games.
The other three? They're all Hall of Famers—Charles Barkley, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Hakeem Olajuwon.
Still, no one in San Antonio is about to believe Leonard has the edge. He's going up against James, so he doesn't. No one does.
It's not even fair to ask Udonis Haslem to go up against Tim Duncan.
Haslem has emerged as a key (albeit spotty) contributor for the Heat during the playoffs. He had two memorable performances against the Pacers in Games 3 (17 points and seven boards) and 5 (16 points), but this is Tim "I'm too cool to ever actually get old" Duncan he's going up against.
Duncan is averaging 17.8 points, 9.2 rebounds and 1.7 blocks on the postseason. No one else in NBA history over the age of 35 has ever averaged at least 17 points, nine rebounds and 1.5 blocks through 10 or more playoff games. Duncan has done it twice.
Age isn't even a number to Timmy. For him, it doesn't exist.
Watch him, and you'll see a spry 37-year-old doing things that stars 25 and under wish they could. He runs the floor extremely well, has one of softest touches around the rim and protects the rim like he doesn't know who Dwight Howard is. Few in league history use the glass as effectively as he does.
I could say more, but I won't. Just let the greatness that is Duncan marinate for a second. Then wish Haslem good luck, because he's going need it.
That, and probably a miracle or 10.
Chris Bosh is undoubtedly relieved that he's seen the last of Roy Hibbert for now. But this is no time to celebrate, as Tiago Splitter can do some damage of his own.
In limited action (23.3 minutes a night) Splitter has averaged 6.8 and 3.7 rebounds on 58.2 percent shooting. He's more skilled under the basket than most give him credit for, and he's a great shot-blocker off rotations.
Don't expect Splitter to have too much of an impact in this series. Gregg Popovich could decide to give him more burn knowing how effective Indiana was when going big against Miami, but his minutes shouldn't climb above 25 a game, if they even get there.
Why? Primarily because Splitter isn't as valuable a defensive asset against floor-spacing teams. Bosh can step out, shoot the three and even score (a tad) off the dribble. Splitter can't effectively guard that over the course of an entire series.
Somewhat surprisingly, that doesn't guarantee Bosh will have a better series either. He went for just 11 points and 4.3 rebounds on 37.7 percent shooting per game against the Pacers.
I'm also left wondering if he can keep sending away 1.6 shots a night. San Antonio is far more calculated on the offensive end than the Pacers. Their ball movement is superior and they can put points on the board in a hurry.
If Bosh continues to reside in offensive and rebounding obscurity, Splitter could actually emerge victorious from this matchup.
Right now, that's a possibility. One neither I, nor you, should choose to ignore.
So we won't.
Advantage: Bosh (reluctantly)
For Miami's sake, hopefully Ray Allen's three-point shooting from Game 7 follows him into the NBA Finals.
Allen hasn't been what you would call horrific from behind the rainbow (36.5 percent), but his shots have been rushed more than usual and he hasn't resembled the fluid 41.9 percent deep-ball shooter we watched earlier in the year.
And when Allen isn't hitting threes, he's not effective. He's far from a stout defender and hardly a playmaker. He can reach the rim more often than most would admit, but he's not given nearly enough opportunities to drive to be a self-sufficient threat.
Like Allen, Manu Ginobili's postseason campaign hasn't been all that successful. He's averaging 11.5 points on 38.3 percent shooting. But he's also grabbing 4.5 rebounds, dishing out 5.4 assists and forcing 1.4 steals.
Aside from scoring, Allen isn't able to impact the game the way Ginobili can. The latter can serve as a primary playmaker when Tony Parker is on the bench and is a better wing defender than we'll ever fully realize.
Even when his shot isn't falling (and it hasn't been) Ginobili can still help his team in other areas of the game. That's more than we can say for Allen.
Is this even a question?
Chris "Birdman" Andersen has provided a fantastic defensive and athletic lift off the bench for Miami. Some day, we'll also be paying homage to what Norris Cole can do. Mike Miller still scares me. And Shane Battier may or may not make an impact; he also may or may not play (see Game 7 against Indiana).
The Heat are deeper than advertised, that much we must concede. But they're not as deep as the Spurs.
San Antonio ranked second in the league in bench points scored per game during the regular season. It has an array of weapons that can exploit the Heat's second unit on both ends of the floor.
When Matt Bonner gets hot from downtown, there's no stopping him. Cory Joseph and Gary Neal scare me even more than Miller. Boris Diaw has found his work ethic since joining the Spurs.
And we're not even done.
DeJuan Blair, Patty Mills and Tracy McGrady won't always play—they're often found buried on the bench. And that says a lot about that bench. Like how incredible it is.
Neither Gregg Popovich nor Erik Spoelstra will go to their reserves as much in the finals. That's just how it is. Coach Pop will rely on his more, though.
Because he can.
Gregg Popovich is one of the greatest coaches the NBA has ever seen. According to Jeff Van Gundy, Erik Spoelstra is too.
Jeff Van Gundy predicted today that Erik Spoelstra will one day be inducted in the Basketball Hall of Fame.— Richard Deitsch (@richarddeitsch) June 4, 2013
Feel free to disagree, but Spoelstra is easily one of the best coaches in the league.
Guiding a team like the Heat is considered easy. Coach Spo has a LeBron James-led Big Three at his disposal. He doesn't have to do anything besides give them the ball and say "go."
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Balancing egos isn't a cakewalk. Popovich would even attest that. For Spo, it's even harder. His Big Three haven't been together for over a decade, and thus, he hasn't had ample opportunity to command their respect.
But he has.
Just like Popovich.
Coach Pop has four championship rings to his credit and has somehow managed to keep the Spurs relevant for almost two decades. His rotations are flawless, and he's a jerk when he needs to be and a compulsive father figure the rest of the time.
Spo simply isn't on that level, nor is he expected to be. Not yet anyway.