Forget that the San Antonio Spurs' Big Three have won three titles and are playing for their fourth (and Tim Duncan's fifth). Forget that the Miami Heat are making their third straight NBA Finals appearance and remain the reigning NBA champions.
Forget about everything that has already happened. None of it matters. Both the Heat and Spurs' Big Threes have reputations that mean next to nothing leading into this epic clash.
Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker have embodied understated success for over a decade, a prolific threesome as humble as the NBA season is long.
Now, those slates are wiped clean. Nobody should care about who the Spurs used to be or what they have done. No one should place stock in who the Heat are supposed to be.
All that matters is now.
Four victories away from a 2013 NBA championship, which trio is playing better basketball now? What do we know about these Big Threes now?
There's a time and place to relive the past. Now isn't that time or place.
Miami's road to the NBA Finals was paved in gold, which was a problem. The blue-collar, gold-swagger Indiana Pacers gave the Heat's Big Three all they could handle and then some.
Save for Games 3 and 7, the Big Three didn't play like the Big Three. Bosh and Wade struggled. LeBron didn't. For most of the Eastern Conference Finals he stood alone like he did with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Bosh and Wade couldn't find their rhythm on offense. The latter regained some of his old swagger in Game 7, but not enough to throw his Game 6 performance—10 points on 3-of-11 shooting—by the wayside.
Their individual per-game numbers during that series were simply alarming, as shown below.
James averaged more points against the Pacers (29.0) than Bosh and Wade did combined (26.4). That's obviously not what Miami envisioned when embarking on its attempt to repeat as champs.
Unfortunately for the Heat, it's become a common theme during these NBA playoffs. Neither Bosh nor Wade have sustained any level of consistency since the postseason began.
See for yourself:
James is expected to outplay Bosh and Wade. He's the best player on the team, let alone the planet. Asserting his statistical dominance as the Heat's alpha dog is to be expected. Routinely watching him outplay two supposed superstars is not.
Together, Bosh and Wade are averaging 26.4 points and 6.1 assists per game. James is putting up 26.2 points and 6.4 assists on his own.
Last postseason, James' sidekicks totaled 36.8 points between them a night. Compared to what they've managed to average during this year's playoff run (26.4), that's a disaster. That could have cost the Heat the opportunity to face the San Antonio Spurs. Heck, it almost did.
But the Heat fight on because of James. Offer no delusions of the contrary. Without him, the Heat players would be watching the NBA Finals from their couches.
It's more than just the statistics too. Wade's knee has reduced him to an occasional rim attacker who hesitates when he gets into the paint, clanging point-blank opportunities the "Flash" of old would have finished. Bosh isn't catching passes as cleanly, navigating the floor as well or crashing the glass as hard.
Out of necessity, it's been James' show, not the Big Three's.
Game 7 against Indiana was encouraging for Wade, but not Bosh. And though they pummeled the Pacers by 23 to advance, Indiana is not San Antonio.
The Pacers don't have a heralded Big Three. No matter how well they played–and they were incredible for most of the series—Roy Hibbert, Paul George and George Hill aren't Duncan, Ginobili and Parker.
San Antonio Spurs
Whatever Gregg Popovich is feeding his Big Three, I want some 15 to 20 years from now.
San Antonio has been outstanding—there's no other way to put it. The Spurs have lost just two games since the playoffs began and are fresh off making the Memphis Grizzlies look like postseason fodder.
That series saw the Spurs' trio yield far more collective results than the Heat's Big Three.
Numbers aside, Ginobili was clearly an offensive liability. He was rushing his shots, especially from beyond the arc. His agility was no longer an asset. Still, he managed to put together a series-long display that was at least as good as Bosh's.
Ginobili's struggles mean less when his two partners are playing like the superstars they are. Parker has played as well as any point guard in recent memory. His execution has been inspiring.
"I'll get you back to the NBA Finals," the point man told Duncan following the Spurs' 2012 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder (via Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports). "We aren't done. You aren't done."
What Parker and the Spurs are playing for goes beyond what the Heat are playing for. They're attempting to extend the life of their dynasty, not create one.
If this is the Heat's last hurrah, it will be by choice. Next summer is only as uncertain as those three allow it to be.
The Spurs? A 37-year-old Duncan and 35-going-on-36-year-old Ginobili may be approaching the end. In turn, the Spurs are playing like there's no tomorrow, together. And it shows in their all-encompassing playoff performances.
The Spurs' Big Three has balance, something the Heat have struggled to find thus far.
Duncan is navigating the floor like Bosh wish he could. Parker is attacking the paint the way Wade can't. Together, these three are simply outplaying the Heat's Big Three right now.
James has been forced to shoulder the bulk of the two-way burden in Miami. San Antonio won't allow that. When Ginobili isn't knocking down shots, he's making plays for his teammates.
What more could you want from a trio that has been together for 11 years? That many believed to be washed up? That was supposed to be done?
Which Big Three is Better Right Now?
In the interest of full disclosure, I've picked the Heat to dethrone the Spurs in six, in spite of San Antonio's current core advantage.
James is going to come through for Miami—that's no longer a question. Wade and Bosh are a different story.
We can't trust them. Injuries have impacted Wade's performance and, for the first time, we can't guarantee he's going to overcome them and be the Wade of the regular season or even his most recent Game 7.
"I'll find a way. I'll figure it out," Wade explained (via Michael Wallace of ESPN.com). "Some way, some how, if you give me enough time, I'll figure it out.”
The Heat have given him enough time, as has James. He hasn't delivered, nor has Bosh. The way they're playing, the Heat have to hope the finals come down to circumstances that extend beyond the Big Three matchup (more on that momentarily).
San Antonio's allegedly old, fragile and inferior trio has the edge over Miami's right now.
The Spurs' ensemble isn't always perfect—Ginobili has made sure of it. They're always on the same page, though, working toward common goals in pre-established capacities.
Miami doesn't have that type of structure heading into the finals. South Beach has to trust that James will take over every game. The outcome of Game 7 wouldn't have been left in doubt leading up to it if Bosh and Wade were playing like they did in 2012.
When pitted against one another, Bosh is no match for Duncan. The four-time champion is playing consistently at a level that Bosh has yet to prove he can duplicate during the Heat's playoff run.
Parker will find himself being defended by James in key moments more often than some might expect. That's how great he's playing.
Forced to choose, I'd place more trust in Ginobili than I would Wade at this point too. I'm not kidding.
Will the Spurs win their fourth championship of the Big Three era? I've predicted otherwise, but I won't rule it out.
Should they fall to the Heat, it's because James will have been better. It's because he will have lifted the his entire team to a higher level.
Losing to the Heat won't mean the Spurs' Big Three is inferior. Right now, they're better, but that doesn't guarantee them another title.
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