Tony Parker and LeBron James are arguably the two most valuable players in this series.
The 2013 NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs have gotten off to a thrilling start. The Spurs shocked the world in Game 1, the Heat exacted revenge in Game 2, and fans across the league are ready for a series that could end up going the distance.
If we’ve learned anything thus far, it’s that there’s no way to truly predict what will happen. That said, there are a number of factors that will determine the rest of the series.
Figuring out which issues are important isn’t rocket science. In fact, a lot of them are common sense. But what’s important to note is that the game of basketball doesn’t change once you reach the finals.
It’s still about effort, it’s still about X’s and O’s, and it’s still about which team can execute with the Larry O’Brien Trophy officially on the line.
It sounds obvious, but turnovers have already proven to be a difference-maker in the finals.
Turnovers were the difference between Game 1 and Game 2. The San Antonio Spurs gave the ball away just four times in Game 1, but they committed 16 to Miami's six in the second go-around.
Tony Parker threw the ball away five times in Game 2, which was a big reason for the Spurs losing in blowout fashion. If the point guard can duplicate his showing from Game 1—zero turnovers—it’s going to make a world of difference as this series progresses.
Turnovers are going to happen, as this is a battle between two fantastic defenses. That said, each team must remain disciplined, controlling the ball the rest of the way.
One of the biggest storylines entering the finals has been the battle of the Big Threes. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh began their run together in 2010, while Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili have been together for what seems like forever.
These two core units are as dominant as they come, but that doesn’t change the fact that both teams need help from role players on a regular basis.
Gregg Popovich has become known for his ability to find and create solid bench units. Erik Spoelstra has yet to truly earn that praise, although the Heat have slowly added depth every year since the formation of the Big Three.
It’s been said over and over again that the NBA is a star-driven league, and there’s little evidence to dispute that notion. But when X-factors such as Mario Chalmers and Kawhi Leonard play well, it makes life a whole lot easier for the ones in the spotlight.
Speaking of players stepping up, LeBron James needs his buddies to show what they can do now more than ever.
Let’s get one thing straight: Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are not role players. They’re stars playing behind James, and they’re more than capable of torching any team in the league on any given night.
They don’t deserve to be cast as role players in this series; therefore, they’re not going to be.
These two just haven't been on the same page in the NBA Finals thus far. In Game 1, Wade had 17 points on 7-of-15 shooting, but Bosh had just 13 points on 37.5 percent from the floor with five rebounds. The latter rounded out his stat sheet in Game 2, shooting 60 percent with 10 rebounds (four offensive), but Wade reminded us of his inconsistent Eastern Conference Finals play, scoring just 10 points on 5-of-13 shooting.
While their names have helped them retain their superstar statuses, their play has been inconsistent and disappointing. If they don’t return to familiar form, we’re looking at a "LeBron vs. the world" type of situation.
If they do, however, and they’re able to show why they’ve earned their stardom, we have a whole different series waiting to take place.
One of the biggest differences between Game 1 and Game 2 in this series was fourth-quarter production.
In Game 1, the San Antonio Spurs closed out the contest in strong fashion, outscoring the Miami Heat 23-16. In Game 2, Miami flipped the switch, outscoring the road team by nine.
Scoring the basketball is crucial down the stretch, but offensive execution isn’t the only area on which these teams need to focus.
Game 1 saw LeBron James and Dwyane Wade both on the bench to begin the fourth quarter. The offense was lacking, but the defensive intensity of the Spurs is what made it difficult for Miami to produce when the stars returned.
Producing on both sides of the floor in crunch time is a vital part of a winning recipe, and that notion only intensifies in the NBA Finals.
Part of playing well down the stretch has to do with fatigue. The Miami Heat admitted that they were tired in Game 1, and that probably had a lot to do with coming off of a seven-game series against the Indiana Pacers.
The San Antonio Spurs were coming off a four-game sweep, and fresher legs help regardless of how old your core is at this stage in the season.
Fatigue down the stretch isn’t going to disappear as this series continues. Managing players’ time throughout the game is going to be a crucial strategy on both sides, and both coaches have to consider minutes an important factor.
The cliche states that there’s time to rest over the summer. Lay it all on the line; rest your body during the offseason.
However, laying it all on the line too early can take away from productivity late. Both teams need to find a balance, and whichever one can do it the best will have the edge at the end of close games.
There’s little denying that LeBron James is the best player in this series—or on the planet, for that matter. He’s the most productive player in the entire NBA, and he’s won three of the last four MVP awards for a reason.
All that said, the biggest variable in the finals will be how dominant Tony Parker can be on a night-in, night-out basis.
When he shoots well and doesn’t turn over the ball, he knows how to slice and dice a team that is otherwise an impressive defensive unit. His overall efficiency varied between the first two meetings, and that proved to be a deciding factor.
LeBron James is the best, most talented player on the floor, but we know that he’s going to get his numbers each night. Parker is a bit of a wild card against the trapping Miami Heat.
Simply put, the San Antonio Spurs point guard is arguably the most important player in this series, and how well he plays could push the final result one way or the other.