It's one thing to watch the NBA Finals from the seat of your couch as a die-hard fan or a casual observer. It's another entirely to see star-studded teams like the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs duke it out for the Larry O'Brien Trophy if you've lived and breathed that level of competition.
And if you have five rings to show for it.
For an insider's take on this exciting, unpredictable, back-and-forth series, we turned to TNT NBA analyst Steve Kerr, who participated in five Finals with the Chicago Bulls and the Spurs during his playing days. Kerr played a pivotal role in some of the most memorable moments in the history of the NBA's championship round.
His postseason stature is remarkable, considering he started just three times in 128 playoff games, averaging a mere 4.3 points on 3.5 field goal attempts in 15.6 minutes therein.
Check out what Kerr had to say about LeBron James, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, what's at stake for these two teams historically and what the future holds for each.
Kerr: I think it’s a significant factor for LeBron. This is the third straight great defensive team he’s played. Bulls, one of the best. Indiana I think was No. 1 in defense this year, statistically. Spurs, incredibly smart and connected.
Look at the matchups. Jimmy Butler, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard. I mean, these are some of the best defensive threes in the league, with size and shot-blocking and great coaching behind them. You just throw all that together, and it’s a lot tougher to deal with for anybody, whether it’s LeBron or anyone else.
Kerr: I think the implications are enormous. Regardless, we’ll look at them as a success. I will. You win a championship, it’s incredibly hard to do, and if it ends up one in three years, then, gee, that’s a success.
But they were the ones who set the bar. They were the ones that said, “Not five, not six, not seven.” They had the championship celebration before they even played a game, so it’s open season on them if they were to lose and go one-in-three. People would say that’s a failure, even though I don’t agree that’s a failure, but I have no problem with anybody saying that because Miami chose to bring that on themselves.
Kerr: It’s kind of rare. I can’t remember anybody basically inviting two superstar players to take any jump shot they want. I don’t remember that ever being the case. So this is pretty unique, what they’re doing.
To me, it sort of perfectly captures Gregg Popovich. It’s incredibly simple and brilliant at the same time. It’s like, “Hey, you know what? These guys are really good at just driving and slamming it, getting into the paint, so let’s just give them jump shots. And it’s like, “Wow, why didn’t anybody else think of that?”
Kerr: As a duo, the number that jumps out to me is that if they were to win, they’d have won titles 14 years apart. That’s unprecedented and just absolutely stunning in modern sports, where players get traded and coaches get fired on a yearly basis.
For two guys to be together 14 years apart and win titles, it’s just incredible.
Kerr: Well, if his hamstring is bad, I don’t think they can win the series. I mean, their whole offense is triggered by Tony. The whole point of any offense is to trigger defensive rotations and then get the ball moving, and Tony is the trigger that gets the whole chain of events started.
So, we’ll just have to see if he’s healthy enough to create offense for himself and for his teammates. If not, then I think the Spurs are in some trouble.
What do you make of Jalen Rose’s recent comments about Tony Parker being the third-best player in the NBA?
Kerr: I voted him first-team All-NBA, so I’m right there with Jalen. I haven’t really ranked them one through five, but I think Tony is absolutely in the discussion. I have no problem with that.
Kerr: I think that remains to be seen. It’s a totally different role.
I love Kawhi. I watched him a lot. I live in San Diego, so I watched him a lot in college. I met him a few times when he was there, and he’s a great kid. I just love his poise and his composure. His defense has been incredible against LeBron. His shooting has improved dramatically.
He’s a star in his own right. Is he a superstar? I don’t know. We’ll see. But he will be their guy in a few years, no doubt.
To what extent have you seen the Spurs and the Heat implement some of the principles from that spread pick-and-roll system that D’Antoni made so famous in Phoenix and that you oversaw for a bit as GM of the Suns?
Kerr: I think Mike revolutionized the game, and if you look at Miami in the regular season, playing Shane Battier at the 4, that was the kind of spacing Phoenix had. It was different. They had the devastating roll guy with Amar’e [Stoudemire], but the biggest change in the league in that time since D’Antoni introduced it is basically just downsizing. Instead of playing a traditional 4 and a 5, you just move your 4 to the 5, move your 3 to the 4, and it changes the equation on the floor, and that’s what a lot of teams have gone to.
What’s interesting is, if you look at the four teams left after the playoffs unfolded, Indiana, Memphis and San Antonio were all more traditional, starting two bigs, the Spurs with Tiago Splitter and Duncan. Memphis and Indiana really tried to beat you up inside.
The Spurs are the one team that’s been able to blend the past with the future, and what I mean by that is, they can play small or big and they manage to do both through their rotations and with their style and their system. That’s why I think they’re the best team in the league. I think they would’ve handled Indiana and I think they’ve had the better of Miami. They can play any style and do it really well.
Kerr: I don’t think we should be talking long-term with the Spurs given that Duncan is in the last, probably, couple years of his career.
At this level, you’d better have supreme talent. You’d better have big-time talent or you’re not winning a championship. When Duncan and Manu Ginobili move on, it’s going to be a whole different discussion when we’re talking about the Spurs.
Kerr: I think they’ll look to infuse the team with new blood next year. I don’t know if that means they’re going to move Bosh or Wade, but I think that it’s important to keep your team on its toes and add new energy and new lift, year after year. The last team in the NBA to go to the Finals four straight years was Boston in the mid-80s, so Miami will be attempting to do something next year that nobody’s done for 30 years.
I think Pat Riley has watched these playoffs and probably understands that Indiana and Chicago are both big and strong interior teams, and that they’re coming after the Heat next year. My guess is, Pat’s going to make some changes.
Kerr: I have no problem. Are you kidding me? What an experience, even for Juwan Howard and Tracy McGrady, guys who were All-Stars and great players.
It’s still a basketball game. It’s still being part of a team. You just want to win. I admire both guys for doing what they’ve done. Their passion for the game, I love to see that.
Kerr: My most satisfying make was in the ’97 Finals, Game 6, hitting the last shot. That’s as good as it gets.
My most disappointing miss? I had 11 extremely disappointing misses in the 1988 Final Four that I never got over. 2-for-13, so all those misses are the worst.
Kerr: Well, I thought the Spurs would win before. I wasn’t definitive in my thinking this was absolutely going to happen, but I thought they had a slight edge just because of the factors that we talked about, the floor spacing and they play a style that bothers Miami. They play a similar style to Dallas a couple of years ago: penetrate, kick, ball movement, lots of three-point shooting.
So I thought the Spurs would win and it’d be incredibly close and I still feel that way.