It's like the basketball gods have answered the prayers of NBA fans everywhere.
Last year's NBA Finals between the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat was one of the best in recent memory and arguably the moment that LeBron James ascended to a different stratosphere.
Back in 2007, his Cleveland Cavaliers were swept by the Spurs in the Finals. After the Cavs' loss in Game 4, Tim Duncan approached James in the tunnel and told him that the NBA would be his league soon enough and thanked James for giving San Antonio this year.
Fast forward six years, when James and the Heat knocked off Duncan and the Spurs. It was the moment that LeBron's career came full circle.
Now, though, San Antonio has home-court advantage and a chance at revenge.
|2014 NBA Finals Schedule|
|Game||Date||Time (ET)||Away||Home||TV Info|
|1||June 5||9 p.m.||Heat||Spurs||ABC|
|2||June 8||8 p.m.||Heat||Spurs||ABC|
|3||June 10||9 p.m.||Spurs||Heat||ABC|
|4||June 12||9 p.m.||Spurs||Heat||ABC|
|5*||June 15||8 p.m.||Heat||Spurs||ABC|
|6*||June 17||9 p.m.||Spurs||Heat||ABC|
|7*||June 20||9 p.m.||Heat||Spurs||ABC|
As much attention as James and Duncan will demand over the coming weeks, the Finals will likely be decided by each team's supporting cast. On more than one occasion, the Heat and Spurs have needed role players to compensate for their stars' struggles.
For Miami, the triumvirate of Norris Cole, Chris Andersen and Rashard Lewis has provided strong minutes off the bench.
Lewis has occupied the Mike Miller role of spacing the floor and hitting key three-pointers. The veteran forward had scored a total of 21 points before Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Between Games 5 and 6, he scored a combined 31 points, hitting 9-of-16 three-pointers.
Oddly enough, Lewis's plus/minus rating was the highest of any Heat player, per ESPN.com's Tom Haberstroh:
While Lewis' impact has been felt primarily on the offensive end, Cole and Andersen's best stuff came on the defensive end.
Cole proved a great equalizer for Lance Stephenson:
After Stephenson's 25-point explosion in Game 2, he scored a combined 42 points over the next four games. Cole doesn't deserve sole credit for Stephenson's lack of scoring late in the series, but he certainly played a big role in that regard.
Then there was "Birdman," whose ability to crash the boards and negate Indiana's inside presence proved invaluable.
Ira Winderman of the Sun-Sentinel credited Andersen's return as the final blow for an already-taxed Pacers team:
Chris Andersen was nothing short of electric in Game 6. While he had five days off to heal his bruised thigh, it also gave him additional time to rest, and he clearly looked like the freshest player on the court for either team. His energy basically blew up a tired Pacers power rotation forced to play big minutes all season by Frank Vogel. The scoring of LeBron James and Chris Bosh, and the energy of Andersen was all that was needed Friday.
This is the difference between the Heat and the Oklahoma City Thunder. While both teams rely heavily on three players, Miami can count on the bench players to deliver big shots and stops on the defensive end.
Of course, when it comes to balance, few are better than the Spurs.
Who could've imagined that Tony Parker would miss the second half of Game 6 against the Thunder, yet San Antonio would still win?
Everybody else pulled a little more weight. None more so than Boris Diaw, who led the team in scoring with 26 points. After something like that, you make sure all of you are surrounded by those you love because the end is nigh.
Kawhi Leonard was also on point defensively, making some great plays down the stretch, especially in overtime.
The Spurs' "Big Three" of Duncan, Parker and Manu Ginobili can't carry the team in the same way that the Heat's can. Ginobili was especially brutal in last year's playoffs and has had his fair share of poor performances this year, while Duncan's body can't handle heavy minutes.
It's imperative for San Antonio that Leonard, Diaw, Danny Green, Tiago Splitter, Matt Bonner and Marco Belinelli all rise to the occasion.
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