It’s not going to be the same.
We can hope that it’s as good, as dramatic and compelling, but it’s not going to be the same.
The Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs are getting together for an NBA Finals rematch of one of the best Finals series we had seen in a long time. This is the first Finals rematch since 1998 (Bulls and Jazz) but this one is going to feel a little different.
Here are five reasons why.
1) The 2-2-1-1-1 format. Last season the NBA was still using the 2-3-2 format for the Finals, a throwback to when the NBA players used to have to fly commercial between games. Back then there were good logistic (not so much basketball) reasons to go to 2-3-2, but nobody liked those three games in the middle in one city. Both teams complained about it and said it was an advantage for the other side. Now the Spurs have home court and get Games 5 and 7 on their home court. Think of it this way: If the NBA made this switch one year earlier the legendary Game 6 — with Ray Allen’s step back three — would have taken place in San Antonio. Does it end differently if it does?
2) Dwyane Wade’s knees are healthier. Wade averaged 19.6 points a game on 47.6 percent shooting in the Finals last season, but he was dragging some bad knees around. He had spurts of great play but he was not his vintage self. In these playoffs, Wade is averaging 18.7 points per game on 51.9 percent — you can thank the season-long knee maintenance program for that. Eric Spoelstra rested Wade, to the frustration of LeBron James at times, but he got what he wanted — Wade has been strong through these playoffs. That is going to put more defensive pressure on the Spurs.
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3) Miami’s defense hasn’t been as consistently sharp. In the 2013 playoffs the Miami Heat allowed 102.9 points per 100 possessions and held teams to 43.6 percent shooting, with the Heat forcing turnovers on 15.6 percent of opponent possessions. They won with defense. In 2014 opposing teams are scoring 107.7 points per 100 possessions and shooting 46.2 percent, with Miami forcing turnovers on 14.1 percent of possessions. They haven’t been as good, in part because they haven’t had to be (the competition in the East didn’t push them as hard as San Antonio was pushed). In their last three games against Indiana Miami started to show some of that defensive energy. But how are they going to react now that they face a team that will actually pass out of a double team?
4) Manu Ginobili looks much better. Manu Ginobili was up and down last playoffs, and that showed in the Finals — he dropped 25 in Game 5 and sparked the Spurs in to go up 3-2, then he had a career-high eight turnovers and was a mess in the Spurs devastating Game 6 loss. Ginobili was a negative in the Finals last year. San Antonio seems to be on a mission for revenge but no Spur is more focused than Ginobili, who had a fantastic series against the Thunder and through the playoffs is averaging 14.3 points per game with a PER of 21.1 (he had a just above average 16.5 last year). If this Ginobili shows up for the Finals it will put a lot more pressure on the Heat, particularly its up-and-down bench.
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5) Tony Parker has a sprained ankle. This has to be San Antonio’s biggest concern — they can get through a half against the Thunder without Parker and be just fine, but if he isn’t playing the Tony Parker who should be in the conversation for best point guard in the game this series San Antonio’s dreams of revenge will be sprained as well. Parker sprained his ankle in Game 4 against OKC, played through it then aggravated it in Game 5, and by the second half of Game 6 it was Gregg Popovich who pulled the plug on him. He gets five days off, five days of treatment, the Spurs need that to be enough starting Thursday night at home. Otherwise this series could remind the Spurs of last year’s.