By Kyle Means, Regal Radio
Enough stories can come out of an NBA Finals Game 7 to make the internet go round for days afterward, but you only need the closing minutes of any good closing game to see those truly substantial things that manage to wrap up a basketball season with the kind of artificial high that can keep a fan satisfied deep into the summer.
The conclusion of Miami’s series victory over San Antonio Thursday night provided such a Game 7, a definitive signifier of just what the NBA is right now and why the NBA is as good as its been in 20 years.
First off, there is a champion in Miami who truly owns the sport right now. The regular season and the Heat’s near-record winning streak, among other things, showed just how much the NBA revolves around this south Florida franchise now. As much as it may hurt for fans in places like New York, Los Angeles, Oklahoma City, Indiana and Chicago, their franchises just can’t compete right now — not competitively on the court and not in relevancy off it.
And that’s not a bad thing, actually. In the face of such a complete standard-bearer as the Miami Heat, the rest of the league has no choice but to be inspired and thus inspiring storylines are born — many are teases (the Knicks), others are heartbreakingly tragic (injuries in Chi, OKC) and others are just in need of more mulling over (Indy), others still are full of delicious dysfunction (LA, LA) — all which helped make up for as thoroughly enjoyable an NBA season as we’ve had in recent times.
In San Antonio, we got a more conventional storyline and a team that it turned out was the only appropriate squad to take the last swing at the Heat this year. The Spurs still carry so much of what has made them the most consistently successful franchise since Jordan left the Bulls and yet they added so much more flair since their mid-aughts run when the masses just weren’t feeling them and didn’t want to watch them on the brightest stages.
Back then, the Spurs and their fundamentals knocked out more glamorous and stylized teams like the Lakers and the Suns in order to slug out the Pistons, Nets and whatnot in the Finals.
This year, the Spurs were a FUNdamental team and optimally built to challenge a team that had won the East three years in a row, San Antonio moved up the floor well and mostly unflappably due to the vast experience of their leaders, they had shooters and guys who crashed the boards and they had a great young player in Kawhi Leonard who was able to actually match up with LeBron James at times and who consistently posed problems for Miami defenders. Can you imagine how overmatched Memphis would have been in this series, if Tayshawn Prince was charged with guarding Bron? And what outside shooting would the Grizzlies had to counter Miami’s transition attack? No Danny Greens over there.
So we as fans managed to get the best matchup possible and one that we could somehow see again next year, although that was certainly what we thought last year and look at how that turned out…
Sure, San Antonio had to take its first Finals “L” in this one and in doing so it had to help create a Game 6 collapse that rivaled the best/worst from the Red Sox and Cubs, but could they have acquitted themselves better in this series, not only competively but entertainment-wise? Not at all.
And as for the reigning champs, not much left to say there, except that they now have a hard-earned summer free of speculation and over-wroughtness over whether or not the Big 3 experiment will last much longer or if it can go down as a success. There will still be some people firing off “trade Bosh” columns and un-sourced reports of LeBron in Cleveland in 2014, but there’s nothing at all the Miami Heat have to do or want to do besides rest if it wants to three-peat next season.
It was abundantly clear in the final minutes of Games 6 and 7 just how much in control James is — and thus Miami is — when its Winning Time, even when everything looks against them.
For God’s sake, this team was down two possessions with 40 seconds left in Game 6, it was over. It would have been over for 95 percent of the NBA teams that ever won a title if they were put in that situation. Yet, two days later, the Heat were forcing turnover after turnover from the Spurs in the fourth quarter, Duncan was missing point-blank shots guarded by Shane Battier that he once made with regularity over Shaq and in response Bron would just pull up jumpers and send this season to its ultimate conclusion.
The sequence in which that exact thing happened, Duncan’s two misses within the final minute and Bron’s jumper to extend Miami’s lead to four (92-88), the first score in about a 1:30 (and the last the game needed) was the direct manifestation of Duncan’s run-in with James after the ’07 Finals and his sweep of the Young King.
It’s been all LeBron’s all along. Last year he just realized it, this year he did everything with that in mind — he passed when he wanted to pass, he pulled up and shot when he wanted to pull up and shoot, he posted up when he wanted to post up and when he wanted to win, he won. Can we see that changing any time soon?
On Shane Battier… has any respected player come from so low at the beginning of a Finals series to be such a part of a winning effort by its end? Six 3s in Game 7 after not being trusted to release any shots at the beginning of the Finals. Battier played only a combined 11 minutes and shot six combined field goals in the first two games in Miami.
On competitive fires… we couldn’t have gotten a better series from two teams who really respected, and in many ways, liked each other. Check how coach Popovich was embracing the Miami team after the game. In many ways I think the buddy-buddy nature of present day sports robs us of some of the truly inspiring competitive moments professional sports gave us back in the day when elite athletes mostly didn’t know each other until they met in the pros. True professionalism reigns over all though, and these two teams exhibit that trait better than all others in the NBA, that’s why we got what we got.
On Kawhi and Green … a lot of talk about Green being an series MVP candidate leading up to Game 6 but Leonard was the most valuable player for the Spurs then and throughout the final two games, where Green completely disappeared (2-19 combined in Games 6 and 7, 2-11 from 3…yikes).
Leonard finished with 19 points and 16 rebounds in Game 7. Only 21 and only about to enter his third year, can’t wait to see the confidence Leonard plays with going forward.
On ready-made salutes…LeBron’s latest Samsung commercial, a title salute ready for right after Game 7 concluded, comes up real short compared to Nike’s ad ready for Game 6 last year. Samsung just seemed more like opportunists than Nike, who as a brand hides that kind of thing so much better.
Nike did have the advantage of last year being LeBron’s first title, so them just detailing his steps to that moment naturally had more resonance. Plus it used Marvin Gaye in the ad, can’t go wrong there.
(addendum: and of course, Nike couldn’t help themselves again this year)
On championship hats with straps.. fashionably in tune with the young, urban audience the NBA often keeps at arms length. Can’t help but think of when was the last time title hats had straps or snaps?
These are the kind of thoughts a basketball junkie is relegated to at the end of a season…where’s the latest mock draft reports?… Alex Len? No. 1? Really? Nevermind.
Follow Regal Radio on Twitter @regalradio1 and Kyle Means @Wrk_Wrt