With the 2013 NBA Finals tipping off on Monday night, here is just about everything you need to know about the best-of-seven matchup between the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs:
Apology: Chris Bosh apologized to his teammates for his poor postseason play before Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. He then opened up the must-win matchup 1 for 8 from the field. Bosh's inability to contend with the physical Pacers could be a prelude to similar struggles against the Spurs.
“I changed my game in Games 1 through 6 and it hasn’t really worked,” Bosh said just hours before Game 7, via the Miami Herald. “I just need to do what I do, let it all hang out.”
Big Three(s): While the Miami Heat may have the league's Biggest Three, the San Antonio Spurs have the most accomplished. Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli have played together since the 2002-2003 season, winning three titles as a group. The Heatles are appearing in the NBA Finals for the third time in three years together, having split their first two appearances. Both threesomes arrive with one member in a slump: Bosh and Ginobli.
Cleveland: LeBron James referenced his days as the talismanic, leading man of the LeBronaliers after a dominant performance in Game 5 of the East Finals. Although Dwyane Wade flashed a bit of his old explosiveness in Game 7, James may be called upon to relive his Cleveland days again in the Finals. If so, the Spurs may feel a bit of nostalgia as well. Duncan, Parker and Ginobli led a sweep of James' Cavs in the 2007 NBA Finals. Should the Spurs dispatch James once again then the LeBron-Back-To-Cleveland-In-2014 talk will surely heat up yet again.
Dwyane Wade: On too many nights of the 2013 NBA postseason, the most noteworthy thing about Dwyane Wade was his outfit. The 31-year-old Heat star has been battling injuries at least as much as opposing backcourts. With a troublesome right knee hobbling him, Wade has rarely looked like the explosive player who earned the nickname "Flash." Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals marked the first time that Wade broke 20 points since April. In that 21-point performance, Wade showed the type of assertiveness and burst that the Heat will likely need to lift the Larry O'Brien Trophy, even breaking out the Eurostep en route to an emphatic dunk.
Erik Spoelstra: ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy reportedly believes that the Miami Heat coach is heading for the Hall of Fame. At just 42 years old, Spo is four wins from becoming just the 13th coach to win at least two titles, according to Sports Illustrated.
Gregg Popovich: After drawing the ire of NBA Commissioner David Stern for resting his stars during the Spurs' lone regular-season trip to South Beach, Pop will likely send them out to start Game 1. The longtime Spurs coach will definitely deliver acerbic in-game interviews and dole out dry one-liners (or perhaps one-word answers) in his post-game media availability. Here are some of his finer moments:
Homecourt: The NBA Finals begin at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, where the Heat are 7-2 during the postseason. After Games 1 and 2, the series will shift to AT&T Center where the Spurs are 6-1. With the Finals being played in a 2-3-2 format, an early home loss for the Heat would give San Antonio a chance to close out the series on its home floor.
Internet: With the second screen experience increasingly a part of watching sports, here are a few dozen Twitter accounts to follow during the NBA Finals. There will be news, stats and GIFs.
Joey Crawford: Although Monty McCutchen is leading the officiating crew for Game 1 of the Finals, Crawford's name could be invoked whether he is involved or not. Not only was the attention grabbing official on the court for LeBron James' recent disqualification but he's also shared a signature moment with Tim Duncan.
Kawhi Leonard:Standing 6' 7" and weighing 225 pounds, Leonard will likely attempt to defend LeBron James often during the NBA Finals. The second-year swingman's success or failure as the Spurs' "LeBron Stopper" may ultimately decide the series.
"It's just a great challenge for me to try to help my team win by playing good defense on him," Leonard said ahead of Game 1, via The Associated Press. "I just accept the challenge and am ready to play."
Legacy: There is more than the Larry O'Brien Trophy on the line during the 2013 NBA Finals. LeBron James and the Miami Heat are aiming to become back-to-back champions, cementing their status as a historically significant team. A second title for James would certainly further validate his decision to leave Cleveland for South Beach (albeit not the method of breaking the news). On the other bench, the San Antonio Spurs' Big Three can improve their standing among their peers with another championship. A win for Duncan would give him five rings, tying him with Kobe Bryant and putting him one ahead of Shaquille O'Neal. Duncan woud also have wins before and after that pair, including two Finals triumphs over James. In a bit of pre-Finals flattery, James said that Duncan has been the top player of the past 15 years.
“If I just look at the last 15 years, he’s probably been the most consistent, most dominant player that we’ve had as far as 15 years all together," James said, via Lakers Nation. "He’s won four titles, multiple All Stars, MVP, and so on and so on."
Manu Ginobli: While Tony Parker has been arguably the most dominant player in the postseason and Tim Duncan has showed flashes of his youthful dominance, Ginobli has struggled as the Spurs have advanced to the Finals. The 35-year-old Argentine has scored in single digits in four of his last five games in the playoffs and is averaging just 11.5 points per game in the second season.
NBA Commissioner: The 2013 edition of the NBA Finals is the last that David Stern will oversee as commissioner of the league. Stern will turn over the reins to Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver during the 2013-2014 season.
Offensive Glass: In all three losses to the Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Miami Heat were outrebounded overall and on the offensive glass. In order to counter the Heat's transition offense, the Spurs will likely need to control the offensive glass. Can Tim Duncan, Tiago Splitter and Kawhi Leonard use their size to prolong possessions, limit fastbreak opportunities for the Heat and score easy buckets?
Point Guard: Tony Parker vs. Mario Chalmers is a matchup that favors the San Antonio Spurs, overwhelmingly. If Parker can continue his stellar play then Heat coach Erik Spoelstra could shift LeBron James' defensive responsibilities late in games. Reserve Norris Cole, who was effective at times against Nate Robinson, should also be heavily in the mix. The Spurs' 31-year-old lead guard put all aspects of his offensive game on display in the Western Conference Finals sweep of the Memphis Grizzlies: Parker went off for 37 points in Game 4 and dished out 18 assists in Game 2. Chalmers' (and Cole's) ability to contain Parker is every bit as important for the Heat as Kawhi Leonard's efforts on LeBron James will be to the Spurs.
Quick Starts: Although the San Antonio Spurs managed big comebacks against both the Memphis Grizzlies and Golden State Warriors during earlier rounds of the playoffs, they may not find the Heat as susceptible to such a rally. Given the ease with which Miami can put up points in transition, strong starts will likely be crucial for the Spurs. Likewise, they'll need to keep the Heat from running out early -- and really from running at all.
Red Mamba: Spurs reserve forward Matt Bonner has been dubbed the "Red Mamba" for his ginger hair and his occasional ability to takeover a game a la the "Black Mamba." He is also one of several X-factors in the NBA Finals. Bonner has the stroke to steal a game if he can get hot.
#redmamba haha I luv that
— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) April 21, 2013
Size: The Indiana Pacers troubled with Miami Heat with size and physicality. The San Antonio Spurs swept the physical Memphis Grizzlies. Spurs center Tiago Splitter ability to defend in the paint and stay out of foul trouble will determine how tall the Spurs play. Likewise, Tim Duncan's ability to stay out of foul trouble and trouble the Heat's shots will be crucial. While the Heat will be glad not to see Roy Hibbert in the paint, the Spurs could still trouble them.
Tim Duncan: The 37-year-old "Big Fundamental" has long been decried as boring. There won't be anything boring about a guy with five championship rings.
Udonis Haslem: Any team that wants to bully the Heat will eventually find itself dealing with Haslem. The 32-year-old forward arrived in Miami with Dwyane Wade in 2003 and is an oft-overlooked leader on this club. With the team looking shaky against the Pacers, Haslem came through with stellar performances in Games 3 and 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals, both Heat wins.
Vegas: The oddsmakers installed the Heat as 5-12 favorites to win the NBA title. Not surprisingly, LeBron was the favorite to be named MVP (4/9).
Watched: The Finals begin on ABC just days after a record-setting Game 7 broadcast on TNT. The Heat's 99-76 win over the Pacers drew a 7.1 rating, the highest ever for an NBA game on TNT.
X-Factors: In the earlier rounds of the postseason, Chris "Birdman" Andersen seemed incapable of even missing a shot. While a regression to the mean is likely, his size and sporadic scoring can swing a game. As discussed, the Red Mamba is a potential X-factor for the Spurs. Given their postseason struggles, Chris Bosh and Manu Ginobli could be considered X-factors entering Game 1.
Youth: The 2012 NBA Finals matchup between the Heat and the Thunder seemed a vision of the league's future. This matchup is more about the past and the present. Tim Duncan and the Spurs are a dynasty closer to its end than its beginning. Even after a dominant regular season, the long-term future of the Heat has become the topic of speculation. Whether it's Wade's health, LeBron's possible departure in 2014 or Bosh's sporadic uselessness, questions suddenly abound. Either way, this matchup is firmly entrenched in the here and now.
Z-Bo: Zach Randolph was absolutely stymied by the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals. While he couldn't be a more different player in terms of style and physicality than LeBron James, both are two of the more relentless forces in the NBA. That the Spurs had the strategy and discipline to keep him in check bodes well for their ability to execute some strategy against James. Also, his first name starts with a "Z."