On the NBA Finals: Game 1, starring Tony Parker as Curly Neal

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Tony Parker.

This is one of those “thirty five and over” type references, but I’m pretty sure I screamed “Curly Neal” at my TV last night, after watching Tony Parker do this to the Heat at the end of game 1 of the NBA Finals. See, I’ve been re-watching “The White Shadow”, (the old TV show about a former NBA player-turned-inner city High School Basketball coach) from start to finish, and in one of the episodes the coach brought in the Harlem Globetrotters to teach his team a little something about humility after a 10 game winning streak had caused his players to get all gassed up and believe they were invincible. Of course, these High School kids got beat something like 240-nothing before they realized something fishy was going on, but all the fun was in watching them get dealt with by a bunch of seemingly random dudes in street clothes.

What does this “White Shadow” ep. have to do with game 1 of the NBA Finals? Nothing really. Well, other than to say Tony Parker was channeling the baldheaded, slick-dribbling Globetrotter point guard at the end of last night’s game.

Quite the fitting ending to a helluva game in which neither team had a double-digit lead or ever felt firmly in control of the game, at least until Parker hit his wacky H-O-R-S-E shot with 5 seconds left and thus took home court advantage away from the Heat.

This game was deceptive, in that it felt like an up-tempoy, high scoring game and yet, at least on the scoring side of things, it wasn’t. What is was, however, was a basketball tug-o’-war that featured only 24 total fouls, an astonishingly low 12 turnovers (including just 4 for SA) and after the Best of 7 wrasslin’ match that was the Eastern Conference Finals, no technical or flagrant fouls. After spending the last month having to butch up against the virtually artless BUlls and the only slightly more offensively inclined Pacers, the Heat have been set free to play Basketball the way they prefer to. Only problem was, they seemed to forget just how to in the 4th quarter.

Something about the Spurs. As a Laker fan, I wouldn’t consider it sacrilege to root for San Antonio, mostly because I’m just not too overly clannish about my fandom. I will say though, the opportunity to cheer for them hasn’t come up too often, if ever. Of course, the Heat have put me in the position to give it a try, since I’ve spent the better part of 2013 railing against the idea that Miami was invincible and the big gold ball was their birthright or whatever.

I’ll tell you about rooting for the Spurs. Shit is fun. Relaxing, even. It’s like no matter what the score or situation you are just sure they are going to find a way to win because they are just inherently better than, well, everyone. Watching their offense is like watching the computer on the hardest level of NBA 2K13. They always make the right pass/shot/pick. Always. It’s more than a little maddening when you are rooting against them, but it’s a glorious sight when you are on the other side of the fence. This years’ team especially feels like it has the perfect combination of veterans and youth, athleticism and guile. Everyone who plays for them can play, and nobody but nobody bucks the system, save for Ginobili, whose artistic inclinations grant him a special kind of leeway from Popovich.

As of yesterday, I saw this series as an easy win for the Spurs. Today, even more so. The 2010 Finals came down to fourth quarter execution, as in Dallas did it well and Miami did not. Same for last year, when OKC had the lead in every game but could only manage to win one. If there’s one thing I’ve learned the hard way about the NBA finals, it’s that you always go with the team that’s been there over the one that hasn’t and if both teams have, you pick the one that plays steadier, smarter, more in control. In this series, that’s the Spurs.

Game 1 didn’t really present any surprises. Chris Bosh continued to look body-snatched 9as he has all playoffs), LeBron was made to look tentative and rather invisible down the stretch and the Spurs made the plays when they needed to. Now, Miami has lost game one of each of the last three series, but this felt less like a surprise or a result of rust than just the product of what happens when a team with 2 and a half good players goes against one with seven or eight. I consider it a safe bet that most of these games will be close and come down to who plays better in the final few minutes, I just think that the Spurs are built to win that way. Miami’s best bet in this series was to overwhelm the Spurs athletically but I’ll let you in on a little secret: San Antonio has athleticism to spare. yeah, it’s logical that if the Spurs were an old team in 2008 that they would be even older now, only they quietly re-worked the roster in the last fews years so that now, instead of a bunch of thirty-somethings getting beat off the dribble and in transition, the supporting cast are young, agile and versatile, from Kawhi Leonard to Danny Green to Gary Neal and Thiago Splitter. SA played seven guys more than 10 minutes last night: The four I just mentioned and the Big Three.

Thing is, all of them can defend, hit open shots and keep up physically with Miami, to say nothing of whatever mental advantages the may posses over them, coaching included. That’s Popovich at work, as usual. As of this year, The Steven Jackson’s and Boris Diaw’s have slow given way to the young guys and all of a sudden, the team you see before you is intelligent and savvy enough to play Spurs basketball, and young and spry enough to finish 4th in the league and scoring and keep up with the helter-skelter Warriors in the playoffs and now, the run & gun Heat, the only concession being that Pop is so determined to minimize Miami’s transition game that he is refusing to let his players crash the offensive boards. A wise decision, considering Miami managed a grand total of 9 fast break points and finished with just 88 points total, or about 15 less than their average.

Again, I say this series will be won and lost in the last few minutes of games, and I for one have an unshakable faith in the Spurs’ ability to dominate these moments. Two months ago, the Heat looked like men among boys. Now, they look like the 2008 9or ’09, or ’10. Take your pick) Cavaliers: one brilliant force trying to drag his teammates across the finish line.

Against a team as good, as precise as the Spurs, it ain’t enough.

-JH

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