Not Afraid – The San Antonio Spurs lead the Miami Heat in the 2013 NBA Finals 382-377 (cumulative scoring). Win by 36 or win by 16, San Antonio and Miami are now tied at two victories a piece and in case you haven’t noticed…it is really, really, really close. On Thursday night, the San Antonio Spurs spoiled a growing hope in the city to celebrate a championship by winning this series at home. Miami defeated San Antonio 109-93 at the AT&T Center in front of 18,581 mildly overconfident Spurs fans who were unable to match the desperation of a group of Floridians who had the audacity to come into our house and wear black. The player of the game was Tim Duncan who had 20 points, 5 rebounds, and a block. Eric Spoelstra, more than from his tactical adjustments, benefited from a radical increase in effort and aggressiveness from his best four players. Spoelstra must have stolen a card out of the Mark Jackson coaching playbook and spent all day Wednesday building up his top players to believe that they are an invincible angelic force manifested by God the Father and sent down to Earth for the purpose of giving mortals a glimpse of the level of play that he gets to enjoy in Heaven when he watches Jesus, Moses, Abraham, and Noah lace ’em up and take on all comers on the parquet of the old Boston Garden which was transported upstairs after its earthly demolition in 1998. By the way, in Heaven they play with 12 foot baskets but don’t you dare challenge Jesus at the rim because he will get up and cram in your face. The difference between Spoelstra and Mark Jackson as motivators, however, is that Spoelstra benefits from players who already know how to play at the highest level and don’t have to be prematurely anointed by their coach to believe it. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and Ray Allen combined for 99 points on Thursday night. But chances are very high that Eric Spoelstra is going to need to display more coaching acumen than being a world-class motivator to win the series. The rest of the Miami Heat combined for a paltry ten points in Game 4. A performance where three future Hall-Of-Famers and Chris Bosh play aggressive, purposeful basketball can work to win one “our backs are against the wall” NBA Finals game. It is highly unlikely that it can work to win an NBA Finals series against the San Antonio Spurs. Greg Popovich will make the necessary adjustments to get his players to take away some of the motions that put Bosh and Allen in spots where they were able to feed off of Dwyane and LeBron’s energy and get into rhythm. The Heat will need to get more contributions from more places in order to win Game 5 because if San Antonio can indeed limit Bosh and Allen, 65 combined points between James and Wade (no matter how spectacular the buckets that generate them) shouldn’t be enough to beat the Spurs. LeBron’s performance was to be expected and if it had just been LeBron playing his best game of the Finals, the Spurs might have still been okay (even with Bosh and Allen playing well too). The man that did us in on Thursday night arrived via time machine. The throwback performance by Dwyane Wade, where he displayed some of the individual brilliance of his 2006 Finals run, could not have been anticipated. It was reasonable to expect that Wade would play better out of desperation but you need more than 8 timeouts and a halftime to prepare for this version of the Flash and if you tell me that the treatment he received on his injured knee before Game 4 is on the up and up, then I have no choice but to believe you. Nonetheless, with two days off before Sunday’s Game 4, the Spurs will adjust the defensive schemes to now account for two superstars instead of one. Not that that Dwyane Wade will necessarily show up again. But if he does, the Spurs will be much better prepared for him.
The #BlackAndSilver are certainly in a dog fight now but there is no need for Spurs fans to panic. Sure both teams are evenly matched and both teams are equally capable of winning this series but the winner of tomorrow night’s Game 5 will be at a huge advantage to win it all and, luckily for us, that game is being played right here in Titletown, TX. Sure, having home court advantage in the pivotal game of the series doesn’t, in and of itself, guarantee anything so if you are looking for a little something extra to help alleviate your overwhelming case of Finals anxiety, you have come to the right place. Let me walk you through a statistical analysis that I put together last night for the exact purpose of putting my own mind at ease. In a relatively close sample size, the San Antonio Spurs are 18-8 all-time in the NBA Finals (.692 winning percentage). The Miami Heat are 12-9 (.571 winning percentage). Each team needs to play 2-1 ball (.667 winning percentage) or better over the next week to hoist a trophy. To date, San Antonio’s organization has performed above that marker and Miami’s has performed below it. Individually, LeBron James is 8-11 in the NBA Finals (.421 winning percentage) and he is trying to improve the trajectory of his legacy against Tim Duncan, who is an identical 18-8 (.692 winning percentage) as the franchise having played in every game (winning all four series) and who was 16-6 (.727 winning percentage) in the Finals before Miami was able to add two more losses in the four games so far this year. James was 6-9 going into this matchup (.400 winning percentage). A split of the first four games has inflated LeBron’s Finals record and it has deflated Timmy’s Finals record. Granting that both of these players are far enough into their NBA Finals career that these statistics bare some meaning on who they are, then the sheer statistical probability is that the extending out of this year’s sample with two or three more games will pull each player back closer to their mean. To put these numbers in context, Michael Jordan (one of the most dominant forces the Finals have ever seen) won six Finals series against zero defeats and his career Finals mark is 24-11 (.686 winning percentage). Remember, Tim Duncan as of today is at 18-8 (.692 winning percentage) which is a slightly higher Finals winning percentage than a player who is widely regarded as the best basketball player of all-time and who finished his career without ever losing the series. Conversely, Kobe Bryant, 23-15 (.605 winning percentage), has won five championship series and lost two. Shaquille O’Neal, 17-13 (.566 winning percentage), has won four championship series and lost two. Both of these players are fine champions, but the difference between always winning a championship in the Finals and usually winning a championship in the Finals is likely having the ability to consistently win two out of every three games played (.667 winning percentage) in the NBA Finals as Jordan and Duncan have done but Kobe and Shaq have not. Furthermore, LeBron James has not yet established a capacity to win in the Finals at any where close to the clip that Kobe and Shaq established, much less Michael and Timmy. The worst case scenario for James that still yields him a championship gets his Finals record to 10-12 (.455 winning percentage) after this series. That is still an unusually large jump in winning percentage for a superstar from a third to fourth trip. Conversely, at exactly the point that Tim Duncan is at, four games into his 5th Finals, Jordan was 18-9 (.667 winning percentage). I feel better about the chances of an all-time great player who wins in these games at a slightly higher clip than Michael Jordan and who has consistently kept his Finals winning percentage above two out of three (.667 winning percentage) to be able to figure out a way to get this thing done than I would about a superstar who will not even be able to climb to even (.500 winning percentage) in the Finals no matter what happens for the duration of this series. Tim Duncan just needs to do what he has done throughout his career, stay above above 2-1 (.667 winning percentage) and win two out of the next three games to win another title. Do you feel better now? Well you should feel a little better, one thing that my vast experience watching and studying lots and lots of sports (particularly the NBA) has taught me is that some teams and athletes have a higher capacity to persevere through adversity than others. The numbers bare it out that between the Spurs and the Heat and Tim Duncan and LeBron James, the Spurs and Duncan have shown a higher capacity to overcome. That being said, hopefully all of that mild overconfidence that was on display in the AT&T Center during Game 4 has been flushed out of the collective systems of Spurs fans. We should go into tomorrow night rooting confidently for our Spurs but we should also root with what Coach Pop refers to as “appropriate fear.” The players on the court will almost certainly be playing with “the appropriate fear.” The Miami Heat are extremely talented and very dangerous, especially now that they have perfected time travel technology and gone back to fetch the 2006 version of Dwyane Wade to take the place of this 2013 counterpart, and they are still the defending champions. They also have the ability to draw on experience to figure out a way to put a boot on our neck by stealing another one at the AT&T Center tomorrow night. This is our last stand in San Antonio for the season and we as a community need to make it abundantly clear to the Miami Heat that it is because of their greatness that we are not going to allow them to become the first road team to win two games in South Texas in an NBA Finals series. They need to feel early and often that their best hope for winning back to back games in the 2013 NBA Finals will come in Miami. At some point tomorrow night we need to force them to come apart by making them realize that they are incapable of matching the way we come together.
Featured Image Source: USA TODAY
Headline Image Source: Traditional Music Library