Once more, with healing?
The San Antonio Spurs enter their Finals rematch with the Miami Heat seeking some therapeutic redemption after their entire roster was left in need of a mental rubdown following last year’s series.
Manu Ginobili couldn’t make a decent pass or a free throw in the final minutes of the Spurs’ series-turning Game 6 defeat.
Danny Green, who looked like a possible series most valuable player through the first five games, made only two of 19 shots in Games 6 and 7.
Kawhi Leonard missed a free throw late in Game 6 that could have made him an NBA champion at age 21.
Tim Duncan missed a short hook shot in the final minute of Game 7 that could have made one hand full of championship rings.
Even Coach Gregg Popovich flubbed a big moment, taking Duncan off the floor during a crucial stretch in Game 6 when the Heat snatched a couple of offensive rebounds they may not have gotten with Duncan around.
Here’s a look at a matchup the Spurs hope leaves them feeling a lot better about themselves than this time last year:
Starting guards: Tony Parker’s sore left ankle is the wild card that threatens to stack the deck in Miami’s favor. He will start the series opener, but if his movement is compromised, then the entire complexion of the series changes. A rejuvenated Dwyane Wade has put the struggles of last season’s playoffs behind him, averaging 18.7 points while shooting 51.9% in the postseason. Edge: Heat.
Starting forwards: LeBron James is going to be James, but is Heat power forward Rashard Lewis going to be the player who made nine of 16 three-pointers in the last two games of the Eastern Conference finals or the non-factor from earlier in these playoffs? Leonard’s continued improvement could help swing a game in San Antonio’s favor, but the Spurs have to get more out of Matt Bonner and Tiago Splitter regardless of which player is starting. Edge: Heat.
Starting centers: This is the matchup where San Antonio must exploit its advantage as much as possible while Duncan is on the floor. Miami’s Chris Bosh had a productive three-game stretch to end the conference finals but lacks the consistency and late-game fearlessness of his counterpart. Edge: Spurs.
Offense: The Spurs’ ball movement is so precise it should win a Tony Award for Best Choreography. Everyone knows who will be the Heat’s leading man, but his supporting cast can be spotty. Edge: Spurs.
Defense: San Antonio has survived a murderers’ row of scorers in the playoffs including Dirk Nowitzki, LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Miami has allowed its opponents to score 100 points twice in 15 playoff games. Edge: Even.
Benches: San Antonio’s Boris Diaw was probably the most pivotal player in the final two games of the Western Conference finals, and Ginobili usually brings instant offense and heady play. The Heat will counter with Ray Allen, who should draw a security detail of Spurs defenders every time he steps beyond the three-point line. Edge: Spurs.
Coaches: Both Popovich and Miami’s Erik Spoelstra proved adept at keeping stars rested during the regular season, but Popovich is usually more masterful at in-game maneuvering when he’s not inexplicably sitting Duncan. Edge: Spurs.
Intangibles: The Spurs have homecourt advantage this time. And there’s that whole redemption thing. Edge: Spurs.
And the winner is … Spurs in six games. The yellow rope is raised and the Larry O’Brien trophy is hoisted in Game 6 on the Heat’s floor, easing San Antonio’s heartache from the same time and place in 2013.