NBA Finals Preview (Spurs/Cavs)
- Similar to the '05 Finals we have a Pupil/Master matchup, but this time Coach Pop is the wily master. We're well aware of the Spurs' defensive prowess, but Mike Brown has definitely molded the Cavs into a defensive juggernaut in the course of a year that his mentor would be proud of. The other storyline centers around the emergence of LeBron as one-man playoff assassin. His legendary Game 5 vs Det. has rocketed him to another level. But to me, there is no way the Spurs will let Bron shred them like he did to Det, so it's imperative that the other Cavs step up their performance much more consistently if they want a shot vs. the Spurs.
- You know what to expect from the Spurs by now: pound Timmy on the block, then let Parker & Manu do damage with their dribble penetration either to finish or kick out to Finley, Barry, or Bowen stationed at the 3pt. line. I would like to see Pop move Duncan off the block like he did during the Jazz series--thought it opened up some great passing lanes in the painted area & it allowed Oberto to get involved in the offense.
- Expect to see some pick-n-pops with Big Z & Bron if Duncan's guarding Z, to drag Tim away from the baseline. Bron will look to post Bowen more, but I expect the Spurs to send doubles often--like they did vs. Melo. Bron will have to go fast on his post moves--when Melo waited a little too long, the Spurs were more effective in their coverage.
- Interesting to see who gets the majority of minutes on Tim. I'm guessing Gooden will start off, then you will see a rotation of Z & Varejao getting some cracks, and maybe a little face-time for Pollard, who will use his 6 fouls without discretion. Wonder how much Bron will cover Manu? If Manu gets flowing like he has the last 8 games, then maybe putting a bigger guy like Bron could be the change-up the Cavs need.
- Question for the Cavs: can anyone handle the task of containing Parker. Hughes' plantar fascia still seems to be a problem, and even if 100% healthy, he would probably have a tough time with Tony. I think maybe a bigger key than Gibson just hitting his jumpers, is if he can stay in front of Parker on defense. Veteran defensive stalwart E. Snow might be called upon more in this series, but you have to be leery of too many minutes for him because he's such an offensive liability. Even though Tony has been stroking his outside looks as well as he ever has, the game plan still should be to sag off, go underneath pick/rolls on him most of the time.
- The Cavs are the better rebounding team, and are very dangerous on the offensive glass with Big Z, Gooden, & Varejao. As good as the Cavs are on the boards, they're no better than the Jazz, who were the best reb. team this year, and even better off. rebounding team than the Cavs. The Spurs kept the overall rebound margin fairly close (-1.4 rpg) vs. the Jazz, where it never really became a big issue. Alhough the Spurs did have a little issue keeping the Jazz off the off. glass--the Spurs had a 69% Def Reb Pct. for the series, not really good. Oberto's main task could be keeping Big Z off the offensive glass if checking him. And if Fab can repeat his nice all-around production from the Conf Finals, the Spurs should be in good shape.
- The Spurs rotate on defense better than any team in the NBA. They can help onto penetrators (like Bron) & post threats (like Big Z), and still are very proficient at closing out & challenging shooters. Don't expect the Spurs to have the def. breakdowns that plagued the Pistons later in the series, especially the kind of breakdowns in late-game situations the Pistons had in Game 5 & 6.
- I am sure the Spurs' main M.O. is not to allow Bron nice driving alleys to the rim. They will do this with a combination of doubling to get the ball out of Bron hands & sagging off Bron to encourage him to be a spot-shooter. Will likely see some zones from Coach Pop to encourage some of these stationary shots that Bron ain't that comfortable with. The Spurs guard the 3pt line very well and this was crucial vs. the Suns. But in this series it's not as big of a factor, and actually the Spurs will probably leave some of the Cavs open to prove they can hit from outside.
- Cavs have to hit their outside shots consistently, and at a higher clip then they are accustomed to, if they want a chance in this series. I'm sure Brown will use his 3-shooter lineup of Marshall, Varejao, Sasha/Damon, Gibson, & Bron since it's worked well in short spans lately. Guys like Pavlovic, Marshall, D, Jones, & Hughes are going to have hit their open looks with regularity. And Boobie Gibson is going to have to prove his Conf Finals performance wasn't a fluke. Sasha has not really been playing all that well lately, he was alright from 3pt vs. the Pistons but overall just shot 39% in the series, and is only shooting 38.6% overall (32.6% 3pt) for the entire playoffs. Need some sort of steadiness from him not only on offense, but trying to contain Manu.
-And amid all the hyperbole that has been spilled about Bron's play of late, let's not overlook that his playoffs taken in their entirety have not been quite that spectacular--only shooting 43.4% (31% 3pt) for the playoffs. He has been shooting his jumper better of late, but will see if can keep it up, and he'll have plenty of chances to show us since that's what the Spurs will want him to do.
- No doubt the Cavs are the best defensive team the Spurs will see in the playoffs, but are also the weakest offensive team the Spurs have faced in the playoffs. I think what has been lost in the hullabaloo of Bron's Game 5 & Boobie's Game 6, is the Cavs really just are not that good as a whole offensively. Even in those last 2 games, the Cavs' offense taken in its entirety was rather ragged, but this was sort of covered up by 2 explosive 4th quarters. The Cavs were nothing special on offense in the Pistons' series (42% shooting), neither have they been for the enitre playoffs (only 42.7% overall, 33.6% 3pt.) or for the reg season, for that matter. So I doubt things will change now, especially having to face the best defensive team in the world. Feel pretty confident San Antonio will win a game in Cleveland, if not 2, so the Cavs are going to have to win 2 in San Ant to win the crown. Which ain't gonna happen.
SPURS IN 5