Hoop Logic with God Forbid’s Doc Coyle: “Fans Lucked Out With This Finals Match-Up”
It’s the Finals Countdooooown! Be-beh-dee deeeee! Be-beh-deh deh deeeeeeee! Be-beh-doo-dooooooo! Be-beh-deh deh deh day doooooooo! It’s the Finals Countdown whoaaa-oahhhhhhhh! Holy crap everybody it’s the NBA finals, the triumphant finale to a killer season of the world’s best basketball everrrr. The 2011-12 season was mangled by a labor dispute, but the league’s 30 teams rebounded (ha!) this year with a campaign that was way healthier and slightly more sensible. And though superstar ballers continued to crowd onto a handful of teams, this season marks the return of the big man and his style of hard-ass offense and brutal defense. (Except Dwight Howard.) Will small, shooty teams survive? Will elite scorers enlist monster centers, then learn to dominate around their bulk? Oh my it’s all so exciting!
But we’re getting very ahead of our very selves! Let’s head off further confusion by plunking down opposite an expert NBA analyst, Doc Coyle of awesome band God Forbid. Talk about a talent hog. Be it guitars, singing, superb hygiene, composing music, writing his new blog, pro basketball, really courteous emails, or being a hunk in a culture of gargoyles, Doc is awesome at it! This is Hoop Logic. First question please!
In the second round, Memphis eliminated an Oklahoma City Thunder team that totally failed to stop Zach Randolph’s low-post dominance. In this series, Randolph was completely shut down — and his team swept easily — by the Spurs. Doc, explain?
Doc Coyle, God Forbid: Zach Randolph hit a wall. Well, two walls, to be specific, in San Antonio’s pair of seven footers, Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter. Those two guys are just bigger, longer, and better defenders than first-round opponents Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, and then Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins in their second round. Perkins is supposed to be known for his one-on-one low-post defense, but he was so disappointing against the Grizzlies. And if he can’t guard well on the block, I don’t know why he’s still in the NBA.
Another big difference is that, before the Spurs series, the only frontline scorer that the Grizzlies had to really worry about was Blake Griffin — and he was limited by a bad ankle sprain. It’s much easier to excel on offense when you don’t have to work too hard on defense. But against the Spurs, there goes Duncan picking you apart on the block and elbow, and Splitter has a vastly underrated low-post game and passing skills as good as any NBA center. The Spurs aren’t known for size, but they quietly have a bit of Twin Tower-action happening. Playing Duncan at power forward — when he’s really a center in terms of size and style — is one of the keys to their lasting success.
Why did the Spurs dismantle the Grizzlies? First off, we all have to stop believing that one team was dominated just because a series went only four or five games. Two games went to overtime and only game one was an asskicking. It was a very tough series where one team caught a few lucky breaks and eked out a few close wins. The Grizzlies are a very good team, but some of their weaknesses were exposed: If you can quiet either Randolph or Marc Gasol, then their team doesn’t have enough offense in the starting line-up to win playoff games. Which is why, later in the series, Jerryd Bayless and Quincy Pondexter were favored over Tayshaun Prince and Tony Allen: offense. Prince and Allen are elite defenders, but are below-average outside shooters. So the Spurs could just focus on Gasol, Randolph, and Mike Conley.
Let’s give the Spurs a ton of credit. They don’t have any weaknesses. They are the league’s best passing team. They can beat you inside, or via penetration by Tony Parker. They are the second-best three-point shooting team in the NBA, and posted the third-best defensive rating in 2012-13. They have stars, depth, experience, championship pedigree, and the best coach in the game. We have all had trouble believing in the Spurs because of their disappointing exits the last couple years. It’s been difficult to tell if they are for real or a “regular-season team,” but they seem very real now.
DOC: Look at the last two seasons. The only way to beat this Spurs team is this: You need two or three guys playing out of their minds, just hot at the right time. Last year, the Spurs had the Thunder on the ropes having won the first two games in convincing fashion. But they couldn’t contain Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden. Each had a fantastic series. Then you get a freak game where Ibaka shoots 11-11 or Thabo Sepholosha hits four three-pointers for 19 points. It was a perfect storm that the Thunder couldn’t conjure against the Heat.
And back in 2011, when the top-seeded Spurs were upset in the first round by the eighth-seed Grizzlies, it was another perfect storm. That was a coming-out party for this version of the Grizzlies. Randolph just went crazy. He couldn’t miss. He grabbed every rebound. Kind of like how he did in this year’s first two rounds. Manu Ginobli was hobbled by a nasty arm injury. Also, the Spurs just weren’t as good than as they are now. Vets way past their prime like Richard Jefferson and Antonio McDyess were in the starting lineup. Since then, the Spurs have gotten younger and deeper.
My advice to the Heat: Tell LeBron to be LeBron, and hope Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh play up to their All-NBA potential. You will not beat the Spurs without playing exceptionally well — the Spurs don’t beat themselves. They are too efficient, too smart, too disciplined.
DOC: Of course I dearly miss my Knicks. I really wanted to see how they would have done in a Conference Finals against the Heat, but the Knicks got their butts kicked fair and square. The team has to get much better to be a contender. It makes me feel better that the Pacers really handed it to the Heat though. It shows that at least the Knicks didn’t lose to some scrub team.
Homerism notwithstanding, the best story of the 2013 Playoffs was the emergence of Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors. For a round and a half, that guy seemed like Neo from The Matrix. If he didn’t tweak that ankle against the Spurs, his Warriors might have advanced to the West Finals! I shouldn’t have been surprised. I saw Curry drop 54 on the Knicks in MSG earlier this season. (I thought that was an anomaly. It wasn’t.) If his health holds up, this guy will go down as the greatest shooter to ever live. Ray Allen and Reggie Miller are the best from long range that I’ve seen, but Curry also has the dribble game of a Chris Paul. He can shake and bake you, cross you, than drill one from 27 feet like it was a layup. I’ve never seen that. When J.R. Smith and Jamal Crawford do that, the coach tears out his hair. They’re Rucker Park, And1 Mixtape street flash. But Curry is weaponized skill. When he does it, you feel bad for the defender.
Analysts think next year’s Warriors will take a step back because of the $20 million tied up in salaries for Richard Jefferson and Andris Biedrins; the team may not be able to resign Jarrett Jack or Carl Landry. Jack would be a massive loss, since he’s their main ball handler down the stretch and the best shot creator one-on-one. In the long term, they should be fine as long as Curry and Andrew Bogut can stay healthy. Bogut was amazing in the playoffs and is a game changer for the Warriors especially defensively. I also think Harrison Barnes is a beast. He’s like a rich man’s Ron Artest. As long as the core of Curry, Bogut, Barnes and Klay Thompson is there, this team will be in the mix. I might become a closet Golden State fan if coach Mark Jackson stops talking about Jesus.
DOC: I always thought the Heat would win, but you never know with the NBA. One injury, one bad call, one lucky shot could change everything. I knew it would be a very, very tough series. I didn’t think it would go seven games, but remember we just discussed guys playing over their heads? Roy Hibbert, David West, and Paul George were posting numbers like David Robinson, Karl Malone, and Scottie Pippen. George was a revelation. He played LeBron even in a few games. That’s stunning. Indy is a very good team, and will be even better aided by a healthy Danny Granger or the bench help his trade would bring. I wonder though if the Pacers would be as successful against a bigger team that plays their style, like Chicago. They had a height advantage over New York and Miami.
For the Heat, the Pacers were a bad matchup. The Heat don’t even have a true center, and Chris “Birdman” Andersen and Udonis Haslem are the only real power forwards, Haslem an undersized one at that. Bigs like Hibbert and West are very good players, but they look like Hall Of Famers against the Knicks and Heat because those teams play small. I bet you that both the Knicks and Heat will soon get a little bigger in order to face teams that beat you up with size — the Pacers, Bulls, or Nets — in the playoffs next year.
We have short memories. The Heat won a title, put together a streak of 27 wins and a 66-16 regular-season record, so we forget that last year the Heat were down in three straight playoff series. The sports radio guys buried the Heat after every bad loss because shitting on LeBron is good for ratings. The Big 3 era of the Miami Heat doesn’t do anything easily. They only really play their best when their backs are against the wall.
Doc, here’s the question we wait all year to ask you: Two teams remain. One is poised and punishing; the other top-heavy and emotional. The Finals began Thursday night. Which team will prevail?
DOC: The Heat have two big advantages: They have home court and they have the best player in the world, LeBron James. But I am reluctantly picking San Antonio to win in seven games. I repeat: The Spurs don’t have any weaknesses. The Heat have a couple. They don’t have size, and you don’t know which Dwyane Wade will show up. They tend to relax sometimes and not be engaged.
Yet this is one of the most evenly-matched Finals we’ve ever had. Last year was very close, but Miami had the clear edge of experience. This year, there are eight Hall Of Fame players (Lebron, Wade, Bosh, Ray, Duncan, Parker, Ginobili, maybe Tracy McGrady) and four Finals MVPs — that has never happened. These are the two best teams in the NBA. Both play smart, unselfish, free-flowing offense — and have superstars that can clean up bad possessions in isolation. Both play great defense. Both are fairly deep, although San Antonio has a small edge there. Both are well-coached, but Gregg Popovich is widely known as the best in the business.
Basketball fans lucked out with this series matchup. Some purists rave about the “old school” game played by Indiana and Memphis, but that’s an uglier, slower game. I prefer Miami and San Antonio. They are gazelles running across a plain, not elephants wrestling in a mud pit. (I’m not sure if elephants actually wrestle, but it seems like a plodding, slovenly proposal.) I predict a classic series either way. The old dynasty meeting the would-be builders of a new dynasty. LeBron is trying to avenge his embarrassing loss in the 2007 Finals against the Spurs, but I am rooting for Tim Duncan to get another ring. He deserves to have rings equal to Kobe. Duncan deserves the recognition. He’s effective, modest, polite, and above all, all he does is win. It’s been a great NBA year!