The rematch is upon us.
The San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat will meet for the second consecutive year in the NBA Finals, starting tonight at AT&T Center. The 2013 NBA Finals went seven games, a series that went down in history as one of the all-time greats.
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Last year in Game 6, the Spurs were three clear with five seconds left and staff at Miami's AmericanAirlines Arena started roping off areas in anticipation for a celebration.
Ray Allen hit a circus 3-pointer to tie it. The Heat prevailed in overtime to force a Game 7, which Miami won by seven in South Beach.
San Antonio was literally seconds away from a fifth title in franchise history, all, not so coincidentally, under the leadership of Tim Duncan and head coach Gregg Popovich. The boss was extremely proud of this group.
"I think they showed an unbelievable amount of fortitude," Popovich said after clinching a berth in the Finals. "If I can compliment my own team humbly, to have that tough loss, especially the Game 6, and not have a pity party, and come back this year and get back to the same position. I think that's fortitude, and I'm really proud of them and even happier for them."
And the Spurs welcome the challenge of taming the Heat and exacting revenge.
"We've got four more to win, and we'll do it this time," boasted Duncan. "We're happy it's the Heat again. We've got that bad taste in our mouths still."
That sort of bravado is a little out of character for the mild-mannered Duncan, but perhaps the best illustration of how much the Game 6 loss still hurts. And, it's also a testament to the Spurs' focus.
"They don't like us, they don't. I can sense it from Timmy's comments over the last couple of days," LeBron James said after practice on Monday. "They wanted this, they wanted us and we'll be ready for the challenge.
"They wanted us, they got us."
This is the first Finals repeat since the Chicago Bulls and Utah Jazz both made it in 1997 and 1998. Chicago of course won both of those to complete its second three-peat.
A win in this series and the Heat would earn three consecutive titles. The Los Angeles Lakers turned the same feat in between Michael Jordan's Bulls and James' Heat, but this Miami group is the first to reach four consecutive Finals since the Boston Celtics did it from 1984-87.
"I'm in the moment, I don't really think about it," said James.
The Heat clinched their spot in the championship round first. They knocked off top-seeded Indiana in six games in the Eastern Conference Finals after sweeping Charlotte in the first round and needing five games against Brooklyn.
The Spurs moved on with a Game 6 overtime victory over Oklahoma City Saturday night. San Antonio was pushed to a Game 7 in round one versus Dallas, but handled Portland in five games in round two.
It was in the Dallas series Tony Parker injured his ankle. He sprained it and the All-Star sat out the second half of San Antonio's clinching Game 6 victory over the Thunder.
Thanks to four days of rest, Parker declared himself ready to go for Game 1 Thursday, but the injury could linger.
"I'm trying to be very positive, trying to do everything I can, eat healthy, get my rest, do all the treatment. I just trust my body," said Parker. "I had little stuff, wear and tear, but I'm still here and I trust my body to hold up for the whole series."
The two sides split two regular-season meetings with the home team prevailing both times.
Including last year's Finals, the Spurs are 5-2 in their building against the Heat, but Miami has won four straight over San Antonio and seven of their last eight at AmericanAirlines Arena.
In looking for differences from last year's Finals to this year's, the format might be the biggest change. The NBA implemented a 2-2-1-1-1 format for this Finals as opposed to the 2-3-2 version of a year ago.
Also, Miami had homecourt advantage in 2013 and this year it belongs to San Antonio, which finished with the best record in the NBA.