In a special Father's Day edition of the Three Man Weave, Duane Watson and Will Strickland from TSN 1050's "1 On 1 With Will & Duane" bring on Canadian basketball blog boss Ray Bala of the Can Ball Report to collect ties, aftershave, socks and thoughts on the current state of the NBA Finals!
Do the Miami Heat have a chance at making history and winning three straight to win the NBA Finals?
Bala: I would say no. They have two things going against them. Firstly, the Spurs have been playing some incredible basketball that has been about as textbook as you can imagine. The teamwork and the defence plus some all-world play both by Kawhi Leonard and Boris Diaw, on the road no less, has been unstoppable. Secondly, Game 5 is in San Antonio and since the already rabid Spurs fans will be sniffing the title now, making the environment something akin to the lion food in the Roman Coliseum. And did I mention that history is not with them either?
Strickland: Chance? Yes. Multiple chances, as a matter of fact: Slim and none. As great as the narrative could establish itself to be if Miami miraculously came back to make this a competitive and epic Finals, there is nothing exhibited in these first four games that would indicate that the Heat have the valentine or testicular fortitude to climb that mountain now.
Watson: None. The Spurs can smell blood and they dismantled the Heat in Games 3 and 4. Coach Gregg Popovich has his team far too disciplined to rest on their laurels on home court. The Spurs will take the Larry O'Brien Trophy in five games, as Miami has no sense of urgency and can't find scoring outside of the Big Three or defend anyone and that goes for all 13 members of the Miami roster.
What do you look at as the biggest key to the Spurs' success in the Finals?
Bala: The biggest key to the Spurs' success is their depth of experience. Sure Leonard, Green and Diaw have been playing out of their minds and the Big Three of Parker, Duncan and Ginobili had been solid. But it's the experience among all of them, as well as others, that have kept the edge on the Heat. The panic button never seems to get pushed when things start to go awry and even after the Game 2 loss at home, they came back to pummel the Heat on their court twice, running their system and playing their game. Key word in the last sentence being THEIR. That kind of poise in a championship final only comes with experience and I think we are being shown that it will beat out youthful athleticism.
Strickland: Remembering how to forget. Coach Popovich brought his charges into training camp before the season, slowly and painfully breaking down how the Spurs let one get away last year, then put it away forever. Pop's understanding of how to manage his team throughout the regular season, limiting their minutes in preparation for this moment was genius. But his adjustment of inserting the multi-dimensional point forward Boris Diaw into the starting lineup for Game 3 was so masterful that San Antonio may be counting one for the thumb and never see another Game 6 in these playoffs.
Watson: When a team is doing everything right, it's hard to pick just one thing. They are moving the ball exceptionally well, in addition to shooting at a high field-goal percentage, but their defence is what is giving the Heat fits. Not just contesting shots, activity in passing lanes or stealing the ball, but second-man rotation has been solid by the Spurs and, as their hallmark, it's any player on the floor wearing black and silver, not just the starters.
Is Kawhi Leonard a similar player if drafted by any other team in the NBA?
Bala: I don't think so. Leonard, in his role now with the Spurs, is in the ideal place. He would be asked to do more of one thing or another with any other team, or less, and that could likely lead to a drop-off in something else. Right now, he's the do-everything athletic guy on a Spurs team that, though, has athletes, doesn't have one like him. Teams in the NBA all have a vet guy, or three, like Kawhi and that would compete with him growing as a player. There is no way that he would be the same player anywhere else for what he's shown us in the Finals.
Strickland: No. Being able to come into a team and system that mirrors his character, personality and demeanour to a tee with veteran leaders and a winning culture that wouldn't depend on him to be the face of the franchise right away was ideal for him. The Spurs' R.C. Buford knew what he was doing and exactly what he was getting when he traded George Hill to the Pacers for Kawhi Leonard.
Watson: Of course not. He's still a talented and gifted player, but he was drafted by a team that didn't need him to come in right away and score or be a lockdown defender. He is coached by the best in the game and has learned and watched from Hall of Fame players and how to conduct himself as a professional.
Does the result of the NBA Finals affect the Heat's off-season free agency moves?
Bala: Either way you cut it, it's a yes. With all but two players guaranteed to be on the roster, this should play a huge role now. Assuming that the Three Amigos take their player options, for one of the two years at least, the Heat will need to find the pieces to build around them within a workable budget for necessary complementary talent. If any of them opts for free agency, the team will have to replace that player AND just about everyone else too. That will be a huge problem because the calibre of player and chemistry will be tough to find. Lose or, if you believe in miracles, win, Miami has a long summer ahead of it.
Strickland: Absolutely. The roster is aging in dog years, especially with one of their stars whose name rhymes with "Wwyane Dade." The Heat need to address getting younger players who fit their culture and can contribute right away. Pat Riley will also have to look at shoring up problem areas at the point guard (Kyle Lowry?) and down low with solid bigs who can help drag Miami out of the NBA's basement in rebounding, score a bit and be a defensive presence in the paint. Carmelo Anthony is not the answer to the Heat's needs right now.
Watson: Not really, although the Finals have shown them that they are in worse shape than they previously thought. If Dwyane Wade is going to retire as a Heat player, the team needs more support. This season alone proves they can't coast through and expect to compete in the Finals. Miami has played a lot of games over the last three years and it's apparent they are tired and too top-heavy. They can take a note from the Spurs or two regarding balance.
Four games deep, who is the Finals MVP?
Bala: My pick is Boris Diaw. I can't believe I just said that. I, like I'm sure many have before me, have ragged on him at some point in his career, but he's looking like the championship-era Bulls Scottie Pippen right now. He's been a catalyst on both ends of the floor and it's been his ability to not just make plays, but timely ones has been a sparkplug for the Spurs and a dagger for the Heat. I know Leonard had some big performances, as did Parker, but without Diaw the Spurs could be looking at 2-2 or even 3-1.
Strickland: Can an entire team and organization be named MVP? No? Okay. Well, I currently have co-MVPs in Boris Diaw and Kawhi Leonard. French Pastry's insertion into the starting lineup shifted the Spurs' offence into high gear, especially Kawhi Leonard. Leonard's stat lines in Games 3 and 4 are shinier and MVP-calibre, but Diaw as a catalyst facilitating so many good things on the offence can't be overlooked. For a guy who once was the MVP of a foreign hoops league while averaging 7 PPG says a lot about how Boris Diaw's impact on this series.
Watson: Kawhi Leonard, despite Tim Duncan's consistency. Leonard has shot .590 from the field averaging 16.8 points and 5.5 rebounds per game, while defending the best player on the planet in LeBron James. He has also forced to make James and the rest of the Heat work on the defensive end and is poised to be holding the Bill Russell NBA Finals MVP Award. Leonard has taken the next step in his career and no better time than the NBA Finals.
The Three-Man Weave contributors are co-hosts of TSN Radio 1050's 1-on-1 with Will and Duane, Will Strickland (@WallStrizzle1) and Duane Watson (@byDuaneWatson) and guest point guard and owner of a quietly hot sneaker collection Ray Bala (@CanBallReport).