The San Antonio Spurs have booked their place in the NBA Finals. Now they get to sit back and watch the Pacers and Heat slug it out to see who will join them. The Five-Man Weave crew, including new addition Meghan McPeak, takes a look at the Eastern Conference Finals and how this year's Spurs compare with their championship teams of the past.
1. The Heat-Pacers series has been _____?
Meghan McPeak: Intense, and exciting. Neither team has won back-to-back games, and each has won on the other's home floor. The Heat haven't been able to find an answer in the post for Roy Hibbert, although Chris Andersen has been the only player (when on the floor) to match his physicality. If the Heat want to contend on the block, Andersen needs to be in the game more often. Both teams have bounced back after tough losses - Pacers in Game 2, Heat in Game 3. For either team to win, it's going to come down to the role players and supporting cast.
Josh Lewenberg: Captivating. Entertaining. Enthralling. Magnificent. How many words am I allowed to use? (I have a different set of adjectives for the officiating). The Pacers have played fearlessly and as a result they are rising to the occasion, particularly offensively where they have been uncharacteristically efficient (scoring 111.3 points per 100 possessions, up from 104.3 during the season). Miami has thrown its share of punches – as you would expect from the defending champs – but the Pacers, to their credit, have responded by playing to their strengths in the trenches and on the glass.
Will Strickland: What it's supposed to be: Competitive and Rugged. The Road to Riches and Diamond Rings still goes through South Beach and the Pacers didn't make the Eastern Conference Finals by accident. It's a three game series to decide who dances with the Spurs in the 2013 NBA Finals. It's gonna be great!
Duane Watson: Surprisingly close. Not taking anything away from this Pacers team and their stingy defence, but this isn't the same squad that challenged the Heat last year in the Playoffs. Without Danny Granger and Paul George's reluctance to take over this team, I didn't see it as nearly this competitive. Yet, Roy Hibbert, David West and Lance Stephenson have said otherwise, clearly Dwyane Wade's knee has been an issue and this series will go longer than the five-game cruise for Miami that I originally predicted.
Mitch Ward: Everything you want from playoff basketball. The series has been physical, highly competitive and has featured plenty of drama with more than a few hero moments. The Heat are probably the best team in the NBA and feature the best player in the world, but the Pacers have risen to the occasion and are going toe-to-toe with the Champs.
2. Which player has most impressed in this series?
McPeak: The Birdman - Chris Andersen. He is shooting 13-13 from the floor and 6-7 from the line with 19 rebounds and 6 blocked shots. He's been the only player to give Roy Hibbert a tough time in the post - when he's been able to stay on the floor and out of foul trouble. Outside of James/ Wade/ Bosh he has been the Heat's most consistent player. He knows his role and does it well. When he gets on the floor he knows he has one, maybe two jobs: Disrupt Hibbert, and rebound. The man has been BALLIN' OUT!
Lewenberg: Roy Hibbert has been the best, most consistent player in a series that features LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and an emerging Paul George. Just let that marinate for a moment. Miami has no answer for Indiana's seven-footer in the post or on the boards and the Pacers have been at their best when they've exploited the Heat's lone major weakness. Known as one of the best interior defenders in the association, Hibbert has impressed with his offence, taking advantage of the smaller Heat frontcourt with an array of imposing post moves. If he was deployed to do what he does best – protect the rim – in the dying seconds of Game 1, Indiana could conceivably have a 3-1 advantage in this series (Frank Vogel… Great coach, poor decision).
Strickland: Roy Hibbert. It's one thing to be just big. It's another to be big, awkwardly skilled and possessing enough of a motor to drive Miami banoodles in the middle.
Watson: Roy Hibbert. Based on his pedestrian performance in the regular season (11.9 ppg and 8.6 rpg), he has been playing like a monster in the middle in this series averaging over 20 points and 10 rebounds a game. The Heat have no answer for him and he's out to prove that the center position isn't dead. The points notwithstanding, there's a fire in Hibbert that I haven't seen before and he's confident enough to want to put this team on his back, if he could pass some of that on to Paul George...
Ward: Through two games it was LeBron with a triple-double and a 36 point effort. But through four, it's Roy Hibbert who has been an absolute beast for Indiana in the middle. More than the big numbers in the series (23 points and 12 rebounds) what has been most impressive is Hibbert's drive to win. You can see how much he wants to beat Miami. I also give him a ton of credit for the way he handled being left on the bench at the end of Game 1. Rather than sulking and letting it affect his play, he has taken it as his mission to expose the Heat, and their lack of a true big man, inside.
3. Which team will advance to the NBA Finals?
McPeak: Heat in 7. YES, I think this series is going the distance. Based on the first four games, both teams have had a horrible game, and both teams have had a great game and bounced back. The Pacers have been good defensively, however Paul George needs help outside of Hibbert. He can't be left to guard LBJ, and still be the leading scorer. The Heat have so much fire power that when they are hitting on all cylinders they are virtually unstoppable. James is, well, he needs no explanation. Wade, if he can just get around the corner with his knee, he can be great - and we've seen glimpses of it through the first four games. Chris Bosh has been holding his own down low and from the outside. Ray Allen has been in a shooting slump, but slowly seems to be shooting his way out of it. Mario Chalmers has been quiet throughout the series, but is contributing when needed.
Lewenberg: My prediction has not changed; Heat in six. Miami has not lost back-to-back games since early January. Coming off a disappointing loss I expect LeBron and company to be out for blood in Game 5 (see: Game 3). After that, I wouldn't be surprised to see them put the nail in Indy's coffin (they're 6-1 in elimination games over the last two postseasons). The Pacers have fought admirably but the fact remains, their best is good enough to stay neck and neck with the more talented Heat. When Miami is at its best… (see: Game 3).
Strickland: The Heat.
Watson: The Miami Heat. Despite the absence of impact from Shane Battier, Norris Cole and until last night Ray Allen, the Heat haven't been able to put it together completely. Kudos to the Pacers defence, they have neutralized the Heat's 3-point shooting and floor spacing. But when you have the defending champions and the best player in the universe in LeBron James, you will always come out on top. Reggie Miller is not walking through that door.
Ward: My head says Miami (LeBron) is just too good, but my gut tells me the Pacers can pull this off. The Heat have no real answer for Hibbert inside and I think the physicality of this series is starting to wear on them a bit. Wade's knee is holding him back and now Bosh is banged up too with a sore ankle. As for Indiana, a lesser team might have crumbled after being routed in Game 3. They didn't, they pulled themselves off the mat and came back swinging to even the series. Call me crazy, but I think Indiana has the moxie to win this thing.
4. Will the long layoff help or hurt the Spurs?
McPeak: Most would say the time off will help the Spurs given their age, however, the time off can also backfire for the same reason. Yes, Tim Duncan is in probably the best shape of his life, but Ginobili and Parker have been playing through injuries. In the first two series the Spurs were able to finish the series off and move on to the next with minimal time off. Their bodies are in a groove right now, and they are used to playing. The longer the Spurs have off, the more it can hurt them going into the NBA Finals, especially if the Heat/ Pacers go seven games.
Lewenberg: I'm not sure it helps but I don't foresee it hurting them either. Sure some extra rest could benefit the team's older nucleus but their core is actually in good health for a change. You can argue that the time off may kill their momentum but this isn't their first rodeo, they know how to pace themselves. Overall, it's mostly a non-factor for a veteran Spurs team that is sure to be prepared for the Finals regardless of the layoff/opponent.
Strickland: Help. This break, along with the one Pop gave Danny Green, Ginobili, Parker and the great Tim Duncan vs. Miami in November will pay dividends as the NBA Finals look to be far more competitive than the Western Conference Finals.
Watson: This is the San Antonio Spurs we're talking about. Gregg Popovich will have his team prepared, rested and ready for war in the NBA Finals. Of course the older guys can rest up, but you won't find the Spurs complaining about rust after Game 1. This is a team that plays regular season games with an eye on the playoffs, so you know the break will definitely be to their advantage.
Ward: Help. The Spurs don't need to worry about losing focus or rhythm - they have too much veteran leadership for that. The extra rest however will do them alot of good. Tim Duncan is the soul of this team and, at 37, a few extra days off are always welcome. Tony Parker meanwhile is the team's MVP but is nursing a bruised calf. The extra time should help him heal up, and the Spurs will need Parker at his best if they hope to win their fifth ring of the Duncan era.
5. How do this year's Spurs compare with their championship teams?
McPeak: Outside of "The Big Three" it's hard to compare this team to the previous Championship teams. That being said, this team is probably peaking at the right time in the playoffs moving forward. Coach Popovich is getting production not only from Duncan, Ginobili and Parker, but also from the supporting cast in Bonner, Splitter, Leonard, Diaw and Joseph to name a few. This team probably has most experience going into the Finals as a whole team. I think this is probably a top-5 San Antonio Spurs team.
Lewenberg: Like any great, well-coached team they have evolved and adapted to the changing NBA landscape. They are versatile in their approach, with the ability to match-up with any opponent while dictating their own tempo. Although their defence is not nearly as suffocating as it was back in 2007, their offence is more sophisticated and efficient than ever. Now, they feature a more Tony Parker-centric, faster paced offence predicated on spacing and ball movement. The one thing that hasn't changed is their knack of surrounding Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili with a terrific supporting cast.
Strickland: Each one is different because of the key bit players. Avery Johnson, Stephen Jackson and Big Shot Bob Horry all have their places in the lore of the only former ABA team to win an NBA title. It will be the fourth Finals appearance together for the Spurs Big 3, but common denominators, Coach Gregg Popovich and The Metronome, Timothy Theodore Duncan, will have been there for all of them as the drive for five begins June 6th.
Watson: Tim Duncan is currently playing at a comparable level to that of a decade ago, where the Spurs won the Championship and he was named Finals MVP. Tony Parker is unstoppable and attacking from the point at an elite level. Only Manu Ginobili has slowed a bit, but this Spurs team is deeper than it has been in some time. The Spurs are good as they will ever be with their big three, playing defence and offence equally as efficiently. Last season, I had the Spurs set to reach the NBA Finals until they were spanked by OKC, but this team is better than last year's squad. While of course Coach Pop has mellowed with age ...ehhh maybe not, but he always has his team, 1-12 ready to compete.
Ward: It's tough to compare across the years, but this might be the best Spurs team since their 2002-03 run to the title in David Robinson's last season. While Manu Ginobili isn't as good as he was, Tony Parker is better than ever and Tim Duncan is playing like he's 10 years younger during the playoffs. What separates this Spurs team from previous iterartions is the ability to win playing any style. That's thanks in large part to the strength of this year's supporting cast including the dynamic wing duo of Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green.
The Five-Man Weave regular contributors are TSN Radio 1050 Raptors reporter Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050), Duane Watson (@sweetswatson) and Will Strickland (@WallStrizzle1) from TSN Radio 1050's 1-on-1 with Will and Duane, TSN.ca NBA Editor Mitch Ward (@jmitchw). Joining them this week is North Pole Hoops writer, McMaster Sports play-by-play announcer and occasional 1-on-1 guest host Meghan McPeak (@meghanmcpeak)