LeBron James knows the numbers. He knows how evenly matched the Heat and San Antonio Spurs were in the 2013 NBA Finals. That’s why he takes offense to the notion that the Spurs somehow should have won it.
The Heat didn’t get lucky.
The Spurs didn’t collapse.
That’s the narrative James will have dancing through his head as he steps onto the court at San Antonio’s AT&T Center for Thursday’s Game 1 of the 2014 NBA Finals. The Heat earned that championship last year, James knows. There is no other perspective.
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“Look at the numbers, the lead changes, the ties and the points in that series,” James said of the 2013 Finals. “It’s almost even ... So we did our part; they did their part. Both teams put themselves into position to win a championship.”
It was close, no question.
Through seven games there were 42 lead changes with the most (13) coming in Game 2. Game 7, a 95-88 victory for the Heat, featured seven lead changes and 11 ties. Overall, the two teams were tied 47 times during the series.
“It went seven,” James said. “It wasn’t like it was 3-0 and, you know, they had us in Game 4 and we took it and won four straight.”
All true, everything James said on Wednesday (Media Day for the Finals) and all supported by cold, hard numbers, but that’s not the reality by which the Spurs have operated in the 350 days since the last of that unforgettable series.
To Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, the Spurs blew it. For coach Gregg Popovich’s team, redemption starts now — redemption, and maybe a little something else.
“Revenge a little bit,” said Danny Green, whose ability as a three-point shooter was nearly too much for the Heat to overcome in 2013. “Last year’s loss was a motivating factor in us getting back here.”
Consider this because surely Green and his teammates have: the average final score of the 2013 Finals was Spurs 97.7, Heat 97. Total points scored: Spurs 684, Heat 679.
But presidents aren’t elected based on the general vote, and NBA Finals aren’t determined on aggregate or by average score. Florida and Ohio are swing states in more ways than one, Ray Allen hit that shot, Kawhi Leonard missed that free throw, Chris Bosh blocked that three-point attempt, Duncan botched that layup and the Heat won its second championship in a row.
“It was as close a series as you’ll ever see,” said Battier, who hit six three-pointers in Game 7.
But this one could be closer.
“Every possession means so much,” added Battier. “It’s a cliché, but especially against these guys, especially since they have home court, every possession is a mental grind.”
Unlike last year, when the Heat won 66 games in the regular season to earn home-court advantage through the playoffs, the defending back-to-back champions will play their final game of the postseason away from AmericanAirlines Arena if the series goes the distance. That was the price the Heat paid to give Dwyane Wade the best possible chance to be healthy for this series.
Wade sat out 28 games in the regular season to keep his knees healthy during the playoffs. So far those temperamental twins have responded to Wade’s every command without objection. He’s averaging 18.7 points per game in the playoffs while shooting 51.9 percent from the field (53.8 percent on the road). He felt so good against the Pacers he squared up from three-point range 13 times and made six of those attempts for 46.2 percent. Not bad for a career 28.9 percent shooter from distance.
And there’s this. With chronic knee soreness, Wade scored 32 points in that critical Game 4 in San Antonio last year. It was a 109-93 victory for the Heat and tied the series at two games apiece.
Wade in top form could be the difference in this series, but so could a lot of things. To name a few:
• Chris Bosh’s aggression. If he begins this series like he finished his previous one, then the Heat could steal a game in San Antonio. Bosh averaged 23.3 points per game in the final three games of the Eastern Conference finals.
“Really it’s on me to be effective,” Bosh said. “The last few games I’ve really made an effort to go out there and be aggressive and look for my shot and create some offense. Being aggressive doesn’t necessarily mean shooting it every time, but maybe creating for shots for my teammates and just having a different disposition.”
• Green’s three-point shooting. The Spurs’ marksman is shooting 48.1 percent from three-point range in the playoffs. In the first five games of the 2013 Finals, Green made 25 three-pointers, setting a record for the championship round. After the Heat accounted for the Spurs’ fast-moving offense, Green made just two three-pointers combined in games 6 and 7, both Heat victories.
“We understand their speed and pace, which if you’re not ready for is shocking and alarming,” Shane Battier said.
• Rashard Lewis. Someone has to pick up the slack for Mike Miller, who is no longer on the Heat. Miller started in the 2013 Finals and made 11 three-pointers on just 18 attempts. Lewis is expected to start in Game 1 at power forward after helping the Heat close out the Pacers in the conference finals.
“We won’t know who’s starting until they tell us [Thursday],” Lewis said. “It could be me, Udonis Haslem, Shane Battier or anyone else.”
• Tony Parker’s ankle. The Spurs’ star point guard injured it in Game 4 of the first round and rolled it again in the Western Conference finals. In Game 6 of the conference finals, Parker didn’t play in the second half due to limited mobility. Is he fearful?
“A little bit,” he said, “because you never know how it’s going to feel. But I’m trying to be very positive.”
• The Spurs’ bench. It’s averaging more than 42 points per game in the playoffs and has kept San Antonio’s aging starters well-rested.