There is another Big 3 in basketball. They strap into the roller coaster known as the NBA Finals seeking a legacy.
San Antonio’s Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili join iconic Lakers and Celtics as the only trio to play together in the Finals for the fourth time.
The Miami Heat’s triumvirate of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh embarks on its third consecutive Finals starting here Thursday. The defending champs are seeking a dynasty.
After Duncan won his fourth and most recent title in 2007, he embraced James in the arena corridor connecting locker rooms. His Spurs had just swept James’ Cleveland Cavaliers.
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“It’s going to be your league in a little while,” Duncan told the 22-year-old James. “I appreciate you giving us this one.”
Duncan flashed a smile the public rarely sees. James let out a respectful laugh.
Now we find out if that little while has passed.
Or if Duncan will say the same thing, just as generous in triumph at age 37 as he was at 31.
On Monday night, after the Heat finally ran away from the Indiana Pacers, James said he is “20, 40, 50 times better” than he was in 2007.
The Spurs would argue that they have aged like fine wine.
We shall see how this series evolves, with two games in Miami, three in the Alamo City and two more back by the bay.
Those who are confident may add the “if necessary” asterisks. Those who love the permutations of a seven-game thriller prefer the “if fortunate” label.
This could be a clash worthy of classic stature.
Remember at season’s outset, when many envisioned the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard playing the Heat in a glamour Finals? Or Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook seeking rematch revenge?
Too many injuries and missteps later, we get an even better finale because this matchup is less obvious, less bombastic.
Basketball fans, you’re going to have to engage your brain for this one — and not just beat your chest.
At stake, promises to keep.
When James, Wade and Bosh united in the summer of 2010, they set their sights on multiple titles — lots of bling for the city of conspicuous consumption.
When the Spurs lost four straight games to Oklahoma City in last year’s Western Conference finals, Parker told Duncan to stick around for another shot.
“Since last year, I promised Tim we will go back to the Finals and get an opportunity to win the whole thing,” Parker said. “I try to do my best, try to be aggressive every night, and I think everybody on the team really wanted to do it for him.
“We won the West and now there’s one more step. This is the hardest one.”
At stake, a clock ticking toward time expired.
The Spurs’ Duncan and 35-year-old Ginobili are racing against the ravages of age — although Duncan has revitalized his game this season. It has been 14 years since his first appearance in the Finals. Ginobili missed 20 games due to injury. Coach Gregg Popovich became a master at resting his players who have had a week and a half off while the Heat got black and blue against Indiana.
Miami’s roster is getting creaky, especially Wade, who has a lot of bumpy miles on his 31-year-old chassis. He had a left knee problem last year and has a right knee problem this year that’s taken a toll on his physical skills and mental fearlessness in the postseason.
“When the ball is not going through the basket as much as you’re used to, you start hesitating a little too much,” Wade said after Game 7 Monday in acknowledging his lack of aggression in previous games. “I’ll figure it out. There will be some moments next series where I won’t be looking so great. I’ll continue pushing.”
James faces another Decision in a year. If the Heat loses, and Wade’s erosion continues during the 2014 quest, Miami’s Big 3 era could look like a blip compared to that of San Antonio.
At stake, opposing schemes. The matchups are to die for.
Goodbye Roy Hibbert and David West, hello Duncan and Tiago Splitter.
While the Pacers’ tentacle defense confounded the Heat, San Antonio optimizes positioning and switching. James shook off the young Paul George. Against the Spurs, he will often face the steely Kawhi Leonard, their best perimeter defender and steals leader.
San Antonio is a much better scoring and three-point-shooting team than Indiana and more careful. Miami has yet to crank its long-range game; although, Ray Allen gave a glimpse Monday.
Popovich is old school compared to new-age Erik Spoelstra.
And then there’s Parker, who has had no equal and no brakes this postseason as he slides off screens and snakes through defenses, finding openings where none existed.
It’s a championship tilt worth the long wait. Big 3 vs. Big 3 will be only a fraction of the action.