On the NBA: About Last Night

I wanted to believe what I believed: that the Pacers and Heat were in a dead-lock. But after Game 7, it seems that—once again—Miami has inadvertently toyed with a captive NBA audience, submitting and withdrawing their full attention and effort as it suits them; relying heavily on their vaunted ON/OFF switch, again. I wanted to believe this wasn’t so; that what Zach Lowe calls the “Five Percent Theory” (that harbinger of hope for those seemingly unchosen teams) would find the ultimate pudding for its proof. Instead, I’m as cynical about the Eastern Conference’s balance of power as I’ve ever been.

The potential flipside to this, I tell myself, is that Indiana was merely not battle-tested enough. They did, indeed, look shaky in a way unbefitting of them (or any team who makes it one victory from the Finals), as nearly every pass was a prayer, shot selection was bad, turnovers were rampant, and execution was generally stilted in the way of young men facing something bigger than they were ready for.

What this means is that the problems of the Miami Heat, drawn out ad nauseum in anticipation of this unlikely elimination game, are far from gone. Simply punishing a sophomoric opponent can not reverse their serious flaws. Their style of play in this win resembled the fare of their 27-game winning streak, as it was an open-court feast, thriving on forced turnovers and easy baskets. This, we’ve seen, is not a formula for playoff success. This year’s playoffs seem almost constructed as a symposium on the enduring value of the kind of post presence that the Heat’s somewhat-experimental style (referred to as “positionless” by coach Spoelstra) eschews.

And in Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter, the San Antonio Spurs have yet another pair of big men who the Heat aren’t equipped to match. They’re also a wily, fearless crew who can’t be exploited in the style of last night—not once.

I find myself following this line of reason further, but then reimagining all of the things LeBron James can do. If his team around him is motivated and executing, can anyone really beat the Heat 4 times in 7 games? It’s infinitely difficult to tell which of Miami’s problems are “real”—strategic, Basketball-specific problems—and which are merely the result of their seemingly quite limited mental and spiritual energy; which, it appears, is still enough to push them through a series.

Game to game, I just don’t know what I’ll get from the Heat. So I don’t know what I’ll get from these finals—but I’m a fan of the notion that it’s the best title matchup we’ve seen in years and years.

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