Regularly throughout the NBA playoffs, we’ll be checking in with former Raptors head coach Butch Carter for an insider’s perspective on the X’s and O’s that lead to W’s and L’s. Today, Coach Carter identifies the key players on both sides of the NBA Finals.
LeBron James and Tim Duncan may be getting the most attention heading into the NBA Finals, but it will be the backcourt stars—Dwyane Wade, Ray Allen and Tony Parker—that will ultimately be the difference in this series.
In Game 2 of last year’s finals, Tony Parker was minus-27. The Spurs lost that game.
In Game 3, he was plus-27. San Antonio won.
So as Parker goes, so do the Spurs.
However in 2013, despite how close the series was, Parker really wasn’t as effective as you might think. He only shot 41 percent for the series and 28 percent from behind the arc—hitting only two three pointers total—and took just 33 free-throw attempts, converting only 24 of them.
But none of that changes the fact that Parker remains the key difference maker this time around, and not just in terms of whether he can stay healthy and remain on the floor. And that’s because of San Antonio’s ability to create higher-percentage shots for Parker while keeping the Heat defence on its heels.
San Antonio normally runs Parker away from the ball, meaning he pitches the ball to the wing and goes to the opposite end of the court. The Spurs then reverse the play through their bigs to get the ball back to Parker, with Duncan setting the screen that leaves him that elbow jumper he likes.
The challenge of slowing Parker will be mostly left to Norris Cole, especially considering Mario Chalmers is not a good individual defender. But it can be a lose-lose scenario guarding Tony Parker: half of the time he’s playing ISO basketball, while the other half the Spurs are knocking your brains out with a screen. The advantage for San Antonio is that the defender is always looking for that screen, and then suddenly Parker will take off, head to the sideline and pull up for that elbow shot. You’re always guessing and that’s a tough spot to be in over the course of a seven-game series.
Ray Allen was the difference last year. He shot 54.3 percent from the field (including 54.5 percent from deep) and averaged 10.6 points in 27 minutes per game. When you have an older guy, a lot of times their stats don’t tell the whole story, but when you combine what Allen and Dwyane Wade gave the Heat in last year’s Finals, it was enough to put Miami over the top. Together out of the shooting guard position, they shot 52 percent and scored 30 points per game.
For his part, Allen was afforded a number of open looks because it got to the point that when the Spurs double-teamed LeBron, Allen’s man was the helper. And let’s be real here: When you have a championship player shooting 54.5 percent behind the line while playing the fifth most minutes of anybody in the series, you’ll be hard to beat.
Part of Allen’s success, too, had to do with the defensive inefficiencies of the backup two-guard for the Spurs last year, Gary Neal, who did not lock down on Allen like he needed to. This year that responsibility could land on Manu Ginobili, who appears to be more engaged, and his defense should provide an upgrade. However, the task may also fall to Neal’s replacement, Marco Bellineli, who isn’t exactly known as a lock-down defender, to say the least.
As for Wade, when he has energy, the Spurs don’t have an answer for him. Kawhi Leonard may be that guy, but much of his time is spent guarding LeBron. And when Dwayne Wade is feeling like Flash Gordon—like his old self—he’s incredibly tough for anybody to defend. The reality is that the reward for sacrificing Wade during the regular season by playing him less games is supposed to show up now. Flash Gordon will be making many appearances over the course of this series.
Prediction: Heat in Six.
For more insight and analysis on the NBA playoffs, follow Coach Carter on Twitter @TOButchCarter