On one of my old blogs, I had a tradition of breaking down the four possible Super Bowl matchups prior to the Conference Championship games. At a reader’s suggestion, I started doing the same for other sports. With the Conference Finals underway in the NBA, it’s time for the inaugural edition of this tradition on this blog!
1) Spurs vs. Celtics
Where Doing It Right Happens
It usually means something when the vast majority of casual fans want one series (hint: not this one), and People Who Know Things want a different one (hint: it’s this one.) Would a Thunder/Heat Finals put three of the best five players on the planet on the floor together? Yep. Would it be a ratings orgy? Definitely. Would it be the best basketball series available?
Nope. Not even close.
The Spurs are a very special basketball team. If you’re confused as to why I think that, Bill Simmons actually does a superb job of explaining it in the last section of this article. A Spurs/Celtics Finals would match up two teams that do things “the right way,” with an emphasis on the team, not on individual talent. Remember: the Celtics were a “Big 3″ super team before the Heat. But they acquired their super team through a pair of shrewd trades, without a self-created media circus. Their identity as a team? Ubuntu, the philosophy Doc Rivers has stressed since day one.
Sometimes there are complicated storylines leading up to the NBA Finals. Sometimes they’re simple. This one is in the latter category: these are just the two teams that deserve to be here.
2) Spurs vs. Heat
Where Obvious Contrasts Happen
I like to imagine a stunned silence has fallen over the audience at this point, much like when a pitcher has a no-hitter going and no one wants to say anything about it outloud. But you’re all thinking it. “She isn’t going to have it last, is she?” Without specifically mentioning what “it” is (preserving the no-hitter metaphor), I will spoil the ending and say no, I won’t. But unlike everyone else in America (aside from veteran basketball journalists and well-educated fans), I find either possibility involving the San Antonio Spurs much, much, much more interesting than any combination involving the Oklahoma City Thunder. Sorry.
Whereas San Antonio/Boston would be a matchup of the two teams that deserve to be there, San Antonio/Miami would be interesting because it would be a stark contrast between a team that deserves to be there and a team that doesn’t. On the one hand, you have a dynasty that built itself from the ground up and features excellent team defense, nearly flawless fundamentals, and without possibility of argument the best coach in the NBA. (There are maybe three coaches in the entire NBA who aren’t mostly interchangeable with any other halfway decent coach in the league. Gregg Popovich is one of them.) On the other hand, you have a team that walks around like it’s a dynasty even though it’s accomplished absolutely nothing and which assembled itself amid self-generated drama that belongs on reality television more than it belongs in sports. And you’d have an essential ingredient to a great NBA Finals: a natural hero and a natural villain.
Oh, yeah, and there’s the minor detail that these are definitely the two best teams left in the playoffs. So call me crazy, but this interests me more than the matchup everyone else wants to see. Speaking of which…
3) Thunder vs. Heat
Where Ratings Orgy Happens
“LeBron James! Kevin Durant! It’s the NBA Finals on ABC!” Yeah, okay, that’s really not remotely hard to promote, is it? It just doesn’t feel that interesting to me, for all the reasons I’ve already explained in the previous two entries.
4) Thunder vs. Celtics
Where Kendrick Perkins Happens
The obligatory “everyone else around me thinks this would be way more interesting than I do” series. (Admittedly, the previous series almost falls into this cateogry, too.) In this particular case, the disparity is because I live within Boston’s sphere of influence, everyone I know cares about Kendrick Perkins way more than I do. Due to the dearth of other storylines, be prepared to find out how many times per game the announcers can find an excuse to mention Perkins/Robinson-for-Green/Krstic/pick.