The NBA Finals have arrived, and the San Antonio Spurs will meet the Detroit Pistons tomorrow at 8:00 pm on ABC. Where to begin? While I’m not sure that the series will be a long one, the teams that are playing appear to be well-matched. Both teams have great rebounding, outstanding team defense, are fundamentally sound, and get major contributions from every guy on the team. There are exciting individual match-ups as well, and at every position. Here is my take on each.
Just the facts here, no hype: Ben Wallace versus Nazr Mohammed. Everyone talks about Nazr (prounounced “Nawzzie”) being the important cog in this year’s Spurs team. I’ll give very little argument here: a good rebounder, a soft touch, a strong and good defender. We can say that he’s the best the Spurs have had at his position since The Admiral. However, we can’t say that he’s going to play that much of a factor in the series. Assuming Wallace plays Mohammed, Nazr won’t get the ball much, from passes or off the glass. So his superior offensive game won’t make a difference, as he is playing against the best interior defender in basketball. It may keep Big Ben from being able to switch off on him to play help defense, though, and this could prove to be key. Wallace will be a liability on offense; however, the Pistons have been dealing with that since he got there. The Defensive Player of the Year versus a very serviceable big man.
Strong Advantage: Pistons, Ben Wallace
At Point Guard:
Tony Parker versus Chauncey Billups. Both are excellent shooters and passers. Chauncey has better ball-handling, but Parker’s is not really suspect. Parker is quicker, but it won’t matter too much because of Detroit’s team defense. Billups gets a lot of credit for his leadership and decision making. Parker has it easier because his main decision making is done by Tim Duncan.
Slight advantantage?: Spurs, Tony Parker
Small Forward and Shooting guard:
Tayshaun Prince and Richard Hamilton versus Bruce Bowen and Brent Barry/Manu Ginobili. The two best man-to-man defenders in the game today (in Prince and Bowen) and a couple of hustle guys (Hamilton and Ginobili). That’s not controversial because Ron Artest is not in the game today. Both of these two defenders are excellent at shutting down the best individual players in the game. They have proven themselves against the cream of the NBA, but the cream are players who initiate the offense. In this case, Hamilton will be running all over the court, purely wearing out Bowen, getting into good position without the ball. Ginobili is a creator, but he is unpredictable enough that he may cause some problems for Prince. I think Bowen matches up better with a player who has the ball, and who he can play straight-up (, though he did fine keeping the ball away from Shawn Marion in the last series,) because he is more likely to get worn down. The matchup will cause more problems for him (versus Hamilton) than Prince against Ginobili, as Prince’s long arms will be a match for Ginobili’s circus skills.
Somewhat more of an advantage: Prince and Hamilton, Pistons
Greg Popovich against Larry Brown. Both are excellent “game coaches.” In that sense, they’re even. Let’s not waste any more time with small-talk.
Advantage: Popovich, Spurs
Rasheed Wallace versus Tim Duncan. Both are excellent defenders, both are excellent offensively. Rasheed is a better shooter from outside. He is also more athletic. He is one of the best all-around players in the NBA, and I would want him on my team every time. Even though Duncan has a better game from 10 to 15 feet, if these two guys were to play one-on-one, Rasheed would dominate. However, that’s not the way the truly beautiful game is played. Tim Duncan is the most important player in the NBA in terms of value to his team, and his team is the best in the NBA because of him. He is unstoppable if he gets the ball. Though Rasheed is a fundamentally sound player, Duncan is the most polished player in the game. His momentary basketball instincts are better than most coaches when they have 10 minutes to think about a given play. TD knows exactly what to do with the ball at any given time, and no player in the NBA can keep him from doing it. The Spurs have formed around him to become the most cohesive unit in the NBA on offense and defense. Everyone knows that the Spurs are far better offensively than the Pistons. However, San Antonio also had the number one defense in the league this year. Granted, the matchups will make things different, but despite the fact that the individual parts probably look better in Detroit, this series will go to the most finely-oiled machine, and this time it’s not made in Detroit.
Though I don’t like the Spurs that much, I think that the two best teams are in the Finals, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be.
Spurs in six.
This is every basketball fan’s chance to sound like an expert, or just enjoy the fun of discussing basketball; this is half the fun of watching it. Comment on the series. I had to sound audacious. You don’t.