Trailing the series, 2-1, the Miami Heat regained home-court advantage in the 2013 NBA Finals by topping the San Antonio Spurs, 109-93, in Game 4. Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News joined Bill Littlefield to break down Game 4 and preview the rest of the series.
BL: LeBron James and Dwyane Wade combined for 65 points in Game 4 on Thursday. Chris Bosh had 20. I guess when LeBron talked earlier in the series about having to play better, this is what he meant.
MM: I think it was, and I think his defensive presence was just as important as his offensive game. LeBron promised he was going to be better. He was. And so was Dwyane Wade, who played like 2006 Dwyane Wade, so that’s a major storyline in this NBA Finals that’s getting more interesting by the day.
BL: 37-year-old Spurs forward Tim Duncan has also played very well in the series. Did Duncan find that fountain of youth in Florida that eluded Ponce de Leon?
MM: Well, that’s been a storyline for the Spurs all season long because he really had a renaissance season. He was healthier. He finally admitted to us his weight loss total of 30-35 pounds from last season to this, which takes a lot of pressure off his knees. He has a left knee that’s a problem. He has to wear a brace on it all the time that was a big factor. He just rediscovered something about his game. He was All-NBA First Team, which is remarkable for a 37-year-old player, the oldest player since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to be first team All-NBA. So a great season and playoffs for Tim Duncan who’s one of the greatest, if not the greatest, power forward ever to play the game.
BL: Will the outcome of this series affect how much longer Tim Duncan will keep playing?
MM: Some of us have kicked around the notion that if the Spurs were to win that Tim might want to go out with another championship. But Tim loves to play the game so much that he’s going to continue playing. He has two years left on a contract. The second additional year is at his option, but if he’s still playing well, if he’s still playing as he is now, I think he’ll continue playing.Even if the Spurs do win I don’t think he’ll hang it up. He just loves to play too much.
BL: Duncan has had a lot of help from some of the Spurs’ less-heralded players. Tell us a little bit about the contributions of Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and Gary Neal.
MM: Well, Kawhi Leonard is a player that Gregg Popovich has said is going to be the future face of the franchise, which is a lot for Gregg Popovich to say about a player who is 21 years old. But he’s a very athletic 6-foot-7 small forward, and he’s a tremendous defender. He’s a very smart player, makes very few mistakes. He’s gotten better in the playoffs. A lot of players, as Popovich said the other day, don’t handle the bright lights well. Kawhi has proven he does. He’s going to be a great player for the future. Whether or not the Spurs win a championship might depend on how he’s able to defend LeBron James in the remaining games.
And then Danny Green is a player who knocked around the NBA and Europe for a few seasons before ending up with the Spurs in a regular situation, a starting situation. And he has also proven that he can handle the pressure. He’s a terrific three-point shooter and a good defender.
The surprise for the Spurs in the Finals has been Gary Neal coming off the bench and knocking down three-pointers. He had a rough season because he had plantar fasciitis, still is having problems with it. But Pop rested him a lot during the season to have him ready for the playoffs, and he has really come to the fore in the Finals and is playing more than he has all season long.
BL: Should the Spurs go on to win the sparkling Larry O’Brien Trophy this year, should we consider the Tim Duncan Era to be among the NBA’s greatest?
MM: I don’t think there’s any question about that. I’m not even sure they need to win again to have the Tim Duncan era be considered one of the great eras in NBA history. When you look at the overall accomplishments of the Spurs: the number of times they’ve gone to the Finals, their record during Tim’s entire career. But yes, a fifth championship would really cement him as one of the greatest players in NBA history. I know Magic Johnson has commented that it would probably move him into consideration for the five greatest players in NBA history. Tim Duncan is for sure one of the best big men who ever played.
BL: Ok Mike, Game 5 is Sunday. How does the series go from here on out?
MM: Well this is the game. If the Heat win Game 5, I think the odds of the Spurs being able to win two games in Miami, six and seven, are almost nil. So if the Spurs win Game 5 and take a three-two lead to Miami with a chance to win one game there and close it out, then I think we have one of the great NBA Finals in history. I think the importance of Game 5 is enormous, and I think the winner of Game 5 probably has the best chance to win the series.
BL: That was all very exciting and extremely mealymouthed. Give me a winner?
MM: Miami Heat. A dear friend of mine who knows a lot about the NBA said before the playoffs began, ”Of all the teams that have no shot to beat the Miami Heat, the Spurs have the best shot.” The salient point of that comment was no team has a chance to win the NBA championship this year but the Heat. I’m afraid for Spurs fans that’s a reality. But as I said, they actually make them play the games. They don’t let us decide in advance.