Cleveland finished off Detroit on Saturday night for the Eastern Conference title, which is just friggin' great. The NBA Finals were already going to be devoid of suspense. Now they're going to be devoid of a Game 6, and possibly even a Game 5.
|Take pride in that Eastern Conference trophy, because the fun ends in the Finals. (Getty Images)|
Look, Detroit can't beat San Antonio either. Not four times in seven games. Maybe not even two or three times in seven games. But if the Pistons had gotten to the NBA Finals, they wouldn't have needed San Antonio to play possum on the road to win once or twice in Detroit.
It's the matchups, stupid.
Right here I'll pause to let you call me stupid. Go for it. Tell me my premise is undercut by the regular season, when Cleveland beat San Antonio twice in two tries, and when San Antonio swept two from Detroit. In other words, if I'm hearing you correctly, you're telling me I have it completely backward: That of the two Eastern Conference finalists, Cleveland -- not Detroit -- is the more likely choice to give the Spurs a competitive series.
That was the regular season. This is the playoffs, and the playoffs are different for a dominant team like San Antonio. The Spurs finished the regular season seeded third in the West, but ripped through the bracket. San Antonio needed just five games to eliminate Denver. Second-seeded Phoenix? That took six games. Utah? Five games.
After being above average in the regular season, the Spurs have become unstoppable, almost unbeatable, in the playoffs.
And with Cleveland on the other side of the court, the Spurs are unbeatable.
Matchups, people. Matchups.
In the Eastern Conference finals, Cleveland was lucky enough to run into a Detroit team with good balance but no individual greatness. That made the Pistons vulnerable to the kind of individual greatness only LeBron James can deliver.
The Spurs, however, are the Pistons on (legal) steroids. The Spurs have great balance and great individuals. LeBron can't beat the Spurs by himself, but unless Daniel Gibson can quintuple his season scoring average against the proud Spurs -- as he did Sunday against the pathetic Pistons -- James doesn't have the supporting cast to try it any other way. The Spurs can let LeBron score 40 and still win by 10.
The mismatches are inside and out. Cleveland has nobody to stop Spurs power forward Tim Duncan or point guard Tony Parker. Truth is, the only Cavalier with the size, strength and quickness to harness Duncan is LeBron James, but Cavs coach Mike Brown would be insane to wear out his one-man offense on defense. LeBron will get a cake assignment like Bruce Bowen, freeing him to score as many points as possible when Cleveland has the ball.