SAN ANTONIO -- Been sitting here for the better part of a day in San Antonio, trying to figure out how to explain the 2013 NBA Finals through four games -- trying to see the forest, not the trees, knowing full well how misleading the forest itself looks. After four games the Heat and Spurs are tied. The leading scorer and rebounder is LeBron James.
Looks about right, right?
Well it's not that simple. That's a misleadingly logical recap of a series that has made no sense. So anyway, this is what I came up with to explain the 2013 NBA Finals through four games. It's a 30-second snapshot from Spurs coach Gregg Popovich's press conference after Game 4, which the Heat won 109-93 to knot the series at two games each.
Question: Why has Manu been ineffective in this series?
Popovich: I don't know. If I knew that I would have already fixed it.
Question: Do you think he can get back on track?
Popovich: I hope so.
No, the story of the 2013 NBA Finals has not been Manu Ginobili. Don't go all "literal journalist" on me. The story of the 2013 NBA Finals has been what Popovich was saying about Ginobili. That's he's clueless. That he doesn't know what's happening, why it's happening, or what happens next. He's the head freaking coach of the San Antonio Spurs, and he's clueless.
That's pretty much how these 2013 NBA Finals are making us in the media feel, too. You guys are having a field day with that, with all of us in the media -- I read your message board comments; don't let us pretend we don't -- saying we're flopping more than Chris Bosh from day to day, one day saying THE HEAT WILL WIN and the next deciding THE SPURS WILL WIN.
WE DON'T KNOW WHO'S GOING TO WIN.
Win? Hell, we don't know which LeBron James will show up from game to game, even quarter to quarter. The shrinker from the 2011 Finals? The destroyer from 2012? He has been both in 2013 -- and that was just Game 2.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Let's go back to the beginning, to the big bang, when Dwyane Wade started the 2013 NBA Finals in a way that made sense: by dunking the ball after Tim Duncan got stuck in the primordial ooze of the Heat defense, lost the ball, and watched as Wade went the other way for a dunk. American Airlines Arena was bonkers, and the Spurs -- who hadn't played in 10 days -- were already in trouble. Which made sense. They were old, they were rusty, they were on the road.
They turned it over just three times the rest of the way, tying an NBA Finals record for the fewest miscues in a game, and won 92-88. Only thing that made sense about Game 1: After the game Heat coach Erik Spoelstra used his favorite word of motivational psycho-babble, "collective" -- twice in the same answer -- when asked about the Heat's history of rebounding from Game 1 losses:
"To be able to bounce back from certain situations, you have to have a toughness, you have to have a collective character," Spoelstra said. "We've also been through enough pain collectively that that can be motivating."
Game 2: LeBron starts 2 for 12, but he's picked up by
Dwyane Wade Chris Bosh Mario Chalmers, who leads all scorers with 19 points and has a pair of three-point plays and two assists to fuel a 14-0 run to end the third quarter. What was a close game is a blowout, and worse for the Spurs, it was a 103-84 Heat blowout in which LeBron James seemed to get comfortable, offensively, for the first time in the Finals.
Only thing that made sense about Game 2? Spoelstra's comments before tipoff when asked why his team hadn't lost back-to-back games in months.
"We just try to collectively figure it out and come back better," he said.
Game 3: LeBron isn't comfortable. He starts 2 for 13 and finishes 7 for 21 and is so disillusioned after a 113-77 blowout loss that he says "I didn't particularly care for myself" that night and adding, "I played like s--t." On the other side, the Spurs get monstrous games from their Big Three of
Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and Gary Neal. Leonard outplays LeBron at both ends, while Green and Neal combine to go 13 for 19 on 3-pointers. Read that sentence again. Hell, read the whole paragraph.
Only thing that made sense about Game 3? Spoelstra's comments after the game when asked about Mike Miller's hot shooting from 3-point range.
"Collectively we didn't do enough to make those matter," he said.
Game 4: After struggling for days (LeBron), weeks (Wade) and even months (Bosh), the Heat's Big Three play their best games of the Finals -- and do it on the same night that Manu Ginobili is awful and Tony Parker has 15 points and six assists in the first half but follows that with zero points and three assists in the second.
Only thing that made sense about Game 4? Spoelstra's comments before the game when asked about LeBron's willingness to shoulder the blame, should the Heat lose again:
"All of us collectively need to do a better job," Spoelstra said, and later adding, "We just played collectively a very bad basketball game [in Game 3]."
Spoelstra's vocabulary is the only thing that has remained consistent these NBA Finals. Wade is a mystery. Bosh is a mystery. So is LeBron, but it's not just the Heat who are impossible to predict. It's the Spurs, too. Parker's injury. Ginobili's confidence. And the game-to-game meanderings of young players like Green, Neal and Leonard.
All of it has Popovich adopting a tone that is the opposite of Spoelstra. To Spoelstra's apparent belief that he can talk his team to the title, Popovich counters with helpless fatalism, knowing he cannot.
Asked Friday about Ginobili, Popovich all but threw up his hands when he said, "He's going to get himself going, or he won't."
As for Parker, Popovich said he doesn't know (A) if his point guard will be healthy Sunday for Game 5 or (B) how his team will react if the answer is no.
"You're asking me to look into a crystal ball," Popovich said. "Depends on how well everybody plays. If he can't play at full speed, others will have to pick up the slack -- and they will, or they won't."
Depressing. You know what this story needs? It needs to feel good about itself. So we'll give the last word to Erik Spoelstra, who doesn't know which team will win Game 5 any more than you or I do, but he does know how Chris Bosh will battle the Spurs on the boards. This is what Spoelstra said Friday when asked about that:
"It will be a collective effort."