San Antonio’s Tim Duncan was key down the stretch late Saturday to help the Spurs eliminate the Thunder in the Western Conference finals. After the win, Duncan said he was confident the Spurs would avenge last season’s NBA Finals loss to the Miami Heat. (Reuters)
MIAMI — These past two weeks have been about the three Rs for the Miami Heat.
Revenge. Retribution. Retaliation.
Up next for the Eastern Conference champions? More of the same, in a rematch of the 2013 NBA Finals against the San Antonio Spurs.
On Friday, the Indiana Pacers went quietly into the balmy South Florida night, unable to avenge their losses to the Heat in the 2012 Eastern Conference semifinals and 2013 Eastern Conference finals.
But as the Heat turned their attention to their eventual NBA Finals opponent, the reality is it will be more of the same, having defeated the Spurs 4-3 in last season’s dramatic NBA Finals.
“Wouldn’t want it any other way,” Dwyane Wade said of having another opponent bent on settling a previous score. “Wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Neither, apparently, would the Spurs.
“We’re back here. We’re excited about it,” Spurs forward Tim Duncan said after the Spurs finished off the Oklahoma City Thunder 112-107 in overtime in Saturday’s Game 6 of the Western Conference finals. “We’ve got four more to win. We’ll do it this time.
“We’re happy that it’s the Heat again. We’ve got that bad taste in our mouths, still.”
Said Spurs guard Manu Ginobili, “We worked eight months really hard. We had a really successful season. And all we did was to get back to this point.”
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich on Saturday night praised his team for showing the “fortitude” this season to not have a “pity party” after losing to the Heat in last season’s Finals.
“I think our guys, they actually grew in the loss last year,” he said.
The last time the Heat faced a Finals rematch, it wasn’t the desired outcome, with the Dallas Mavericks exacting revenge in the 2011 NBA Finals after falling to Wade and the Heat in the 2006 Finals.
“Hopefully, it’s not the same outcome as it was the first time around,” Wade said, with those 2011 NBA Finals remaining the only playoff series the Heat have lost since Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined together in the 2010 offseason. “It’s going to be a big challenge.”
Unlike that five-years-later Mavericks rematch, these upcoming Finals will pit opponents with largely the same rosters as last season’s Finals meeting.
“They’re going to feel more prepared for this moment,” Wade said, with the Heat playing as the road team in the best-of-seven series that opens Thursday, after holding homecourt advantage last year against the Spurs. “It’s going to have its own challenges.”
Bosh said among his NBA disappointments was not getting his opportunity for revenge, retribution and retaliation against the Mavericks after those 2011 NBA Finals. So he appreciates that these Finals against the Spurs will arrive with intensity equal to, if not greater, than what the Pacers delivered these past two weeks.
“Oh, yeah, absolutely. We know what that feels like,” he said. “Yeah, I mean, it’s extra motivation for those guys … we understand that.
“So it’s just something that we have to deal with, and we know that they’re going to be very passionate, and they’re going to play some good basketball.”
For Wade and power forward Udonis Haslem, this will be their fifth Finals appearance, the two the last remaining Heat players from the 2006 Finals roster. It also will be the fifth Finals appearance for James, who advanced once with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
“You get drafted, and you’re just happy to be in the NBA,” Wade said of his unique, single-franchise ride. “You want to make a name for yourself. Eleven years later, you’ve gone to the Finals five times, and you’ve won [three] championships.”
Having survived the Spurs in a compelling series last season salvaged by Ray Allen’s Game 6 3-pointer, the Heat exited AmericanAirlines Arena on Friday night poised for the 12th Finals rematch since the league’s first title series in 1947. Of the 11 Finals rematches to date, there have been seven repeat winners, including, most recently, Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls over the Utah Jazz of Karl Malone and John Stockton in 1997 and 1998.
Wade said getting back to the championship series never gets old, no matter the road traveled, no matter the familiarity with the opposition.
“We’re just going to continue to try to enjoy this moment that we’re in because it’s an amazing moment,” he said. “It’s something that, for a lifetime, is going to fulfill us as athletes.
“Even when we can’t play this game, we’re going to always be able to talk about this. So we just want to continue to add to what we’re accomplishing.”
The Pacers series ended with Indiana coach Frank Vogel comparing James to Jordan, and the Heat to those championship Bulls.
“When you hear the comparisons, you respect it, you’re humbled by it,” James said, “and you just feel like while you’re in the moment, hopefully, while you’re playing the game, that you can make an impact enough to where you move on and people will start comparing you.”
While a fourth consecutive Finals appearance for players such as Wade, Bosh, James, Haslem, James Jones and Mario Chalmers comes with the memories of what could have been in that 4-2 loss in 2011 to the Mavericks, for point guard Norris Cole, there only has been ultimate success, championships in each of his first two seasons, and now the opportunity for his third since being drafted in 2011 out of Cleveland State.
“You don’t take it for granted,” he said.
Allen wasn’t around for the 2011 series against the Mavericks or the 2012 championship series against the Thunder, but with this to be his fourth Finals appearance, when counting two with the Boston Celtics, the enormity of the moment and the accomplishment is not lost on him.
“We don’t even really understand the magnitude of it until we’re old and gray,” he said of making four Finals. “You don’t just understand how tough that is.”