Simulation engine predicts a seven-game series in Spurs-Heat title rematch
Rematch. Arguably the greatest word in the sporting vernacular.
Sequels have bestowed some of athletics' most entertaining theater. The Thrilla in Manila. The 2004 ALCS. Super Bowl XLII. Rocky II. NBA fans will be hoping for similar drama as the San Antonio Spurs take on the Miami Heat in a follow-up to last summer's instant-classic Finals affair.
Can Miami, a two-time defending champion, make it a three-peat, or will San Antonio grab its fifth ring in the Tim Duncan-Gregg Popovich Era? Let's check the predictions from the award-winning WhatIfSports.com basketball simulation engine:
Game 1: Miami Heat at San Antonio Spurs
With a league-best 62-20 record in the regular season, the Spurs get the honor of hosting the series opener. San Antonio takes advantage of a raucous AT&T Center, with contributions from big men Duncan and Tiago Splitter fueling a Game 1 victory by a count of 107-101.
The Spurs' depth was evident off the bat, as the second unit's run in the closing minutes of the first opened up a 32-19 lead. This shooting clinic continued in the second, with the venerable Duncan and Patty Mills directing the scoring barrage to put the Heat at a 24-point deficit at half. Though Miami made a third-quarter charge, San Antonio's advantage was too large to overcome.
While both teams struggled from deep (San Antonio went 7-for-28 from three, Miami going 7-for-27), the Spurs got it done at the line, hitting 32-of-37 shots from the charity stripe. Duncan, at 38 years young, paced the way for San Antonio, pouring in 22 points and grabbing 12 boards, with Splitter chipping in a double-double (14 points, 10 rebounds) and Kawhi Leonard adding 16 points. In defeat, LeBron James was held mostly in check, converting just six of 20 shots from the field, albeit with eight assists and seven rebounds. Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh combined for 43 points.
NBA Finals Game 1
|Player of the Game: Tim Duncan - 22 points, 12 rebounds, 4 assists|
Game 2: Miami Heat at San Antonio Spurs
How quickly the tide can turn. After a dominating display in the Finals' opener, San Antonio struggled to find an offensive rhythm early. Though the Spurs found some continuity with the rock in the second half, it proved to be too late, as Miami evens up the series with a 118-112 win.
Bosh, who scored 70 points in the final three games of the Eastern Conference Finals, has continued his scorching touch against the Spurs, leading the Heat with 26 points on the night. James was held under 20 points for the second straight outing, but exceled in other facets of the game with 10 dimes and eight rebounds. Wade, healthy this Finals after battling knee injuries in 2013's championship round, likewise submitted a steady all-around performance with 18 points, eight rebounds and six assists.
The Spurs were boosted by Leonard (24 points) and Tony Parker, who showed little effects of an ankle sprain suffered against the Thunder with 20 points and eight assists. San Antonio was done in by Miami's downtown dexterity, as Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis propelled the Heat to 13 three-point field goals.
NBA Finals Game 2
|Player of the Game: Chris Bosh - 26 points, 9 rebounds|
Game 3: San Antonio Spurs at Miami Heat
The high-scoring tangos in Texas came to a halt in South Beach, as both clubs put the hammer down on D. Miami seemed poised to run San Antonio out of the building following a 27-9 first-quarter, yet the Silver and Black would not go quietly into the night. San Antonio was able to erase the deficit thanks to a late barrage from Marco Belinelli, and a Duncan-to-Splitter cut gave the Spurs a one-point lead with seconds to go. However, James reminded everyone why he remains the best player on the planet, slamming home the game winner as time expired to give the Heat an 84-83 victory.
It wouldn't be the Finals without a little controversy, and Game 3's box score delivers that punch, with San Antonio attempting just three free throws against Miami's 21 tries. Nevertheless, the Spurs labored to put the ball through the cylinder, with Leonard's 13 points leading the team. Duncan grabbed 15 boards, but struggled (6-for-14) with his shot.
NBA Finals Game 3
|Player of the Game: LeBron James - 16 points, 11 rebounds, 8 assists|
Game 4: San Antonio Spurs at Miami Heat
San Antonio was able to brush off Game 3's heartache to come back with a vengeance, highlighted by a 28-13 first-quarter run. Though they had to repel a turning-back-the-clock display from Jesus Shuttlesworth, the Spurs were able to hang on for a 112-105 win, tying the series at two games apiece.
San Antonio's depth was evidenced in Game 4, as seven players scored in double digits. Duncan again posted a sound start with 24 points and 12 rebounds, while Manu Ginobili and Belinelli combined for 29 points to steer the second unit.
Miami's trio of stars stalled out on center stage, with Wade and Bosh scoring only 11 each. James filled the stat sheet with 10 rebounds, five assists and four steals, yet again failed to cross the 20-point plateau. If Miami hopes to defend its title, James will need to get more aggressive toward the rim.
NBA Finals Game 4
|Player of the Game: Tim Duncan - 24 points, 12 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks, 2 steals|
Game 5: Miami Heat at San Antonio Spurs
Ask and you shall receive. James handed in his finest game of the series, scoring 26 points to go along with nine boards and seven assists. That proved to be enough in a relatively sloppy game, with Miami's 100-92 triumph putting the club one win away from the Larry O'Brien trophy. Both squads failed to find tempo on the offensive end, yet the Heat used a strong fourth quarter from their guards to seal the deal.
San Antonio's vaunted bench failed to muster much of merit. Most notably, Ginobili finished with just two points in 17 minutes. Parker scored 17 but dished out only three assists, while Leonard bounced back with 15 points, six rebounds and five dimes. Shooting just 29.6 percent from long range and 53.3 percent at the line, the Spurs definitely let one get away.
NBA Finals Game 5
|Player of the Game: LeBron James - 26 points, 9 rebounds, 7 assists|
Game 6: San Antonio Spurs at Miami Heat
Don't be planning that parade route just yet, Miami. Duncan, Parker and Ginobili helped San Antonio stave off elimination with a 102-101 nail-biter, surviving a last-minute charge from the Heat to force a Game 7.
San Antonio's Big Three combined for 49 points, with Danny Green chipping in from beyond the arc and Leonard posting a double-double. Miami was undone by poor free-throw shooting, converting only 16 of 26 attempts.
NBA Finals Game 6
|Player of the Game: Kawhi Leonard - 12 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals|
Game 7: Miami Heat at San Antonio Spurs
With a seven-point Spurs lead heading into the fourth quarter, it appeared Miami's reign at the top of the hardwood world was nearing an end. However, thanks to a fury of fast break points from Wade and James, combined with a few timely defensive stops, the Miami Heat accomplish the three-peat, knocking off the San Antonio Spurs 108-105 for the Game 7 victory.
While his scoring average saw a precipitous drop in the Finals, James rose to the elevated occasion, racking up 28 points, six boards, six assists and two steals. Wade was not to be outdone, flirting with a triple-double with 26 points, eight assists and six rebounds, with Bosh contributing 19 points as well. Aside from having three of basketball's greatest players on its side, Miami also benefited from a 25-to-6 free-throw discrepancy.
The Spurs can't blame the refs, though, as San Antonio turned the ball over 17 times. In defeat, Duncan, in perhaps his last game, finished with a double-double in 15 points and 11 rebounds. Parker and Ginobili also scored 15, with Leonard leading the team with 22 points.
NBA Finals Game 7
|Player of the Game: LeBron James - 28 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals|
He wasn't the scoring tour de force that we've seen in the past, but James still garners the Finals MVP thanks to his all-around play, giving James the honor for the third straight year. Bosh, ridiculed in the early rounds of the postseason, also submitted commendable outings, as did Wade, who avenged his shaky 2013 Finals with a strong series.
Duncan defiantly stated the Spurs would take care of business this go-around. Unfortunately for the Big Fundamental, the King had a different agenda.
2014 NBA Finals - 1,001 Head-to-Head Simulations
|Matchup||Win %||Avg. PPG|
|San Antonio Spurs||49.3||103.7|
Joel Beall is the Assistant Content Manager for WhatIfSports.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.