Let the Finals fun begin
By Ben Bolch
The words weren't nearly as surprising as the player who uttered them.
LeBron James was bold enough to count his championships in bunches before slipping on his first ring.
Then there's Tim Duncan, who has won four titles but is usually more restrained in his comments than Marcel Marceau.
But there was the San Antonio Spurs power forward in the moments after his team won the Western Conference finals on Saturday night, making a declaration on TNT that made you visualize ears perking up in South Beach.
"We got four more to win," Duncan said. "We'll do it this time."
Say this NBA Finals rematch between the Spurs and Miami Heat became fascinating even before tipoff of Game 1 on Thursday in San Antonio.
"They don't like us, they don't. I can sense it from Timmy's comments over the last couple of days," James told reporters in Miami on Monday.
"They wanted this, they wanted us and we'll be ready for the challenge."
The Spurs have been waiting for this opportunity since Ray Allen made his soul-crushing three-pointer from the corner late in Game 6 of last year's Finals, capping the Heat's wild comeback from a five-point deficit in the final 28.2 seconds of regulation. There was a Game 7 two days later, though it almost needed an asterisk because San Antonio was already a beaten team.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich showed his team footage of the last two Finals games at the start of training camp, making his players relive the pain one more time.
"It was something that fueled us the whole season," San Antonio forward Boris Diaw said. "That's the first speech Pop gave starting in preseason. It was, 'OK, we had a shot last year, we didn't do it, but we have to go back there.' "
They're back, and perhaps even better than a year ago.
The veteran Diaw has not only turned back the clock with a series of strong performances but made time stand still as if he were in his 2006 prime.
Forward Kawhi Leonard, 22, who will presumably defend James, continues to emerge as both the team's future and its present.
Guard Manu Ginobili seems intent on matching every dreadful game from last season's playoffs with a tremendous one this time around. Duncan continues to make the big shots, including the turnaround jumper that bounced Oklahoma City from the playoffs.
The only question is point guard Tony Parker, whose sore left ankle kept him sidelined for the second half of the Spurs' series-clinching Game 6 victory over the Thunder. Here's guessing that he'll try to play in Game 1 against the Heat and, if his ankle flares up, immediately sit out to take advantage of the two-day break before Game 2.
The Spurs will be seeing red when they look at Miami's road jerseys for multiple reasons.
"We've got that bad taste in our mouths still," Duncan said. "Hopefully, we'll be ready to take it this time."
If those words qualify as shots fired, the Heat considers them blanks.
"(Duncan's comments) don't bother me," James told reporters. "Once you get on the floor, you've got to play. We're confident. We're not shying away from them. We want them, too. I don't think it's personal."
Not much is at stake for Miami besides its bid to become the first team to three-peat since the Los Angeles Lakers from 2000-02.
For the Spurs, winning the series would give Duncan and Popovich a fifth title and Ginobili and Parker a fourth.
It would also erase what Popovich once memorably described as a "lugubrious" feeling that has stuck with the Spurs for 348 days. Not that anyone's counting.
"We're back here now," Duncan said, "and we want to get it done this time."