Awaiting their opponent for the 2013 NBA Finals the Western Conference champions San Antonio Spurs have a much needed period of rest. Despite having an array of young, and impactful role players such as Kawhi Leonard/Danny Green the core of this team (the big three) in Tony Parker (31), Tim Duncan (37), and Manu Ginobli (35) could use this break. Considering the two options that await for the deciding opposing team the Spurs will be getting a taste of something I feel they haven't faced at all this post season. And that is athletic, physical, stifling championship defense & offensive play (inside) that matches the intensity that team exerts on the defensive side.
Tony Parker (23.0 ppg, 7.2 ast, .475 FG% [.375% from 3-pt]) has been sensational for San Antonio this post season, and in a likely hood there may not be a defense left in the playoffs that will stop him from being the great player he is. And Tim Duncan (17.8 ppg, 9.2 reb, .461 FG%) has continued to live by his reputation as arguably the best power forward to ever play the game. However the two remaining defenses in the Miami Heat, and the Indiana Pacers can do what the Lakers, Warriors, and Grizzlies could not vs the Spurs: put pressure on Parker/Duncan, force crucial turnovers, and shut down the "others" (Shaq's word for role players).
-The Indiana Pacers have what many believe to be the most feared defense this season. And we've seen that throughout the post season, and in key moments during their bout in the Eastern Conference Finals vs the Miami Heat. The perimeter defense from young talents Paul George, George Hill, Lance Stephenson & others has been at times too much for a championship back court that features LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Ray Allen and Mario Chalmers.
And to add to that the big guys down low in David West, and the tower Roy Hibbert who stands tall at 7'2'' have been key in the paint. The Spurs have yet to face pressure, and physicality like this despite facing a team who could have matched that in the Memphis Grizzlies (who failed to implement that toughness).
On the other end the team most people believe will get to the finals in the Miami Heat. What this team lacks in size compared to the Pacers, they make up for in athleticism, versatility, and effort. As we've seen Miami's defense led by MVP LeBron James has put forth a defense just as stifling as Indy's. The difference is the point of attack, and the approach. With versatile big men in Chris Andersen aka Birdman, Udonis Haslem, and Chris Bosh switching off at will, and using their length it forces the front court of teams to rethink attacking the paint at crucial times.
However the crown jewel of this defense is pressuring the perimeter defense which plays into their whole scheme. It will be a tough series if Miami is to move on for Tony Parker, Manu Ginobli, Danny Green and others due to the elite back court defense provided by LeBron James (who could be matched up on Parker), Dwyane Wade, Mario Chalmers, Shane Battier, and the young Norris Cole. Their ability to intercept the passing lanes, switch off without issue, and force turnovers gives them a perimeter edge.
However the most important factor for both Eastern teams going forward is the effort both give on defense every night. That combined with the skills, and strategies they both use makes for an aggressive defense that quite frankly the Spurs haven't faced this post season.
-On offense both teams also possess the ability to do what the Spurs past opponents have not been able to do consistently in the playoffs. Score inside, and outside fluently vs this Spurs defense. A defense that I do hold in high regards due to the great coaching from Greg Popovich, and the talent the Spurs possess. However they've seen offenses that mainly have one point of attack.
The Lakers who desperately missed future Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant tried to use the featured post attack of Dwight Howard/Pau Gasol (too late for that one), the Warriors couldn't get through with their sensational perimeter play that featured Steph Curry/Klay Thompson along with others, and the Grizzlies much like LA tried to use their rugged duo in the post in Zach Randolph & DPOY Marc Gasol who both failed to make that impact in the post.
With the Heat, and Pacers we've seen both teams light it up from the perimeter, and aggressively attack the paint like no other. Indiana could go to rising star Paul George (and other Indy guards) who have proven to get it done most nights or play bully ball down low with West & Hibbert. Miami has the luxury of being led by the most versatile player in the game in LeBron James who at will decides how he wants to attack (inside or out), and with the movement of the ball Miami sees plenty of opportunity from basically every area on the floor.
I believe the Spurs are a great team, and I also believe they aren't a door mat that either the Heat or Pacers would just walk all over to reach the trophy. However I do believe both teams possess the skills, and factors that make them the most lethal threats San Antonio has seen so far. And looking at this from the East's side both the Heat, and Pacers are facing the toughest teams (defensively) they will see this post season if one is to move on to face San Antonio.
Miami who is answering the call of the Pacers right now leading 3-2, also went through another tough series vs the Chicago Bulls.
That experience I believe would prepare Miami for a less aggressive defense they would see from the Spurs. And the same could be said for Indy as they are not only facing the defending champs stifling defense, but got through the Knicks who showed great defensive effort this season. We'll see how things pan out, and the discussion will get even more interesting when the Finals match up is finally set.