NBA Western Conference Finals
An underwhelming essence hit my taste buds on Friday night when the systematic San Antonio Spurs defeated the exhilarating Phoenix Suns to close out their Western Conference semifinals series.
It was not because I had picked the Suns to win the championship in my NBA season preview (they actually lasted longer in the playoffs than favorites Miami and Dallas). It was more the fact that with Phoenix’s loss, basketball fans across the nation will now have to sit through a morose western final featuring two of the west’s most methodical teams, the San Antonio Spurs and Utah Jazz. Couple this with the fact that the winner will likely take on the same-old Pistons in the finals and it is not a sexy match up that screams Nielsen ratings.
I can’t make excuses for the Suns when they lost their games fair and square, but no doubt playing game five without two of their better players (Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw) did not bode well as San Antonio edged the pivotal game out in Phoenix. Stoudemire and Diaw were suspended after leaving the bench when the Spurs’ Robert Horry forearmed the Suns’ Steve Nash. The Spurs essentially sacrificed the fossilized relic of Horry for Stoudemire and Diaw. You can guess who got the better of that exchange.
But controversies aside, the Spurs proved they are at least as good as a Phoenix team that was hitting on all cylinders in round one of the playoffs. The aging Spurs still have something in the tank.
Meanwhile, the Utah Jazz finds itself in the western finals after defeating the offensively middling Houston Rockets in seven games and then the flavor-of-the-month Golden State Warriors.
In round one, the Warriors benefited from their series with the team they best matched up with (Dallas) and a home crowd that could only be described as rabid (seriously, do they lace fans with PCP at Oakland Arena? I am a die-hard Sacramento Kings devotee and I have never seen fans literally stand for the entire length of a game).
In round two against the Jazz, the Warriors looked more like the average, 42-40 team they had been in the regular season. They were horrendously out-rebounded, seemed lost when they could not run and were matched gamely by Utah when they did try to run.
In the western finals, we have a San Antonio Spurs team coming to the end of its dynasty. With four players at least 35 years old this season and after a heartbreaking defeat at the hands of Dallas in its seven game western finals series last year, San Antonio is vying to make the most out of a fleeting opportunity: another NBA championship in the Duncan era.
The Jazz are a newer, poor man’s version of the Spurs. The team is well-coached and makes the most out of its talent but will need big games from Carlos Boozer and Deron Williams. It may also lean on Derek Fisher for leadership. Fisher has had an inspiring playoffs despite missing games because of his ill daughter. The Jazz will need consistent play from secondary players Mehmet Okur and Andrei Kirilenko, who have proven inconsistent in the postseason thus far.
The Jazz can certainly compete with the Spurs but in a seven-game series it will be hard to prevail, especially without home court advantage. The ex-factor likely will be San Antonio’s Manu Ginobili, who offers explosiveness off the bench that Utah won’t be able to match with its shallower bench. After outlasting stiff competition from the Nuggets and the Suns, San Antonio should be considered the favorite here.
Prediction: Spurs over Jazz in six games.