If you like close games in the fourth quarter, than the 2013 NBA Finals are not for you. Only two of the five contests have seen the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs within 10 points of each other in the final two minutes. The teams have played tight first halves and then pulled away from each other over the closing 18 minutes.
Late-game drama has been absent, yet these finals have delivered in another way that has left them thoroughly entertaining. Every game featured a drastic coaching adjustment from one side and then the other. Miami's Erik Spoelstra and San Antonio's Greg Popovich have been locked in a two-week game of human chess, with the winner taking home a world championship.
It was Popovich who made all the right moves during Game Five on Sunday. It was evident that it would be his night almost from the opening jump. The Spurs coach had decided to give struggling veteran Manu Ginobli his first start of the season and the likely future hall of famer rewarded him by having a hand in each of the Spurs' first five buckets.
Then Popvich pulled Danny Green to the sideline after his young wing player had made a few sloppy passes. Popovich knew he couldn't take Green out of the game because he was to take part in a jump ball that had just been whistled. Still, the coach wanted his player to receive his message immediately. He sat him down next to him like a college freshman and chewed his ear off for 30 seconds until the officials demanded Green's return to the floor.
The psychological ploy worked to perfection, as Green out-hustled everyone to each loose ball and continued to knock down treys at an historic pace.
Popovich also urged his team to push the tempo over and over again, and every time they heeded his advice, the Spurs got a great look at the basket. He then inserted Boris Diaw to defend LeBron James, and Diaw more than held his own against "The Chosen One" in the second half.
Popovich was like a maestro leading an orchestra through a perfect rendition of a classical piece of music.
Spoelstra has had his moments in the series as well. The man that many felt was in over his head as recently as one year ago, has held his own in matchup of minds with one of the greatest coaches in NBA history. His move to start Mike Miller in Game Four completely shocked San Antonio and left them with matchup quandaries across the board.
Still, if this series comes down to coaching, no one in the NBA today would have a chance to beat the Spurs. Popovich simply knows what buttons to push and when to push them. He gets the best out of players by knowing how to accentuate their strengths and hide their weaknesses. It seems like a simple concept, but you have to be able to both identify those strengths and weaknesses as well as know how to create a game plan that highlights what best suites your team. It is tough enough to be able to do one of those things, no one other than Popovich has managed to master them both.
He doesn't always get the credit he deserves because he can be surly with the media and because before these NBA Finals the whole world seemed to hate the Spurs, but Popovich will go down amongst the all-time greats. This series, if San Antonio can win one of the next two games, will be known as his masterpiece.