Think of any provincial GAA ground in the country. They are all usually located in the centre of big times. These places are generally notoriously difficult to get in or out of. Everybody will have their own theories – or more to the point alternative routes – for dealing with such matters. More often than not, though, the usual, dreaded traffic jams will be encountered somewhere along the way. All of that recently came to mind in the context of the NBA Finals. The competitive season in basketball is one of the longest, most arduous and demanding in any sport. During the ‘regular’ season a team is guaranteed around 80 games and if they make the Playoffs – the equivalent of still being in the All Ireland SFC in August – could mean up to another 25.
No team could be expected to remain at the top of the Conference (division) tables for that length of time. Thus, as with horse racing or athletics, it’s all about timing the run right. Yet, greatness will eventually show itself when it’s needed most. And the most recent incarnations of the season ending marathons proved the sometimes clichés are unavoidable!
In most cases, the cream does indeed come to the top. Now, the Miami Heat might not be everybody’s cup of tea – no team that’s repeatedly successful generally is. That success wasn’t attained nor was the strong position maintained without good reason. Chief among the contributing factors was the strength and depth of their resources.
Any team that can afford to utilise players like Ray Allen, Mike Miller and Chris ‘Birdman’ Anderson sparingly is always going to be difficult to contend with. At times during the season just ended – particularly when embarking on an elongated unbeaten run – they looked near impossible to even compete against.
Of course, having the best player of this generation in the game at your disposal is always going to be a help too. And ultimately, it was the contribution of LeBron James that got the defending kingpins over the line. Not only in terms of the epic final game itself, but, maybe even more so, when the wheels came off the wagon a bit after the unbeaten run of earlier ended.
Many people might find the long winded nature of the basketball season a monotonous bore. Aficionados would counter that the seven game thriller between the Heat and the San Antonio Spurs typifies the attraction of the sport that keeps so many enthralled for so long. On that point, you need only look at the attendances at any game – NBA or colleges – to get a grasp of just how big a hit it is.
Outside of James, most would agree that Kobe Bryant is – or at least until recently was – the top performer in the NBA. He missed a large portion of the season through injury. His absence underlined his importance to the Los Angeles Lakers and, bereft of his incalculable influence, the Lakers hopes of making the playoffs evaporated.
As with any situation, the downfall of one presents an opportunity to another. In the end, it was the San Antonio Spurs that presented themselves as the final hurdle between the Heat and back to back triumphs. Quite an obstacle they turned out to be, too. They possessed a formidable record in the Finals as well, having never lost when they reached the ultimate stage.
I’d have to confess that not a lot was known hence about the Spurs before the final furlongs of the season commenced. Like everything, mind you, exposure brought familiarity and admiration. Players such as Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard, Gary Neal and Tim Duncan more than gave the Heat their bellies full of it.
In response, the ‘Birdman’ and Shane Batier and Ray Allen battled manfully to keep the contest warm. In the end, a marathon season was decided by a few seconds punctuated by an ordinary word given extraordinary meaning by Al Pacino and a bunch of clichés!
Inches. With Heat up 92-90, Duncan took a shot that danced around the rim of the basket like something out of Riverdance before bouncing out like a trout that was after escaping a fishing line. Allen had quenched the flames when his team were inches from being extinguished at the end of Act Seven.
To me, greatness should be defined by moments of genius when they are most required. So it was that James thrust himself to the centre of that auditorium’s universe to leave his team on top of their world.
A fitting but scarcely believable end to a brilliant series of games and outstanding season. With the longest day of the year now past, at least there’s something to look forward to for the back end of the year – it’ll start all over again!