Have you noticed the drastic difference in the gameplay of the first two games of the Finals? Yes, its been much more fast paced, smoother offense amid other things.
How about this: no technicals, no ejections, no shoving, not even a whole lot of smack talk.
This is a far difference that what the Heat faced in the previous month against rivals the Chicago Bulls and the Indiana Pacers. Let's take a stroll down memory lane and remember what Miami has experienced in the previous two rounds before lining up against the Spurs.
They had to witness Joakim Noah being tossed from a game for obsessive talk towards an official and then subsequently flipped off on camera by an overly passionate Miami fan. We saw Taj Gibson drop a couple explicit words directly at officials before an ejection. We saw Nate Robinson try to drop a hammer on LeBron in the open court, and both Gibson and Carlos Boozer with some rough fouls on LeBron James. James and Noah got in scuffles, Wade threw basketballs at people, and Nazr Mohammed shoved LeBron to the ground in wake of fouling him hard in the open court. The Heat and Bulls both said, "We don't like each other."
The Pacers continued the physical play with Miami hoping that it was their cure to beat the Heat. David West picked on people smaller than him, and although Danny Granger wasn't around to try and get under their skin, Lance Stephenson found himself doing the same thing running his mouth at LeBron. We saw Birdman get too physical with Tyler Hansbrough giving him an undeserved shove. Bashing of Shane Battier became a routine conversation among them on off days. Technicals for talking, technicals for running away from plays, and a lot of talk in between the media and outside of the game about their distaste for each other.
And here we are, two games past in the NBA Finals, and not one technical. No shoves, no pushes, no dirty looks, no disrespect between opponents. Although the opponent isn't an easy task, how refreshing is this for the Heat?
What we have is two really good teams who really respect each other, their talent, and how they play basketball. Two organizations who pride themselves on winning and how they do it, with class. Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and coach Gregg Popovich have earned the respect not only from the Heat, but from the league. And with being defending champions, the Spurs have respect for Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the rest of the Miami Heat. And they continually show respect to 4-time MVP LeBron James for how great he is on the court.
It's a refreshing way to watch basketball again. As a fan, I grew to despise the Bulls and Pacers. The slow, grind out basketball, and non-basketball plays became tiresome in the course of a series. And so far in this series, the Spurs have been nothing but a great opponent. There isn't anyone in the NBA that you could respect more than Tim Duncan. And this is what makes this series so intriguing.
Without the mutual distaste between opponents we have gotten back to playing basketball. It's not about what is said on practice days, or waiting for two players to get too physical and something to happen. This may not be a rivalry, but it is basketball at its best. The Heat and the Spurs are the two best teams in the NBA this season (with respect to Oklahoma City in light of the Russell Westbrook injury), and pure basketball fans couldn't ask for a better matchup.
But don't expect this to continue freely. In a series, especially a long one with so much on the line, players are bound to cross each other in ways that create friction. There probably will be some technicals and physical play outside of basketball, but the tone has been set so far. Aside from the antics, let the best team win.
The Spurs and Heat both have gears in their game that make them nearly impossible to defend, and this series will be compelling not because of the hate of each of the opponent, but because of the respect they have for each other and what this is all about: how they play basketball.
Game 3 is Tuesday in San Antonio.