It seems about a dozen years since the Spurs and the Miami Heat, teams led by dominant ‘Big Three” trios, played in back-to-back NBA Finals.
In fact, it was just two-and-a-half years ago that the Spurs scored a redemptive, 4-1 victory over the Heat in the 2014 Finals, atoning for a heartbreaking loss to Miami in the 2013 Finals.
But when the 2016-17 Spurs met the 2016-17 Heat in a pre-season game at AT&T Center on Friday night – a 108-100 victory for Miami – only two of the ‘Big Three’ stars who dominated those series took the floor.
The Spurs, of course, are missing Tim Duncan, who retired in July and left behind his former Big Three mates, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker.
And the Heat?
None of their Big Three stars – LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh – are on this season’s roster.
Veteran center Joel Anthony, added to the Spurs roster a few days before training camp opened on Sept. 27, was on the Heat’s 2013 NBA title team. Seeing his old club without its three stars on Friday felt like a dream.
“It definitely does feel like a long time ago,” Anthony said. “In terms of the years maybe it’s not, but it feels like it. It’s kind of like a dream that you had – an amazing dream whenever you think back to it. Great memories.
“It’s definitely weird, looking over at that side and seeing nobody left except for (Udonis Haslem). He’s the last man standing. It’s crazy. You know this happens in the business to everybody eventually. No one stays 30 years, but no matter when it happens or how it happens it’s always a weird feeling, seeing people go. The (Heat) team is different, obviously. Completely different. When you see missing pieces like that, it’s definitely tough.”
Indeed, as much as the Spurs are trying to adjust to the absence of Duncan, the Heat are in full transition mode.
“Dwyane was to them as Timmy (was) to us,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “Same effect, same kind of leader. So I definitely can identify with what (Heat coach Erik Spoelstra) is feeling. But it’s a good opportunity to see other people step up.
“In my case, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker aren’t exactly neophytes in the program. They have been here about 15 years. It’s more their show now as far as leadership and the talks in the locker room, saying things to young kids (like), ‘Hey, Pop is crazy, you don’t have to worry about him’ and doing it the right way so that young kids understand what is going on. I don’t know if Erik has anybody like that, but I’m fortunate that I do.”
After a sloppy performance in Saturday’s game – the Spurs committed 13 turnovers in the first half alone; 19 for the game – Parker and Ginobili will need to exercise some of those leadership skills. One or the other might want to put an arm around Kyle Anderson, who took LaMarcus Aldridge’s spot in the starting lineup and was utterly ineffective in the first quarter, scoreless in nearly seven minutes.
Aldridge was excused from the game so he could attend ceremonies in Austin, where he was inducted in the University of Texas Sports Hall of Fame.
Parker had solid production in his 22-plus minutes against the Heat, scoring 10 points and handing out 4 assists. The six-time All-Star understands the chemistry that made the Spurs a 67-win team last season won’t develop overnight.
“We have a lot of work to do,” Parker said. “We have a lot of new guys for sure. We’re going to have some great practices next week and one more game and then the real stuff is going to start.”
Now 3-2 in pre-season games, the Spurs have a full week before they conclude the exhibition season with an Oct. 21 game against the Houston Rockets at the AT&T Center. They will return to the practice court on Monday, when Gregg Popovich likely will stress the physical aggression that made the Spurs defense the NBA’s best last season.
“We weren’t physically aggressive enough to compete tonight,” he said after the loss to the Heat. “They cut better than we did offensively, moved with more purpose offensively, and I think defensively they got into us better than we got into them.”