By Steve Ginsburg
(Reuters) – Now that the verbal sparring is over, the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat are ready to get down to business on Thursday with the opening game of the best-of-seven NBA Finals.
San Antonio power forward Tim Duncan has all-but guaranteed a victory after the team suffered a heartbreaking, seven-game loss to Miami in the finals a year ago.
Heat forward LeBron James knows San Antonio is inspired but doesn’t believe that matters much once the game begins.
“They are motivated,” James, the finals MVP the last two seasons, told reporters on Wednesday. “I think motivation can only go so far. How much motivation can carry you to a championship, I’m not sure.
“At the end of the day, five, ten guys on the floor, three refs and one basketball. You gotta make plays. I can’t shoot the ball and say motivation will make it in.
“I can’t sit in the lane and take a charge and say, ‘Motivation, let me get this call.’”
Needing just one win for title, the Spurs squandered a five-point lead in the final 28 seconds of regulation in Game Six a year ago and lost 103-100 in overtime. The Heat won Game Seven 95-88, leaving the Spurs deflated, angry and wondering what might have been.
James knows the feeling, having lost in the finals to the Dallas Mavericks three years ago. But, he added, there’s nothing more you can do than try your hardest.
“Motivation, yes, can carry you to some things, I agree, because I had it a lot after we lost in 2011 to the Mavericks, but at the end of the day you have to play the game of basketball and do it the right way,” he said.
“Hopefully, you can sit back and say, ‘Well, I did everything it took to win. Win, lose or draw I’m satisfied with it.’”
Duncan tempered his earlier we’re-going-to-win-it remarks on Wednesday, saying, “I don’t know if we’re going in with a chip on our shoulder.
“We’re going in this trying to win a championship,” said the 38-year-old, 14-time All-Star. “We understand what happened last year, we understand how close we got and we’re disappointed in that respect but we’re ecstatic that we have an opportunity to challenge that.
“Series starts over again and we’ll see what happens.”
The first two games of the series are in San Antonio and the next two are in Miami. The Spurs have the home-court advantage, unlike last year’s series.
Miami is shooting for its third straight championship, having beaten Oklahoma City in 2012 for the title.
“We have worked hard in training camp and all season to get ourselves back to this point,” said San Antonio small forward Danny Green. “And we have been lucky enough to fight through a lot of adversity throughout the season and to get some playoff wins and get back to this point.
“We have tried to get better, be the last team standing. We have to be the best, do all the little things perfect. We want to continue to do that. At this point we’re almost there.
“We know we’re playing the two‑time defending champs and the best team in the league right now. It’s not going to be easy. We got to earn it.”
(Editing by Frank Pingue)