Why don’t we just pencil in a win for the Miami Heat once they lose any Game 1?
I mean, it’s remarkable. In the last 13 Playoff games following a loss, Miami is 13-0. Other than the 2011 series vs. the Dallas Mavericks, the Big 3 haven’t lost a playoff series. They’ve ran through the league in more impressive fashion than Boston’s Big 3 (formed in 2008).
Flash back six years ago, when the “Boston Three Party” was formed. It burned me alive how great that Doc Rivers-led team was, and I couldn’t fathom a team forming two years later that would be even better.
Sunday’s Game 2 was the vintage bounce back performance for Miami, and even my jaw dropped a few times. Seriously, if you want a quarter of basketball to watch, re-watch the third quarter of that Game 2.
LeBron James had the nasty look on his face, his version of Kobe’s determined scowl I guess you could say, and the hoop was an ocean to him. James became the first player NOT named Shaquille O’Neal to record 35 points & 10 boards while 63 percent from the floor. That’s in the last 25 years, per the great Tom Haberstroh.
James’ third quarter last night — 6-of-7 field goals for 14 points — felt as if the world was ending in San Antonio. The Spurs’ inability to make a run was due to James coming down the floor every other possession and burying the San Antonio hearts with contested jumpers. With Boris Diaw having the defensive assignment of guarding LeBron, he had to give him at least a foot of space. If not, James would blow by him in an instant due to the speed, and force the Spurs to pack the paint for help. We witnessed that happen on the final play, as Tim Duncan completely sagged off Chris Bosh in the corner. He made them pay this time, unlike Game 5 in Indianapolis.
People bellow about LeBron “always making the right basketball play” more and more by the day. No arguments here, but when Duncan is this generous to Chris Bosh, it becomes a play that James just has to see. The play in it’s entirety:
When LeBron picks through the defense this way, there’s truly nothing you can do. It’s pick your poison, and there’s part of San Antonio that would still live with Chris Bosh shooting open jumpers. It’s a bit ludicrous, since Bosh is 32-0f-48 (66.7 percent) against the Spurs during this regular season and in the Finals. Of the 10 3-pointers he’s attempted, six of them have dropped.
What they didn’t want, however, was LeBron to have an easy “gimme” in the paint. Duncan slid over, hoping to make a difference if LeBron went up for an attempt. To begin the play, though, Mario Chalmers‘ movement sets a unique pick that allows LeBron to get by:
You see Chalmers being a genius here. Yes, that’s the first and only time he’ll be called that. He makes sure to run behind Parker, and stops once he gets behind Kawhi Leonard. That forces Parker to follow Chalmers, but look what it does. Parker has to follow Chalmers from the top, instead of behind him like the traditional way of defending a player.
It bundles up Chalmers-Parker-Leonard, and allows LeBron to have the speed for the blow-by. LeBron bumps Parker while passing through, but the lane becomes a runway for the aircraft James embodies:
When it comes down to it, who really wouldn’t be able to see Bosh in the corner? The only type of defense near him is the heckling from the Spurs’ bench.
That isn’t undermining James’ court vision or basketball IQ at all, don’t get it twisted. When we freak out about how amazing of a play it was, James and Bosh know it’s what they’ve been doing for the last four years together. Erik Spoelstra knows it’s what they draw up in the timeout huddle.
James made the correct decision, considering the risk you take driving the ball in on two frontcourt bangers (Duncan and Diaw). Especially playing on the road, you have no idea if you’re getting the benefit of a foul call when you attack in that situation.
When he does make the cross-court pass to Bosh, LeBron has a man (Duncan) in front of him, proving Timmy was indeed collapsing all the way in:
If you’re the Spurs, it’s just which ever way you want to die by — the James drive, or Bosh perimeter shot. With it being a one-point game with 1:22 to play, neither are ideal because it gives Miami the lead either way. As long as Miami has these plays in their back pocket — with Chalmers getting James free, Bosh spreading the floor, and LeBron being the floor general — you’re talking about a hard task for San Antonio to win the title.
Bosh’s reaction to the made jumper was a Jurrasic classic, I tell you!
I’d still consider Miami the better team if the clock is under 2:00 to play, so the Spurs have to do whatever possible to get a cushion in the first 46 minutes.
There’s many things Popovich can be angry about today, following the loss.
Above anything though, is the four missed free throws by Parker and Duncan. Not only were they missed free throws in the fourth quarter, but they were all consecutive. Once Chalmers picked up the flagrant foul for elbowing Parker in the stomach, it was up to Parker to knock down the free throws. Duncan had his chances, too, and couldn’t convert. That would have put the Spurs up six points with 6:34 to play. Duncan’s were so short they barely hit the front iron, and it’s uncharacteristic for him this season. Things happen, and it cost the Spurs in Game 2. Who knows what kind of run San Antonio could have ignited with their 3-point shooters actually going 4-of-7 in the fourth?
The Spurs also have to move the ball more proficiently down the stretch, and get looks inside. Definitely credit Miami’s suffocating defense for not allowing Parker to operate (with James on him), but it’s nothing San Antonio hasn’t fought through before. In the Western Conference, you see all types of schemes and matchups thrown at you, and they should be able to respond.
Duncan, who came out of the gate determined like it was 1999, only got one attempt in the fourth. One. It came at the 9:12 mark in the quarter, as a typical Duncan hook shot over Bosh in the post. He didn’t connect, but he never got a look after that. It’s a problem, considering you can look back at Game 6 vs. OKC and name the guy that was creating offense in the post to win the game. It was Duncan, and the ball has to be in the paint more during Game 3.
In the end, Miami did all they needed — steal one on the road, and make this a 5-game series.
It’s not crazy to believe, however, that San Antonio still has the advantage. We know the Spurs are cool, calm, and collected on the road. They feel as if they won two road games in the Finals last year (Games 1 and 6). One of those featured a disaster that will never happen again.
For the sake of Popovich’s vein in his head not exploding …. we better end next week with a split in South Beach