It’s not a bad analogy to look at the Miami Heat as the younger champion boxer who’s been dominant for a few years and the San Antonio Spurs as the wily veteran who’s figured out how to make the champion beat himself. On today’s Daily NBA Fix, we’re going to take a look at the Heat and Spurs to figure out if the Spurs are just that good or if the Heat are just playing that poorly. In all reality, it’s a bit of both.
Last night’s game didn’t go how most of us expected. Generally, once the NBA Finals gets to Game 4, the team that’s down makes some significant strategy changes and makes the series closer. As much heat as Erik Spoelstra is taking right now, don’t forget how good of a coach you have to be to make it to the NBA Finals at all — much less four times in a row.
Even with a solid job of coaching overall, Spoelstra is failing his club with his inability to adjust to Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich. It’s not exactly a fair fight, with Pop going into the Hall of Fame whenever he pleases and Spo still in the very early parts of his coaching career. Still, the NBA at it’s highest level is all about adjustments and for whatever reason, Spoelstra and the Heat haven’t been able to adjust their swarming defense to match the crisp ball movement of the Heat.
Former coach Doug Collins said it best on ESPN last night when he simply said, “What can you do?” He talked about how the swarming defense got the Heat to where they are today and they’re not going to just switch that up and start playing zone. He even alluded to the team’s confidence level heading into next season and how abandoning the game plan could have far-reaching ramifications.
Tweaking the defense and having better communication is the real key. Too many times, the Heat were employing their usual defense, running a guy off the 3-point line, only to see him find an open man on the perimeter or even worse — he was able to stroll right into the lane. The Spurs have been masters of execution in this series and have made the majority of the open jumpers they’ve had.
One might ask — why not just start playing man-to-man defense? In the NBA with all of the pick-and-rolls, it’s just not feasible and would require an enormous amount of energy to run through every pick, every possession. It’s just not a strategy that could work for 48 minutes at this level against this team.
Facing a 3-1 series deficit, the Heat are going to have to figure it out. No team has ever come back from that deficit in the NBA Finals and with the way the Spurs have played, this series looks like it’s over. LeBron James did all he could to carry the Heat but the rest of the team was M.I.A. The truth of it all is, if the Heat can’t stop the Spurs, they’re not going to be able to outscore them, either. Nothing is for sure, especially when the best player in the world is involved, but only the people wearing tin foil on their heads (or the writer of the Daily NBA Fix) truly believe the Heat still have a chance.
San Antonio Spurs 107, MIAMI HEAT 86 (Spurs lead series 3-1)
Kawhi-Not? — Kawhi Leonard scored 20 points with 14 rebounds, three assists, three steals and three blocks as the San Antonio Spurs took a commanding 3-1 series lead over the hosting Miami Heat. From very early, it was apparent the Spurs were on their game and the Heat were on their heels for the vast majority of the contest. Miami led just once and had no answers for the offensive machine known as the Spurs, who shot a blazing 57.1 percent from the field.
Tony Parker didn’t play a typical point guard game — even for him — as he scored 19 points with just two assists, but he hit a number of clutch shots that kept the Heat from gaining any confidence on the defensive end. Parker ended the game 8-for-15 from the field and although he appeared to have tweaked his hamstring at the end of the game, his ankle looked to be totally healed.
Tim Duncan had a relatively quiet game, making 4-of-10 from the field for 10 points, 11 rebounds and two steals. Manu Ginobili had an even quieter game, with just seven points and two assists in 27:57. That’s what makes this Spurs team so dangerous — even though their stars had quiet nights, there were others prepared to step up and accept the challenge. One of those guys was (and has been) Boris Diaw.
Diaw scored eight points with nine rebounds and nine assists in 35:33. Despite not being the quickest guy on the court, he continued to keep Heat defenders off balance with a combination of pump fakes and savvy veteran moves. Time and time again, Diaw found the open man or at the very least, made the right decision on the offensive end. It sounds a bit crazy, but many believe Diaw could win the Finals MVP.
The Heat just didn’t have solid contributions from anyone outside of James. LeBron finished with 28 points, eight rebounds and two assists while shooting 10-for-17 from the field. The rest of the starters scored just 28 combined, with Rashard Lewis scoring two, Chris Bosh 12, Dwyane Wade 10 and Mario Chalmers just four. The Heat shot just 45.1 percent as a team and were out-rebounded 44-27. James Jones did come off the bench in garbage time to score 11 points in just 2:43.
Miami is in trouble and now faces the Spurs in San Antonio on Sunday night in Game 5 of the NBA Finals. It could very well be the last game the Heatles play together.