What a series. Indiana played Miami tough, but despite the blowouts, this has been a great series to watch from a coaching, strategy, and basketball IQ standpoint. The last two games have played dramatically different from the first two, with each team taking a mammoth shot. Let's take a look at what happened and try to determine who will recover for game 5.
The first two games saw some holes in the Heat's vaunted playoff defenses, which wasn't surprising given the way the Spurs play offense. The three point shooting was a known problem: the Heat were terrible at defending the 3 in the regular season, and that could have been a death knell for the hot-shooting Spurs. While I wrote after Game 2 that the Danny Green shooting wasn't sustainable (more on this later), they were getting good looks. Outside of that ridiculous Miami run which caused Popovich to give up on the 4th quarter, the Spurs had performed well.
Then Game 3 happened. You know that unsustainable Danny Green (and Gary Neal) shooting? Turns out it was sustainable - but don't tell me you knew it (unless you're a family member)!!! It was historically ridiculous, and shows something of the Spurs' thinking: they know that almost all 3-pointers are more efficient that 2s, and they have the shooters to do it. the two cooled a little in Game 4, but it was still ridiculous. The one concern I have for the Spurs: these two took it home for the Spurs in Game 3. In Games 5-7, they need to balance the shooting and scoring with the need to have the Big 3 decide the game (more on this later). Green and Neal aren't putting the Heat away. Eventually, they will have a 4th quarter where they need a Duncan post or a series of Parker picks.
I wrote about Miami's switching in Game 2. For the most part, it was crisp, but in Game 3, it was a disaster. Guys were getting WIDE open. And not just one. There were multiple possessions in which the ball was swung out of the primary action and 2 guys would come free. Miami would double the wrong guys, and rotations were not fast. It was perplexing to say the least. Add that to San Antonio's hot shooting, and game over.
First of all, let's recognize 2006 Dwyane Wade. It's nice to see Flash, the confident guy with a bounce in a step and is a 2-way menace, back. There was not hesitation on his second-half jumpers, and while he should not settle for those jumpers, he does need some of them to fall. The hesitation killed the Heat in game 3, where Wade's indecision over his shooting range caused him to stop the ball, bogging the entire offense down and letting the Spurs recover. So it was nice to see the explosive Wade back for all fans of basketball.
Overall, Miami's Big 3 dominated... the Spurs' Big 2. Let's face it. It's not 3 anymore. Even with Ginobili starting Game 5, I need to see any sign of life from the wily Argentine. A lot of the Spurs' negative-differential lineups have the common denominator that Emanuel is involved. He has had some nice basket cuts and drives into the paint, but his shooting and passing has really been affected by the Heat length and athleticism. A big part of that is the generally ineffectiveness of the Ginobili/Splitter pairing. Those two normally feast against second units, but I can visually see LeBron's eyes getting bigger when Splitter is the only Spurs big in the game. And Splitter has shown a complete inability to finish or make the right play on the pick-and-roll, with the heat athleticism neutralizing him. Ginobili is staring Game 5, and I don't know that's a good thing for the Spurs (NOTE: Pop know more about his team than anyone and certainly knows more about basketball than me).
Finally, Parker looked mortal--I have said for a while that he can't give you more than 30 great minutes. Those minutes are great indeed--I have long patterned my game after Tony's, but have decided that he is juts too athletic for me to model. He needs Ginobili's help, and when Manu isn't giving them that, it has fallen on Neal and Cory Joseph to give them secondary ball handling and give Parker a blow.
The resurgent Chris Bosh. Chris played a much better game, but he has worked so hard on defense. Watch how active he is against Duncan: fronting, trapping on the pick-and-roll, recovering behind, helping on drives. He finally added some rebounding to that mix and that was a big difference maker.
WHO WINS GAME 5?
The Heat played very aggressively against the pick-and-roll in Game 4 and it worked. They played the outlet pass to the weak side very aggressively, including Wade's highlight-reel steal-Eurostep-and-dunk. San Antonio can find space along the free-throw line extended, and again along the weakside baseline. Pop will make the adjustment, though again, I don't know that Manu is the answer. The key will be that matchup of Manu against Mike Miller and Ray Allen. I have to believe that Ginobili has one of those games left. Will it be in Game 5? I think so, and I think the Spurs win a close one.