Monday, June 17, 2013

2013 NBA Finals: 5 Games In

I'm increasing my output to review each game given imminent the possibility of a series clinching win. Doing my best Manu impression! And boy was I glad to have called that. Check the time stamp: I called a classic Manu game before it happened (should have been published sooner, but was making last-minute updates and Blogger ate my post. Really). Anyway, I questioned moving Manu into the starting lineup but noted that they needed to get him going. Well, getting to play with Parker, Duncan, Green, and Leonard, matched against Mike Miller, lit Ginobili's fire. Having Ginobili as an effective ball handler and overall offensive threat eased the burden on Parker, who had another sublime game, but also sustained his performance in the second half.

The Spurs' pace also benefitted them. Miami likes to run, but they are sub-par at getting back on defense and it's difficult to run if the Spurs are making shots generated by pace. The Spurs' pace was effective in Game 1, but in the two losses, I didn't sense the same urgency. Miami's transition D can be horrid. Dwyane Wade gave up 2 uncontested 3s after complaining for calls, and I remember at least one LeBron instance where his complaining led to a cascade of switches, with Ray Allen eventually landing on Tim Duncan. I'll let you guess how that went. Point is, in a game that was ~10 point difference with a couple of minutes left after a Heat run, that's 8 points they gave up by being lazy. How big a difference would that have made? 

Erik Spoelstra has proven he can game-plan with the best of them; but Game 5 was all about will, and his guys gave up too many easy opportunities in that regard. You can do that against the teams Miami played during the streak, but not against a team that executes like San Antonio does. Pop exhorted his troops over and over to push, Push, PUSH, and be physical, whereas Spo was going over strategic things, or reminding his team of mistakes, in the huddle. When things get bad, can the Heat rely on Spo for Riley-esque motivation? Or does it come from elsewhere? Does Miami's on/off switch indicate that Spo has less control over the demeanor of his team than a Pop, or Doc, or Phil? Will be interesting to see their mindset for Game 6, if they focus on getting back and leaving the refs out. The refs were horrible both ways in Game 5, but you can't let that get to you. 

The Spurs offense also benefited from a Miami defense that looked nothing like the Game 4 unit. Sure, Mike Miller is going to screw up some rotations, but where were all the aggressive ball traps, the activity on the perimeter, the steals? I know San Antonio adjusted with Ginobili, but that's not excuse to fall back into a switch-a-palooza, constantly allowing San Antonio to find preferred matchups. Especially abhorrent was the Heat communication on the picket fence plays, where Parker or Ginobili come off a series of screens near the foul line. I wrote that the Spurs would find space here, but this play has repeatedly flummoxed Miami, as guys don't know how they are going to switch it and where the help comes from. Danny Green got a wide-open three from Ginobili off this action: that's right, the immortal Danny Green, greatest Finals shooter to ever live got WIDE OPEN. These kind of defensive breakdowns are inexplicable and inexcusable for a title team. 

Finally, the Spurs defense. Miami has found consistent success posting LeBron against Green and Leonard with shooters on the floor, a big reason Miller is starting (the other reason? Haslem is a disaster: can't guard Tim, can't protect the rim, and really, Birdman can't even get in the game?!). The Heat are especially good with LeBron at PF against second units as I've noted before (see Game 2 for proof). San Antonio shut that down with a player I noted would be crucial: Boris Diaw. In my series preview, I wrote that "Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, Boris Diaw, and Matt Bonner have to play well... Bonner and Diaw are doubly important because they give Duncan... much needed rest." The Spurs finally found a place for Diaw, as their LeBron stopper on the second unit. I wrote after Game 4 that LeBron's eyes light up when Splitter enters the game. By pairing Diaw with Tiago, Pop has thrown a bigger body at James, taking away the entire post game. Diaw also is a better passer than Splitter and can be trusted with decisions out of the pick and roll. For a guy that looked washed-up with Charlotte, Diaw has stepped up to the Finals stage. 

To sum: I've noted five things that the Spurs did well in Game 5 and that may deliver them a title. Ginobili is playing well, Pop reached another level, pace, offense, and defense all benefit San Antonio. And you know what? None of it may matter. Because when Miami went down by twenty, they finally stumbled into something that works. The run they went on the the middle of the fourth with LeBron, Wade, Bosh, Allen, and Battier/Miller (Millier? Battiller?) was almost amazing. They were one terrible moving screen call on LeBron + subsequent Allen 3 from being down 5 with 1:37 left. Granted bad calls abounded for both teams and Danny Green's dagger point made it moot, but think about it: despite all San Antonio did well, Miami went on a 25-13 run as the Spurs tried to close out the game. Perhaps more interesting was: maybe this is the lineup Miami needs. Ray looked rejuvenated, Bosh had a big dunk and feed to Ray on a layup, and with so much offensive talent, it was hard for San Antonio to load on LeBron. Everyone was involved, not just a two-man game. For the first time in the game, Miami's offense flowed and the ball didn't stop. It was, as I said, semi-amazing. 

Can the Heat keep that activity up? I think yes. I think they need to start Ray, tell him to stick to Danny Green, and play Wade on Manu, LeBron on Parker, Battiller on Leonard, and Bosh on Dundam. I feel they have some offensive and defensive matchups they like. There was a tweet (I think from ESPN) on how this series is about forgotten stars asserting themselves on the biggest stage: first Wade, the Manu. I think Ray is due and he has finally found his stroke. I'm calling a Heat win in Game 6.

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