Tuesday, June 11, 2013

NBA 2013 Finals: 2 Games In

What a great two games. Both teams have competed like we thought: tough, skilled, well-coached, with amazing plays from the stars. Let's take a look at how we got here and try to forecast what will happen next.


This was all about Tony Parker. Sure the Heat held a lead for most of the game, but they could never get a stop because time after time, Tony would come up big. At the end of the game, it felt like he scored 30 because he scored precisely when the Spurs needed it. You can have quiet points (like Dwyane Wade), or big ones like Tony Parker, none bigger than that ridiculous shot at the end that you just knew had to be good. 

Popovich won round 1 of the coaching duel by using the Saints 2009 defense. Remember that Super Bowl against Manning's Colts? The Saints played a pretty vanilla defense for 3 quarters (helped by some big Colts drops), then right when Peyton started getting comfortable, they switched things up, blitzing hard and forcing that decoding pick-6. That's what Gregg did this game. He played fast for 3 quarters, hung in there, and then uglied the game in the 4th, posting Duncan and trashing Miami's pace. 

The last thing was the way the Spurs played LeBron. Here's a big secret of the small ball Heat: LeBron isn't good when playing with the starters. They still start games with Bosh and Haslem. With Dwyane Wade ailing, it's just not a potent lineup. Especially with the Spurs sending help as early as they do: it's almost comical the way Diaw or Green will ignore shooters on the week side to help on LeBron. Yeah, Kwawhi Leonard played him competently, but the defense was predicated on not letting LeBron score. Then, right when the Heat usually go on their run, that little spurt at the end of the 3rd/beginning of the 4th, when they really go small and surround LeBron with shooters, LeBron was out. It was weird watching Bosh playing with Cole, Allen, Miller, and Andersen. It looked like Erik Spoelstra was trying to survive, when this is usually the time for Miami to pull away. 


This game was about LeBron and Erik Spoelstra. First, the strategy. Popovich showed in Game 1 that he was determined not to let LeBron score by overloading the strong side when LeBron had the ball. So Spoelstra put LeBron in pick and rolls with guards as the screener. This is a flip on the typical (for the Heat) action of having a guard setting a pick for LeBron. When LeBron is the screener, something interesting happens: depending on the direction of the pick, the strong/weak side of the floor become fluid. It's hard to send weak-side help if the defenders don't know which side is weak. This caught the help defense by surprise, allowing LeBron to get the ball in crisis spots in the middle of the floor, from where he picked apart the defense. Jeff Van Gundy made the astute point that LeBron's defender was so terrified of letting him get free after the pick that Mario Chalmers was getting almost comically good driving lanes. On one drive, he most paused as if to say, "I'm really this wide open?" Before scoring on a soft floater. 

The second big story was Danny Green. Props to him. He has worked himself into a deadly three-point shooter and everything went well for him in Game 2. But the whole time I watched the Danny Green show, I thought (and tweeted): this is amazing, but not sustainable. Danny Green is not going to beat the Heat scoring 30 off pull-up threes. The whole first half, I thought that the Heat were getting better shots despite not pulling away. Then in the 3rd, Spo switched LeBron on Green and LeBron swallowed him whole. I'm serious. It was like Jonah and the whale. Green didn't shoot again. Think about it: he was shooting 100%, and couldn't get another shot off. LeBron is amazing. 

The second coaching change that either Spoelstra made or Chalmers decided on was the treatment of Tony Parker on Parker pick and rolls: they mixed it up. Sometimes the trap would come hard, sometimes the big would shade but drop back, and the new development was Chalmers going under. Tony Parker is one of the great players of this generation. He makes such good decisions off the pick and roll that you can't give him the same look each time. He also is prone to periods of shaky shooting. Last year, the Spurs survived through most the end of the regular season and Western Conference Playoffs despite several 5-15, 6-17 type shooting games from Parker. Point is: brilliant player and all, Parker is not going to best you consistently shooting pull-up threes. 

Finally, the Heat length and athleticism. This was something I noticed in Game 1, but the Spurs kept their turnovers low. It was a big issue in Game 2. The player it affects the most is Manu Ginobili. I've written how Ginobili is a master of passing out of the trap: in the air, he surveys the court and finds where the trap comes from. Well, he can still do that, but Miami traps so hard and with so much length, that those passes are off target, requiring the shooter to gather the ball for half a second, by which time the Heat defense has recovered. That's the other thing: the Hear communicate so well on D. Rarely do you see a blown assignment. After "the Block," the next Spurs possession involves a Parker pick and roll and LeBron steal (watch it on YouTube, just search for LeBron block). Watch Ray Allen. He starts on Green, then abandons him to help on the strong side of the pick as Green cuts through the lane (the strong side is the direction the ball handler goes). Ray doesn't pause, doesn't hesitate, because he knows tacitly that LeBron will have his back on the weak side. The Heat do this several times a game. If less-disciplined teams try this stuff, guys get wide open. With the position-less Heat, guys slide in and out of matchups instantaneously. It really is incredible. Anyway, after Ray abandons Green, LeBron is tasked with guarding both Kawhi Leonard cuttings to the hoop and the on-fire Green on the three-point line. No big deal. He guards both players, steals the kickout pass from Parker, and we all know what happened next. 

The Heat defense is a joy to watch. I think they've figured some things out, but so will San Antonio. Specifically, if Chalmers keeps going under the pick, the screener will be in prime position to slip the screen and roll hard. There is space along the baseline that the Spurs can exploit. That's the great thing a out these Finals: both teams are so smart and I can't wait for what adjustment is next. As for Game 3? I'm hoping San Antonio wins just because I want Miami to respond like a champ. 

No comments:

Post a Comment