Who is "The Best?"
I am a die-hard Chicago Bulls fan, born and raised in Chicago. So yes, I am biased. I am also a big Duncan and Ginobili fan, and also feel that Tony Parker is the best PG in the league (even better than Derrick Rose, for now) When selecting my sample size for my analysis, I chose the top 3 teams in the league other than the Miami Heat: Indiana Pacers, Chicago Bulls, and obviously the San Antonio Spurs (in no particular order). My reasoning is as follows:
I wanted teams that consistently gave the Heat trouble as well as played them enough times to offer enough data. This took away most Western Conference Teams, since they didn't play enough meaningful games in the playoffs against the Heat as the Pacers and Bulls did, as well as the fact that I truly believe the Spurs are the best team in the Western Conference (Thunder n/a due to Westbrook injury). I did not include the 2 regular season games the Heat played the Spurs for obvious reasons. This left me with all the games played between the Heat and Bulls/Pacers this calendar year and the first two games vs. the Spurs. Let's dig in.
I took a look at the following: Team Points, Rebounds, Three-Pointers, Free Throws, Turnovers, and key Lebron stats. These include: Points, Assists, and Free Throws. There were 21 total games looked at (9 vs. Bulls, 10 vs. Pacers, and 2 vs. Spurs). This includes the last 14 games the Heat have played as well as a few regular season games where I believe the Bulls and Pacers provided a solid blueprint on how to beat the Heat.
The most significant statistic was that the Miami Heat average about 88 points in losses to these 3 teams, which is fittingly what the Heat scored in their Game 1 loss to the Spurs. On the flip side, Miami averages 101 points during their wins. Conclusion: hold the Heat below 90 and win, give up more than 100 and lose. An interesting point in another article on PtR questioned the quality of the Heat offense during their big wins. Yes, they averaged 49% in Game 2 vs. 44% in Game 1 but I agree that this is mostly attributed to their high-percentage fast break points scored off of turnovers.
This leads to my next point: opponents average almost 17 turnovers during Heat wins and 13 in Heat losses. Now, this is likely skewed by a few of the Bulls and Pacer wins against the Heat where they had 15+ turnovers in their respective wins, but clearly, turning over the ball less leads to victories a la Game 1 where the Spurs had 4. This seems pretty obvious, but if we dig a little deeper we find that during Heat losses, the turnover differential is about 2 on average in favor of the Heat. In Game 2, the Spurs had 16 turnovers compared to 6 by the Heat; such a wide margin is inexcusable in the playoffs and I'm sure Pop is preaching the same. What I see thus far is this: When the Heat score 100+ a large part of that scoring is fueled by points off turnovers. I don't see them scoring that high if the Spurs take care of the ball as in Game 1. If the Spurs are scoring above 100, it means their offense is clicking and should usually have a good chance to win.
Rebounding is interesting. Both the Bulls and Pacers are two of the top rebounding teams and in their wins, out-rebounded the Heat by 12. In Heat wins, this margin goes to nearly 0. The Spurs have been the outliers, winning the rebounding battle in their loss and losing it in their win. The Spurs aren't the greatest rebounding team, partially attributed to the fact they'd rather get back on defense than fight for offensive rebounds. In Game 2 they had 15 offensive rebounds, but for the most part didn't convert the second-chance opportunity enough and combined with their overall putrid shooting (41%), led to a bevy of Heat fast breaks.
Free-throws figure to be heavily in the Heat favor right? Wrong. Over the course of these 21 games, the Heat average 25 FTA and their opponents 24 FTA. This seems fair but most Spurs fans will correctly claim that Tony Parker should have had a few more fouls called during some of his drives in Game 2. Also, as a Bulls fan, I've seen some games where the Heat get many more calls their way in the 4th quarter or when the game is close, even if at the end of the game the box score shows a fair fight. In the Finals, it appears to be quite even (32 total FTA for Spurs and 31 FTA for Heat). Three-pointers are almost dead even between the Heat and their opponents in wins and losses.
What about LeBron?
Here's where it gets really interesting. LeBron averages 27 points and 4.8 assists in Heat losses and 24 points and 6.8 assists in Heat wins. This margin doesn't seem too large but I think it supports a more fundamental claim. LeBron has been through times in Cleveland where he'd score in the upper 30's and 40's and lose to teams like the Magic and Celtics. He understands that he needs to get other guys involved. He's scored 18 and 17 in the first two games, and the Heat were one 24-second shot clock away from a potential 2-0 lead. The Spurs were pretty putrid guarding open shooters in Game 2 and there are a lot of areas where they can improve. But take a look at these two games: March 10th vs Indiana, LeBron scores 13 and Wade, Bosh, and Chalmers all score above 20: Heat win by 14. March 27th vs. Chicago, LeBron scores 32, Heat lose for the first time in 27 games.
When it's just LeBron going at you, good teams can weather his storm and win by shutting down everyone else. LeBron now understands that he needs his teammates to win and put on a show in Game 2 that speaks a lot louder regarding how he has elevated his game. Look for the Spurs to leave Kawahi on an island a little bit longer than in Game 3.
Game 3 and Series Expectations
I see the Heat coming out with the same tenacity as Game 2 on both sides of the ball. The Spurs will NOT play as badly as they did Game 2 (I'm looking at you Big 3). I see this game along the lines of Game 5 vs. GS earlier this playoffs. I expect TP and TD to lead the way, with Parker setting up his teammates and finishing a lot better and Duncan putting his stamp on this game. I expect Ginobili to have at least one great game in SA and the Spurs to take 2/3 before finishing the Heat off in Game 6 in Miami (which I'll be going to) and winning one more ring for Tim Duncan: Greatest PF of All-Time.