Before I start, lets get something out of the way, for the sake of full disclosure: I'm drunk. Well, like 80% drunk, I'd estimate. Enough to be stumbly, at any rate. I had four drinks in two hours with a friend, which is like one too many for me. If any of this is coherent and entertaining, either I'm really a good writer or you're just terrible.
You might just be terrible. I'm sorry. If it helps, I'm sure you're better at all the important stuff.
So, yeah, the Spurs. Them.
Here's something you don't know about me. I was just kidding the other day when I chided you all for being dummies for being superstitious. The truth is I'm more superstitious than just about anybody. I went to this sports bar named "Sneakers" in Game 1, and then again in Game 2, ordering the exact same items. It didn't work, so I don't dare go back. I wore a Kawhi Leonard shirt in Game 1, so I wore it again in Game 2. It didn't work, so I didn't dare wear it again.
I wore a Manu Ginobili shirt in Game 3, so I wore it again in Game 4. It didn't work, so I don't dare work it again. I was 3-0 at Buffalo Wild Wings this playoffs, including the Game 3 rout of the Finals, so I went back there in Game 4. It didn't work. So I don't dare go back. I guess I'm gonna try BJ's, next. (That's a pizza chain, just so you know).
Also, since the playoffs began I've been sleeping with a baseball gripped in my hand and I've been telling myself that this is a lucky baseball. In other news, I'm 35-years-old. Anyway, since I've started doing this, the Spurs and the San Francisco Giants, the baseball team I root for, have never lost on the same day. This is mostly the work of the Spurs, since they've lost only four games the whole postseason. Well, guess what? During Game 4, the Giants beat the Pirates 10-0. So, now I'm certain it's all their fault. I guess what I'm trying to say is that y'all should really root against the Giants on days the Spurs are playing. Either that or I'm an idiot. One or the other. Quite possibly both.
So far I've been right in my predictions during the first four games of the series, and while I obviously hope that it continues, since I picked the Spurs to win Games 5 and 6, I really hate that I was wrong about Game 4, especially since they got off to that 15-5 lead early. "The LeBron Game" was predictable enough, but man, I didn't see that Dwyane Wade explosion coming. That caught me off-guard. And I definitely didn't see Chris Bosh turning into Bill Russell. Ugh.
It's one thing for a know-nothing like me to be surprised though. Gregg Popovich and his troops don't have that as an excuse. I thought the underlying theme of Game 4 was that the Spurs didn't show the appropriate fear in that game, and they sure as heck didn't show the proper respect for the opponent.
Obviously they weren't beating their chests and Gary Neal and Danny Green weren't doing the Sam Cassell "Gynormous Testicles" dance, but still, as Spurs go they were showboating and hot-dogging it up just enough during the closing states of Game 3 to make me uncomfortable. Did they really need to hit 16 3's when 12 would've been plenty? Did they really need to win by 36 when 20 would've been just as good? I distinctly remember gritting my teeth during the closing stages, my pragmatic brain working overtime, thinking, "This is too much. This can't be good. Stop what are you doing. This can't be good. Stop!"
I think the Spurs got kind of lulled into sleep by the Heat's laziness and defensive inactivity in Game 3 into not respecting just exactly how quick and long and active these guys can be. One thing that was apparent fairly early on in Game 4 was the Heat were giving EVERYTHING. This was, for all intents and purposes, their Game 7. I remember texting J.R. Wilco midway through the third quarter, when it was tied or a two-point game or whatever, that if Miami lost this game that they'd lose Game 5 and the series by 35 points. The energy that LeBron James, Wade and Bosh were putting into the game, the level of manic intensity and quickness and hunger and desire and cohesion they showed, it was frightening to behold.
This was the Heat that everyone was afraid they'd become when LeBron announced his "Decision."
And spare me all the malarkey about that being the "27-game-winning-streak Heat." Please. Miami in Game 1 was good enough to peel off ten in a row, and superior enough in Game 2 to equal that 27-in-a-row pace. Game 4 was something else entirely. They were three levels above that. Very few teams in NBA history were beating the Heat in Game 4, and certainly not the 2013 Spurs playing a C game.
Is there anything the Spurs could've done differently? I doubt it would have changed the result, but I think defensively they insulted Wade by putting bigs like Splitter and particularly Diaw on him and that got him riled up and going. In retrospect we should've kept a small on him at all times. Also, the rebounding was piss poor and the Spurs gave up a bunch of second-chances and ultimately points with their lack of forcefulness and willfulness there. The Heat just wanted it more.
Offensively, the sloppiness on the perimeter hurt, but really I think the Spurs were even more disrespectful of the Heat on this end of the floor. Instead of forcing the traps to the sideline and then passing backward to the wings, which had been so successful in Game 3, Parker and Ginobili instead either tried to force the issue with their pick-and-rolls to the bigs with disastrous results or dished off to the wings on the corners to let Green, Leonard and Neal make the critical decisions on whether to take rushed, contested shots, pump-fake and drive or pass. Those are guys that you don't want thinking or dribbling, for the most part.
I also think the guys were a pass short in the paint, and again, this is where the lack of respect comes in. Tim and Tiago kept tossing up this weak stuff near the basket, well within the reach of Bosh, James or Wade. Either they didn't think the rotations would be as fast, or that their defenders would leap as high, or whatever it may be, but they were blocked or stripped (or hacked) way too much. While some might think they needed to be more aggressive. I think they needed to be more patient. One more quick pass to beat that last rotation and the next guy would've had a wide open layup or shot.
Parker balled out in the first half before his balky hamstring limited his effectiveness completely in the second, but Ginobili was just terrible throughout, repeatedly dishing the ball to Tiago Splitter a few feet outside of his comfort zone in the paint, leaving the overwhelmed Brazilian to either attempt to finish against much springier, more physical defenders or to make the quick pass to the corners amid a jungle or arms and hands. Manu may have been credited with just one turnover on the official box score, but he had a hand in four or five of them.
* * *
I suppose this is as good a time as any to discuss the trials and tribulations of my favorite player and most of yours. I admit, it's never been harder to be a Ginobili fan. You just can't sugar coat any of his Finals performance, beyond the 2-2 series score. Really the only thing at all you can say in his defense was that foul trouble took him out of whatever rhythm he had in Games 2 and 4, with both games having the common denominator of particularly terrible third foul calls that buried Manu on the bench. And while those calls were indeed awful and undeserved, the truth of it is it would've been a gross exaggeration indeed, especially in Game 4, to suggest that Ginobili had any rhythm in the first place.
Even worse, Manu's postgame interview and the follow-up one on Saturday, were troubling in that Manu didn't seem to have any fire in his eyes, any sense of anger or personal responsibility or accountability in the team's failures or resolve that things would be different going forward. If you didn't know better, you'd think he was like the team's 12th man, acting like "Why are you guys asking me if I'm going to do better or score more, I'm just Manu Ginobili."
Could it be that he knows he just doesn't have anything left to give? It's very scary and depressing to think about. I'd prefer for him to shoot 2-of-13 with 5 turnovers than this current version. At least then we'd know he's trying, even if he's playing awful. The current Manu just seems to be on autopilot, very much like a Cory Joseph or Nando De Colo would be in his situation, all too eager to play hot-potato with the ball, just get rid of it, anything but shoot it. His passes seem perfunctory, automatic and all-too-predictable.
So, how do we fix him, if it's at all possible? Well, first of all, you start him instead of Splitter if the Heat stick to their small-ball lineup. I don't want to see another big out there. That just doesn't work. Then, you let him do some off-the-ball stuff, some curls, some back-cuts, plays where Parker is the lead ball-handler but Ginobili has a specific responsibility to catch and finish. If he has to be the ball-handler, then call for a clear out instead of a pick-and-roll, because the latter isn't working. Especially if it's Mike Miller or Ray Allen on him, Ginobili should clear a side of the floor, use a crossover dribble and go directly into the paint. He doesn't necessarily have to shoot it himself either. Just get into the paint and make things happen. Finally, he has to avoid silly fouls that take him off the floor. No matter what I think, Ginobili has to take at least 10 shots today. Any less and that's it, the will is gone as much as the ability, and we have to accept that Father Time has gotten the best of him.
* * *
I've gone out of my way to not watch any Finals-related television since Game 4, but I have read some tweets and columns and listened to a few podcasts. It amazes me how quickly narratives change and how short people's memories are. Before Game 3 the fans were made well-aware of the stat that 12 of the past 13 teams that won Game 3 in a 1-1 series won the series. Maybe this information was revealed in anticipation of a Heat triumph? I don't know. What I do know is that after Game 4 people are acting like the series is a mere formality from this point on and the Heat will win in six or at worst seven. Everyone thinks Manu is done, that Tim is right behind him and that Tony is an injury waiting to happen. The arrogance of the comments, the assuredness, is striking. No one is giving the Spurs a chance. How will the commentary change should they win Game 5, I wonder? I suppose it depends on how and why Miami loses, who their "goats" are. Whatever happens, good or bad, it's going to be about them. It's always about them. The Spurs might be the first ever window dressing champions in the know-nothing-but-declare-everything era of journalism.
* * *
First though, they have to win. So, how do they do that?
Well, at this point you can't make major adjustments, but there are little things here and there. First, like I said, involve Ginobili more by starting him and getting him in plays on the move and off the ball. Push relentlessly on every break, never settling for a half-court offense. Get in the paint and draw fouls, at the very least. If guys are trapped on the pick-and-roll, pass backwards toward the wings and top of the key, rather than the baseline or the bigs, unless guys are wide open. Play Diaw less, and if you have to involve him, then have him guard Miller or Allen. I don't like the match-up of our bigs against their smalls. It hasn't really worked all series. I'd avoid it whenever possible. Finally, get the ball to Duncan in the paint deep. Not that pick-and-roll foolishness. They're waiting for him there. Let him body Bosh one-on-one.
Defensively, the big tweak I'd make is to put Leonard on Wade from the offset, to try and shut him down before he gets going and let James try and score all the points. The more one-dimensional they make the Heat, the better off we'll be. The guys also have to gang rebound as they simply have no chance if they allow Miami multiple second-chance possessions. The Spurs did a terrible job of coming up with boards with or without Diaw in Game 4.
For whatever reason, Duncan and Ginobili played without urgency in Game 4, and their teammates followed suit. Guys were intimidated and made scores of bad decisions. The physicality was non-existent, yet they played nonchalant in the paint. It was as though everyone was acting like they were playing with house money and that the outcome was already predetermined.
What will happen in Game 5? I have no idea. Nothing has been predictable in this series, even though the winners and losers have gone according to form in a weirdly predictable fashion. We know the Spurs have to win, and we expect a better effort from them, from Duncan especially and who knows from who else. I'm hopeful that Game 4 was an anomaly for the Heat, borne of desperation and a terrible brew of cosmic forces that we won't have shoved down our gullets again. If James, Wade and Bosh combine for 80-ish points again, then we're done, bottom line -- so I'd prefer they don't do that.
I can admit that I know next to nothing, but I know this much: If the Spurs win a third Finals game, then I'm going to get really greedy and want them to win a fourth. So far this has all been a nice underdog story. Win a third game though and it becomes a soul-crushing tragedy waiting to happen, a conversation between the ominous, depressing voices in my head.
"This has to be proof that God hates us," says the first voice.
"Don't be silly,' replies the second voice. "There is no God."
I don't want to have that conversation, so win Game 5 or don't, Spurs. Just don't tease us, whatever you do.
Now if you excuse me, I have to fall asleep, tightly clutching a baseball.