In a rematch of the 2013 Finals, the Spurs took on the Heat in San Antonio this Thursday in a game featured on TNT. The Heat came into the game fully healthy and after winning eight games in a row, recently dropped one in Houston two nights prior. The Spurs also entered the game fully healthy, aside from Jeff Ayres, and were looking to win their fifth in a row. As far as regular season games go, this was an important one for the Spurs.
Before the variety of maladies struck, the naysayers constantly pointed out that the Spurs hadn't beaten any of the top teams. Going into tonight's affair, the Spurs were winless against the Heat, OKC and Indiana. Over a nearly two month stretch without their best players, the Spurs managed to tread water and remain the second seed in the West. Four games ago the Spurs finally regained their injured players and have since been on a bit of a tear. But this was Miami. It's the guys that took the trophy away last year and are currently favored to win it all again for their third consecutive championship. This was a game that mattered.
The Spurs came out of the gate playing nearly flawless basketball on the offensive end. In the first six minutes of the game, the Spurs didn't turn it over once and Tony Parker led the way with six early points and an assist. Before the Heat knew it they were down 18-10, and Erik Spoelstra was forced to stop the action with a timeout.
The pause in action did little to slow the Spurs down as they continued to get whatever they wanted against the Heat's defense. In the impressive quarter, the Spurs put up 37 points while shooting an incredibly efficient 79% from the field. While that kind of shooting can normally be attributed to a hot hand, in this case it was simply the Spurs' offense executing to perfection. The ball moved and the Spurs created high percentage shots consistently while their defense kept the Heat away from the basket.
It was easily the Spurs' best quarter of the season and it came against the best team in the league. You just can't ask for much more than that. Up 37-22 after the first, the Spurs were in great position to control the rest of the game.
In the second quarter, the game seemed to slow down and the Heat regrouped. After turning the ball over just twice in the opening frame the Spurs gave it away five times in the second quarter and Miami used the sloppiness to win the quarter, 29-25. Towards the end of the quarter, it felt as if the Heat were destined to close the gap before intermission. Down 16 with 1:40 remaining in the half, the Heat cut the lead to eight after a clear path foul that gave LeBron free throws and the Heat the ball followed by a three from Michael Beasley. But the Spurs didn't panic and ran their offense. The ball skipped, went inside out and found itself in the hands of a wide-open Boris Diaw who confidently sunk the three to give the Spurs an 11 point lead at halftime.
In the third quarter the two heavyweights exchanged blows. The game turned into a brawl as both defenses stiffened after a fairly finesse first half. The Heat shot 55% from the field but were forced into committing six turnovers. The Spurs shot just 32% but made three 3-pointers which helped them put some points on the board. After scoring 15 points in the first half, Chris Bosh scored six in the third to help the Heat win the quarter, 23-20.
And so the two teams that met in last year's Finals entered the fourth quarter with the Spurs up, 82-74. After a shaky second and third quarter, the Spurs took control in the fourth for their fifth straight win. With 4:30 left in the game the Spurs were up 12 and it was still in doubt. In the next two minutes Tim Duncan scored six quick points and Manu Ginobili converted a beautiful, determined drive for a 8-2 run that sealed the victory. The Spurs went on to win the game, 111-87.
- Kawhi Leonard held LeBron to just 19 points on six of 18 shooting. Lebron also finished with a game-high five turnovers. Kawhi made LeBron uncomfortable the entire night. Leonard played very physical defense on LeBron, bodying him up whenever the opportunity presented itself. The only time LeBron looked like himself was in transition, and even then the Spurs hit him hard. Lebron didn't have a single dunk in the entire game. It was simply a great defensive performance by Kawhi and the main reason that the Spurs were able to control the game. Leonard filled up the stat sheet with 11 points, five rebounds, five steals and just one turnover.
- Tony Parker had a quiet, yet effective game. Most importantly, he was very much responsible for the first quarter explosion that put the Spurs in control of the game. Tony scored 10 points, dished three dimes and didn't turn the ball over a single time in the first quarter. Parker relentlessly attacked the paint and disrupted the Heat's defense to the point that Miami seemed lost. Tony finished with 17 points and four assists.
- Danny Green hit two three pointers and played nice defense in the win. He contributed three blocks and a steal in his 21 minutes of action. Danny "Big" Green was very active the entire night. The Spurs can absolutely shut teams down when he and Kawhi are so locked in.
- Boris Diaw makes everything better. Boris started for the Spurs tonight and the starters played fantastic to begin the game. His versatility opens the floor for everyone and his aggressiveness with the ball continuously puts the defense on their heels. I think Diaw will start the rest of the year. I just can't think of a good argument as to why he shouldn't. In addition, Tiago coming off the bench is nice since it allows the Spurs to always have a rim protector on the floor. Diaw shot a perfect five of five from the field, hitting two threes and making four of his five free throws. Boris finished with 16 points, 8 rebounds, five assists and a block in 37 minutes. He also had a telling game-high +/- of +23.
- For the Spurs, everything went according to plan except for Chris Bosh. Bosh always seems to play well against the Spurs and continued that trend by scoring 24 points on 16 shots. I say it didn't go to plan, but maybe that was the plan. Rather than rotate off of Miami's deadly 3-point shooters, the Spurs often conceded the long two to Bosh. He made the Spurs pay, but the Heat's shooters never got it going. Miami shot just 31% from distance and more importantly, only attempted 13 of them. The Spurs stayed home on the shooters or ran them off the line. It was a fantastic defensive effort by the Spurs.
- The Spurs' bench played their part, but thankfully the starters took care of business and all they had to do was retain control of the game. While that is a lot to ask for against the Heat, the bench is so good that it's expected at this point. Bili MiNelli plus Tiago Splitter made 11 of their 21 shots for 30 efficient points. Tiago played a nice defensive game. Although he was only given credit for one block, he altered many more. At the end of the third and begining of the fourth, when the Spurs were struggling and it seemed like Miami was poised to make it a game, Patty hit two big threes to keep the Spurs in control. In addition, he somehow pulled down 10 rebounds. He was, as always, a spark-plug off the bench.
- Tim Duncan played a fantastic game. The veteran led the Spurs with 23 points and 11 rebounds. He hit timely shots and was extremely efficient. In the offseason, Miami signed Greg Oden hoping he'd be able to help against Tim Duncan and Roy Hibbert. It didn't go as the Heat had planned. Tim had his way with every defender the Heat threw at him. His 23 points were scored on just 13 shots. The Heat didn't have an answer for Tim last season and it seems that has not changed.
- Finally, the Spurs have their signature win. With a finally healthy lineup, the Spurs seem to be peaking at just the right time. They simply have too many weapons for their opposition to handle. Eight players on the Spurs can score 20+ on any given night. If the starters don't perform, their bench picks up the slack. If the starters play well, watch out. It's a win nearly every time. This is a supremely gifted basketball team that leads the league in chemistry. Whether it's the Heat, OKC, Indiana or anyone else, I think this team has to be favored in a seven-game series. They can play fast or slow, big or small, physically or with finesse. They share the ball better than anyone and shoot the three better than anyone. And their defense can shut teams down for quarters at a time; even the potent Heat as we witnessed tonight. Forget about the, "Who do the Spurs want to avoid in the playoffs" discussion. That's the wrong way to look at this situation. Instead, realize that absolutely no one wants to face the Spurs in the playoffs. This is the best team in basketball.