As you may recall, the Spurs have had a spot of trouble winning at Miami. There's been a rough patch of unpleasantness that, well, isn't really worth delving into. Let's just say it was a haunted house of horrors and leave it at that.
So I found it fascinating that in wiping out the Heat 111-92 to regain home court advantage, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich basically brainwashed his charges not only in thinking that they can win in Miami, but more so that they were Miami.
After all, their small forward dominated the game on both ends, made all the game-turning defensive plays whether it was a block or a steal or a chase-down shot alteration, and scored from everywhere on the court, whether it was the three-point line, post-ups, drives, free throws, wherever. He was beyond efficient, with 29 points on 13 shots.
Meanwhile, their starting shooting guard made six buckets in the paint, hitting all kinds of crazy floaters, running out for layups in transition, and making all kinds of sneaky plays on defense, while chipping in with three assists and hardly attempting any threes.
The case for the Spurs winning Game 4
The first of two companion articles examining the arguments for and against San Antonio winning tonight in Miami to take a 3-1 lead.
The starting power forward was the ultimate glue guy, defending all kinds of different people, moving the ball from the high post and the low post, and hitting a big three from the corner. The other stars got far more attention, but few noticed that all the offense ran through him and he had the best plus-minus of anyone.
Defensively they weren't that great field goal percentage-wise, but they forced 20 turnovers, which allowed them to triple the opposition's fast break points and, more importantly, limited the number of shots they had to defend. The Heat shot 51.6 percent, 32-of-62, but with the turnovers it was really 32-of-82, with 20 possessions where the Heat weren't shooting three pointers, weren't getting to the free throw line, weren't getting the fans out of their seats.
In the end the only way to tell that the two teams didn't simply switch uniforms was that Miami still had the point guard who was by far the worst player on the floor. Mario Chalmers might be the MVP of the Finals so far.
Pop said after Game 2 that the Spurs had to move the ball or die, and they were much sharper about doing just that. Couper Moorhead of Heat.com counted 25 possessions where they strung at least six passes together and according to NBA.com's Brian Martin they attempted only eight mid-range shots all game, the same number they put up in their Game 1 win. In Game 2, they launched 23 of those no-nos.
The thing I noticed was how much of a point the Spurs made of driving right into the heart of the paint, especially with Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, off weave action after the third or fourth pass. Inevitably the driver was being guarded by someone besides LeBron James, usually Chalmers or Ray Allen. Parker and Patty Mills also had some success with this and maybe Ginobili once or twice, but the Spurs sure made a point of attacking the paint, even if they couldn't always get all the way to the rim. They attempted 36 field goals in the paint and scored 48 points, compared to the 34 they got in Game 2. It was a definite adjustment.
That being said, don't get fooled. Despite that transcendent, record-setting first half in which the Spurs hit 19 of their first 21 shots on the way to a 71-point first half and a 75.8 percent field goal percentage, the Spurs won the game ultimately with their defense.
You knew the Spurs' offense would slow down in the second half. I doubt any of you thought to yourselves at halftime, even with the Spurs up 71-50, "Well, this one's in the bag, on to Game 4." I was probably more nervous at halftime than I was before the game started. The Heat run was inevitable. It was only a matter of whether the Spurs could withstand it and grind out the win.
The Spurs' defense wasn't at all good in the first half, except for the ten turnovers they forced. They allowed the Heat to shoot 56 percent overall and 50 percent from downtown, making seven threes, the same as San Antonio.
In the second half though, even though the Spurs offense ground to a halt in that third quarter with 15 points, the Heat couldn't slice more than ten off that 21-point lead because they scored just 25 themselves. If you told me at half that the Spurs would score just 15 in the third, I'd have reasoned that it'd be only a four or five-point game going into the final period.
The Heat shot 47 percent in that third quarter, which isn't bad, but they squeezed off just three threes and only made one of those. The Spurs only turned it over three times, which prevented Miami from from getting quick, easy points. They weren't doing anything at all on offense, but at least they were draining that clock and limiting the possessions without giving up any free points. The transition defense was superb.
In the fourth quarter, the defense got even better. Miami ran out of gas, expending too much energy on their old legs defensively, and turned it over six times. Again, they got off only three three-pointers before the scrubs entered the fray late. They just didn't get off enough shots or get the opportunity to score points in clumps to make any kind of comeback attempt. The only real run they had all second half was 10-0 late in the third quarter, and that was with James off the floor.
At half I figured the Spurs would need 120 points to hold on, the way the Heat were shooting the ball. In the end, 93 would've been enough.
It sure looked as though Pop excised Marco Belinelli from the rotation. He didn't play at all in the first half, and only got into the game late in the third quarter because Green picked up his fourth foul and Leonard was resting while James was off the floor.
Belinelli was mostly awful in his six minutes and finished -4, but he sure did hit the biggest shot of the game, halting that aforementioned 10-0 run which had cut the deficit to seven points and produced much sphincter-clenching.
Green played only 21:19, thanks to foul trouble, but he was almost as good as Leonard in his limited time. I can't ever recall him making that many shots in the paint and his five steals loomed large, as he managed to torture Dwyane Wade, Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole at different times. If he can continue to make life hard for Wade on one end and take advantage of the weakest perimeter defender on the other, it spells doom for Miami.
I don't remember who brought it up, but it was an excellent point that bears mentioning: Even though I'm not a fan of Parker and Patty Mills playing together, what that lineup does is force Erik Spoelstra to play either Chalmers or Cole instead of neither, which he'd probably prefer at this point. Yeah, James can take away Parker, but there's no way a guy like Allen can stick with Mills.
Shocking stat of Game 3: Miami's Big Three shot 70 percent, making 21-of-30 shots. It just didn't matter because they made just three threes and eight free throws between them, and shot it just 30 times.
There's also the small matter of James and Wade coughing it up 12 times.
Hopefully their percentage will be closer to 50 in the coming games.
Still waiting for the breakout Parker game. If James guards Leonard the whole time, it may happen. Not really expecting Ginobili to bust out again until Game 5, with those two rest days after Game 4. Ginobili didn't seem to have his legs underneath him in Game 3, but did a pretty good job of moving the ball and mostly staying out of the way -- and he only turned it over once. The Spurs as a team seem to have a much better idea of how to navigate around the Heat's traps than they did last Finals. The lion's share of their turnovers have been Duncan getting hacked in the paint without a call.
Beating Miami two games in a row in the playoffs might be the hardest thing to do in team sports right now, so it'd probably be a good idea for the Spurs to not drop two in a row either.
Your Three Stars:
3) Boris Diaw (18 pts)
2) Danny Green (16 pts)
1) Kawhi Leonard (23 pts)