Spurs and Heat: NBA Finals - Game 1 notes and observations

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

There was much to worry about in Game 1, but a few good things too. It's not easy to beat the champs by 15 points.

What am I supposed to say about  LeBron James leaving the game with cramps, beyond that it was a fortunate break for the Spurs? Certainly I won't cast aspersions on his toughness or manhood or any of that silly stuff. But when you strut and preen and flex your arms after "and-1s" and generally carry on like you're above everyone else, you make it easy for those who are prone to those kinds of criticisms. If you want the roses, you've got to accept the thorns. To James' credit, he didn't lash out at anyone or blame anybody.

James never really put his true imprint on the game and got off to a tentative start, content to let Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade carry the load early on. It's a testament to his talent that he can have a quiet 25 points, but from the beginning it was apparent that his energy level wasn't what we're accustomed to seeing from him. In Game 1 last year he had 18 rebounds and 10 assists in a losing cause. A year later? Six rebounds, three assists.

The one thing about him that was truly frightening is that he seems to have figured out the match-up with Boris Diaw. James drove it right to the rim whenever Diaw guarded him, and scored easily, even on his final play in which he pulled up lame on the baseline with just under four minutes to go.

I'm content to let James score on drives. Just don't suck in off the three-point shooters. That -- and turnovers -- is how Miami kills teams.

*****

The Spurs' depth made the difference. Both teams played nine guys, but because of the malfunctioning air-conditioner, Spoelstra had to alter his rotations and minutes rations substantially. The bottom line is that the non-big-three Spurs outscored the non-big-three Heat 54-33. Anytime Tony Parker- Tim Duncan-Manu Ginobili can stay within ten points of James-Wade-Bosh, the Spurs should expect to win handily. I wouldn't say every Spur played well. Marco Belinelli made a number of poor passes and bad decisions and Patty Mills really struggled defensively, but they combined for 16 points on eight shots at least. Allen was the only "role player" that showed up for Miami, and even labeling him as such is unfair considering he's a Hall-of-Famer.

*****

Game 1 was illustrative of how far Danny Green has come. He was absolutely putrid for three quarters, but he didn't get down on himself. Then in the fourth quarter, he hit three of the biggest shots in the game to help pull it out. No matter how much he misses, he continues to run and look for his chances, and he makes teams pay if they lose him. Kudos to Pop for not giving up on him and kudos to his teammates for continuing to look for him.

*****

I'm not worried about Kawhi Leonard. He came out of the gates slowly in last year's Finals too (check out the box score of Game 1 last year if you want a laugh) but got better as the series went on. It's going to be difficult for him to have as much of an offensive impact as last year if Parker and Ginobili are healthy and playing better and also if the Spurs continue to play bigger than they did last year.

*****

Speaking of playing big, we need to get something straight. People like Bill Simmons continue to insist that the Spurs are playing small and "have mastered small-ball," but I can't agree. Diaw is listed as a power forward. To me when he's paired with Tiago Splitter or Duncan, the Spurs are playing big, the same as the Heat are playing big when they have Bosh and Rashard Lewis (or Chris Andersen) out on the floor. Maybe it's semantics, but to me true small ball is when Leonard and James match up at power forwards.

The Spurs played 6:28 with Leonard at the four and were -11 in that time, including my favored lineup of Duncan-Leonard-Green-Ginobili-Parker finishing -6 in 1:06, so no, I'm not going to say they've exactly mastered small ball.

*****

The Spurs' best lineup was Duncan-Diaw-Leonard-Ginobili-Parker, which finished plus-22 in 8:23 over four separate shifts. Their second-best was Duncan-Diaw-Green-Ginobili-Parker, which was plus-8 in 5:08. The only other lineup that Pop used more than once was the traditional starters, who totaled 6:58 and Pop pulled the plug on them really early in the third quarter. The other 17 lineups were one-and-done, with none of them totaling more than 3:39. Generally, they were awesome when Diaw and Ginobili were two of the five on the floor (+36 in 26 minutes) and crummy when Bobo and Manu rested.

*****

Splitter gave the team good minutes on the floor, especially away from Duncan, and scored one less point (14) on Thursday than he did in Games 4-7 of the Finals last year. He also had a pair of blocks, including one on James, but somehow I doubt that'll get played endlessly on the highlight shows. Splitter did turn it over four times though.

*****

The silver lining of those 23 turnovers: at least the Spurs didn't have the ball stuck in the mud and were making an effort to move it and share it and trust one another. They didn't get 30 assists on their 40 baskets by accident, nor did they get all those layups for Duncan and Splitter by just taking the court. It's a risk vs. reward battle versus Miami, that is how they play. When your passes are sharp and on point, You can score on them, but by definition it's hard to be perfect. You live with the giveaways in the paint, because the risk is worth the reward. What the Spurs have to do is clean up the unforced turnovers on the perimeter, the needless giveaways borne of sloppiness and bad execution. Those are the ones that are guaranteed layups on the other end. At least when you lose it in the paint there are usually guys who can get back in transition.

The adjustment the Heat will probably make is to ensure that a big will be their third guy rotating over, at least someone like James or Shane Battier if not Bosh or Andersen. It's not going to be their point guards or Wade any more, you can be sure of that. The Spurs' bigs will have to make the next pass to the corner even quicker, and without turning it over. Those corner threes should be there for the Spurs all series long though. Miami's scheme just gives some of those up.

*****

Has anyone mentioned that the Spurs forced 18 turnovers themselves and that the points-off-turnovers was 28-to-27? If they have, I missed it.

*****

Ginobili was the only player on either team to play the entire fourth quarter. He had six assists in the period. Call me a homer, but I think he's better this season.

*****

Your 3 Stars:

3. Boris Diaw (17 pts)

2. Manu Ginobili (27 pts)

1. Tim Duncan (30 pts)

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