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Forgotten strengths and repeated mistakes unraveled the Spurs in Game 2

The Spurs played a great game on their Thursday win but they weren't without flaws. Unfortunately, the mistakes is what they repeated in game two.


It wasn't shocking to see the Heat take game two at home. They needed it and at some point the Spurs were going to have a bad stretch. When that happens against a team like the Grizzlies, the lead doesn't get past ten points. When it happens against the Heat it immediately balloons into twenty.

What was disappointing was seeing the Spurs go away from things that worked on game one and continue making the same mistakes. That, and not the final score, is what scares me a bit. First let's look at what the Spurs did well the first time around but botched in game two, and then see what they failed to correct.

What the Spurs did well in game one and not in game two

Reversing the ball often

One of the ways the Spurs avoided the Heat's pressure defense was by shifting the point of attack to the weak side. Tony Parker was quick to give up the ball to the big after using a screen at the top of the arc, who would then pass to a wing on the opposite side. That neutralized Maimi's tendency to trap and go for a steal from the weak side and allowed the Spurs to start a pick and roll set with space.

What the Spurs did in game two instead

They just tried running simple pick and rolls when the Heat trapped. The result was turnovers, as the refs didn't call a couple of kicked balls and Miami got their hands on the rest. Parker either gave up the ball and became a spectator or over-dribbled a bit trying to get himself going, which meant the Spurs started their sets later, leaving them without a contingency plan.

How it can be fixed

Go back to reversing the ball. The Heat are understandably throwing the kitchen sink at Tony and it denies him of touches and rhythm. But the way to break that pressure and have some room to operate is to give up the ball and start moving. Set screens along the baseline and see if Tony can break free using them while having a second option when the Heat overplay them. Look for back door cuts. It's the type of stuff the Spurs have ran all season, so it's not a big adjustment.

Being the aggressor

That is as vague as it gets and a cliche but sometimes it comes to that. The Spurs had more second chance points and points off turnovers than the Heat in game one and got more steals and blocks. They went after them defensively and were ready to pounce at the right times on offense. They swarmed James, swiped at the ball and put a body on the opposing bigs on the boards. Instead of reacting to the Heat's defense, they waited for the right move even if it was riskier on the surface.

What the Spurs did instead in game two

We all know turnovers doomed the Spurs. But they might have had a fighting chance even with the Heat flying all over the court for easy points if they had gotten some of their own. The Spurs never tried to run and when the officials made it clear they were going to allow a lot of contact, they settled for outside shots. They failed to exploit the few moments of weakness the Heat showed and were soft around the rim. Worse yet, they stopped taking chances, choosing instead to go with the seemingly easy pass, which is suicide against he Heat.

How it can be fixed

Get out and run if the chance is there. Make risky passes, as silly as that sounds. The Heat destroy offenses that make the obvious move so trying to get the ball to the big in the pick and roll with a bounce pass between the two defenders is not going to cut it. Force it over the top or hit the player on the weak side for a quick three or post up. Keep them guessing instead of telegraphing your every move.

On defense, swipe at the ball and play passing lanes; the Heat definitely will. And when they go big, the Spurs should use that to their advantage by crashing the offensive glass and contesting aggressively at the rim. I'm not saying the Spurs need to stop executing and start gambling; they just need to adjust using their own strengths. And for the first time in pretty much all of Pop's tenure that includes disruptive defenders and dangerous offensive players at every spot.

What the Spurs did poorly in game one and repeated in game two

Getting lost in transition D

The Heat look to exploit their powerful transition offense by pushing the ball not only after turnovers but also opponent's misses. Despite taking advantage of the Spurs TOs in game one, the Heat only logged eight fastbreak points. But that stat is misleading when discussing the effect their transition offense had on the game.

The Spurs showed a disturbing tendency to get lost in transition defense, which resulted in guys picking up the player closest to them instead of their assignment. That led to mismatches that the Heat caused by simply pushing the ball. When a big has to pick up James or Wade, something went wrong.

In game two, the Spurs did turn the ball over more, which meant a lot more clear-cut fastbreak opportunities for the Heat. It went predictably poorly for the good guys.

How it can be fixed

On those live ball turnovers in the perimeter there's just not a lot anyone can do to stop the Heat. Not making predictable passes or silly ball handling errors (I'm looking at you, Manu) would help but only logging four TOs, like the Spurs had in game one seems impossible to repeat. Limiting bad shots, however, should help control Miami's transition offense. I know it's easier said than done but the key is to find a balance between a rational shot or pass and a predictable one. The Heat will destroy the Spurs if they figure out what they are trying to do before they do it. So taking long shots when they are expecting them or not having defensive balance when a guard penetrates in traffic is a death sentence.

As for not getting lost, that comes down to focus and effort. The Spurs's guard need to be mindful of their assignments pretty much the moment the ball leaves a shooter's hand despite any potential cross-matches.

Providing token close outs

The Heat have three point shooters that, when hot, can hit even after an aggressive closeout in Mike Miller and Ray Allen. When defending those guys, the Spurs can't simply be satisfied with running at them, arm in the air. They need to truly contest the shot if they have the chance and they didn't in game one.

In game two it just got worse. Guys were getting needlessly sucked in on penetrations and they left good shooters open. That resulted in Miami matching the Spurs' impressive output from beyond the arc, thus negating the one thing that was keeping the Spurs in it.

How it can be fixed

The wings should stay with their assignment as much as possible while the big(s) help, even if it results in some offensive boards for the Heat. But if they do they help, they need to rush back and be over aggressive closing out, even if it means living a lane to the rim open. Duncan and Splitter will be there to contest. The Spurs can live with Mike Miller floaters. Just trust your rim defenders and prevent the three.

Final thoughts

As you see, the Spurs can get the edge back by simply playing Spurs basketball. We've seen these guys move the ball and be aggressive on offense against the Grizzlies and rotating well and getting back quickly on defense against the Warriors. They just need to stop trying to react to the Heat and start asserting themselves more and they should be fine, despite Miami's undeniable talent.

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