Before the series started, I picked the Spurs to win in five because I thought the only way Miami could win was if a lot went right for the Heat and wrong for the Spurs. Well, two games into the series, it unfortunately seems as if that is exactly what is happening.
In Game 2, there were simply too many obstacles for the Spurs to overcome. Kawhi Leonard spent most of the second half in foul trouble. That absolutely killed the Spurs. Tentative Kawhi doesn't force turnovers and doesn't drive as often, because he's afraid of drawing the charge call. For the Spurs to defend well, they need an aggressive Kawhi. Without him, San Antonio stayed in the game but was unable to pull away from the Heat.
After a close first half that ended in a tie at 43-43, the Spurs seemed as if they were on their way to building a substantial lead. They jumped out to a 62-56 lead and their offense was finally clicking. Unfortunately, Kawhi picked up his third foul and so Pop switched Boris onto Lebron James. James made his next five shots in a row for 12 quick, momentum-halting Miami points.
The Spurs' offense continued to hum, but Kawhi soon picked up his fourth foul and San Antonio's defense was unable to slow Miami. The Heat shot a ridiculous 77% from the field, 50% from deep in the third to score 34 points. At the end of the quarter, the Spurs led by just a single point despite scoring 35 points themselves.
Manu Ginobili started the game well enough, scoring eight points in the first half, but he also found himself in foul trouble, which helped Miami to stay close. This was a game of missed opportunities for the Spurs. So far we've established that Manu and Kawhi were in foul trouble for most of the night and Lebron went into superhero mode in the third quarter to keep his team in it. That's a lot to overcome in a 48 minute game.
None of Lebron's five shots in the third were 'good' shots. They were all well contested jumpers. But he made all of them, and it was demoralizing. Due to Kawhi's foul trouble, Popovich didn't have any options. He just rode it out. Eventually, it was actually Spoelstra who stopped the action with a timeout and thankfully took Lebron out of the game to rest him.
Rashard Lewis also made some big shots that kept the Heat close. He scored 14 points and hit three 3-pointers, all of which were momentum killing for the Spurs. Anytime Lewis scores it's fairly devastating. The Spurs are counting on him to play like the washed-up player he is and in Game 2, he made San Antonio pay. I have no idea how his shot finds the bottom of the net. It's a two handed heave and his arms jerk in a weird way when he releases the ball as if they were surprised by the shot. It was an unbelievable 14 points.
To update our count of things that went poorly for the Spurs, we're up to foul trouble for Kawhi and Manu, Rashard Lewis' ugly shot and Lebron breathing fire. Oh, and add Danny Green to the list of players in foul trouble. Green picked up two fouls in the first quarter and that didn't help. Especially since Pop chose to put Marco into the game, who made just one of his five shots and finished with a team-worst +/- of -7.
Unfortunately, none of those events were as soul-crushing as what we're about to dissect. The Spurs were leading 87-85 in the fourth quarter when Mario Chalmers threw his elbow into Tony Parker's ribcage. In my opinion, it was definitely intentional and Chalmers got his desired result. It completely shifted the game's momentum from the Spurs to the Heat.
After the review, it was deemed a flagrant 1, two shots and the ball. Parker, still in obvious pain, short-armed both freethrows. After those misses, the Spurs fed Tim Duncan on the block and he was fouled. Duncan went to the line and missed both of his freethrows. Meanwhile, Pop took Tony out of the game so he could recuperate on the sideline.
The Heat rebounded Tim's second missed free throw and Lebron brought it up. He held it for a while, passed it to a covered Ray Allen, who kicked it back to him nearly at half-court. He wasted more clock and dribbled into a contested fadeaway 3-pointer as the shot clock expired. And it went in because of course it did. That 7-point swing stung, and the flagrant elbow limited Tony Parker the rest of the way.
In the remaining 5:30 of the game, the Spurs would only manage to score six points, (I'm not counting the meaningless three that Manu hit at the buzzer.) As people like to say, the ball stuck. The Spurs took too long to get into their sets and strangely seemed to run the Heat's offense for the last five minutes of the game. The problem with that is that the Spurs do not have Lebron, who converts the poor looks that isolation-ball creates.
And our final tally comes to foul trouble for Manu and Kawhi, Rashard Lewis making his ugly shots, Lebron going video-game mode, a terrible 7-point swing and a flagrant Chalmers' elbow limiting Tony Parker down the stretch. All of this happened and the Spurs were still in this game. I'm sure this isn't the angle that ESPN will take, but as Charles Barkley said after every Dallas, Portland and OKC loss to the Spurs, this wasn't a bad loss.
I picked the Spurs to win in five games because I realized that it would take this many things to go wrong for the Spurs to lose. Another way to say that is that the Spurs are the better team this year. Last year, I thought the two were even and Miami had home-court advantage. This year, the Spurs are superior and have home-court advantage. If this many things go wrong three more times, I guess it just wasn't meant to be.
I will admit that Miami clearly has a knack for getting lucky. So maybe it's not luck. I mean, how many things had to go wrong in last year's Game 6 for Miami to win that one? Against every other team in the league, the Spurs find a way to build substantial leads. Against Miami, it just doesn't happen. Whenever the Spurs start rolling, Miami has a lucky answer. Rashard Lewis making shots. Lebron finding the zone for five shots that shouldn't have gone in. Chalmers' well timed elbow. Huge shots by Bosh. And so, I guess it's fair to say that they aren't lucky. They are a team of veterans that understand the importance of possessions in big games. They make shots when they have to and put themselves in a position to steal games.
Even so, the Spurs are the better team and don't even need luck in this series. They just need Miami not to take advantage of every lucky opportunity. In Game 3, Kawhi can't get in foul trouble, the Spurs need to hit their free-throws and they have to go on sizable runs. They have to find a way to get a big lead, because Miami will make unbelievable plays to win the game if given the chance, as they did tonight.
- There were 17 lead changes and 12 ties. The Spurs' biggest lead was 11 and Miami's was five. At home, that can't happen. The Spurs often seemed moments away from blowing the Heat out, but it never took place.
- The Spurs shot just 44% from the field while allowing Miami to shoot 53%. Losses are terrible, especially in the Finals, but wow did Miami have everything working and they only won by two.
- Dwyane Wade seemed to tweak his left knee in the second quarter. He had a nice line of 14/7/4, but seemed more passive as the game progressed. We'll see if that comes into play in Game 3.
- Lebron James scored 35 points on just 22 shots. That efficiency is tough to overcome. Kawhi needs to stay out of foul trouble. Foul trouble not only keeps Kawhi on the sideline for extended periods of time, even when he comes back into the game it limits his aggressiveness. More than anything else, I think Kawhi's foul trouble is what cost the Spurs Game 2.
- Tony Parker led the Spurs with 21 points, but he was hampered by Chalmers' flagrant elbow down the stretch and was the main reason that the Spurs' offense seemed so discombobulated closing the game. Tim had a very solid game of 18 points and 15 rebounds. He consistently has punished Miami's smaller defenders, but seems much more successful when the Spurs find him in the natural flow of the offense.
- Pop continued to go with Marco Belinelli in Game 2. In Game 1, he had a team-worst +/- of -11. Tonight, he again had the team-worst +/- this time of -7. With Manu, Danny and Kawhi in foul trouble, Pop often threw Marco into the game and it was just painful. On one memorable defensive possession, he literally turned his back and ran away from Ray Allen, who had the ball! Ray obviously drained the three-pointer and Pop called a timeout, to yell at Marco. I would really like to see Cory Joseph get Marco's minutes. At least Cory will play defense. And it's not like Marco is setting the world on fire with his shot. I guarantee that Cory can go one of five from the field. It's time to make this change, Pop.