In the microscope of an intense, insanely competitive fourth quarter, four consecutive missed free throws with six minutes left to play might not seem significant. The Spurs had a lead at that point, and simply coughed it up as the Heat's defense swarmed every angle and forced the Spurs into tough shots the rest of the way. San Antonio couldn't keep pace, and Chris Bosh's late three pointer broke open what was still a close contest in the game's final minutes.
But those missed free throws provide a perfect example of how a series between two of the NBA's most intelligent offenses will likely come down to the smallest of errors. The Spurs didn't necessarily lose because of those four missed free throws, but together, they became the slight misstep the Miami Heat were able to pounce on to close the game.
Early on, it looked as if the Spurs were the team dictating the matchups, a surprising feat when the Heat feature the game's most gifted player. But there was Tim Duncan, scoring at will in the paint, forcing the Heat defense to account for him and collapse the paint. But like every quarter this series, the Heat swung back, as the two teams continued to exchange blows throughout the game.
In a series where a four-point lead feels like an insurmountable gap, even the slightest mistakes can cost you a game. That's certainly what it felt like when Mario Chalmers threw an elbow to Tony Parker's ribs to give the Spurs two free throws and possession of the ball. The game had been played so close at that point that it felt like giving the other team an opportunity like that would be enough for them to create space.
But the Heat caught a little luck, or maybe it was the Spurs losing some of it. Regardless, Parker's missed free throws (and Duncan's on the ensuing possession) created space for the Heat where the Spurs couldn't afford to give any. They had withstood a monstrous performance from the best player on the planet, somehow finishing the third quarter with a one-point lead when it seemed obvious that James was intent on burying them. They had survived another foul-plagued, uncharacteristically quiet performance from Kawhi Leonard. And they had even kept the game competitive with Marco Belinelli playing decent defense.
The Spurs, however, know that they can't win this series with "good enough." Every game, every quarter will be played on the razor's edge, each team fighting for a sliver of daylight to escape with a win. Manu Ginobili said as much after the game. "We have to be close to perfect to win and today we were far from it."
Last year, the Spurs were as close to perfect as you can get without winning a title, and most players on both teams anticipate that this year's series will be a long one, where that closeness becomes the line of competition. The Spurs don't have to be perfect; they just have to be closer to it than the Heat. When you're dancing on a wire with only three games to go, it's the details that will get you. The microscope matters.
QUOTE OF THE GAME
"Missed free throws are a part of the game. I don't think it was a turning point."
- Chris Bosh on the Spurs' four consecutive missed free throws midway through the fourth quarter
ODDS AND ENDS
There were moments in the first half where it looked like Tim Duncan was the greatest basketball player on earth. Sure, there were little plays here and there where you realized he was 38. He tried to put a move on Chris Andersen but couldn't get his speed going. He battled for a rebound at the end of the half and missed a bunny to close it out. But for two quarters, he picked up right where he left off in Game 1, and the Heat looked powerless to stop him. This putback dunk summarizes his impact this series pretty well.
As the NBA continues its bizarrely executed "War on Flopping," its next opportunity to make a statement appeared in Game 2 when Dwyane Wade was brushed in the arm by Manu Ginobili and cocked his head back as if he were struck in the face. Official Jason Phillips didn't have an angle on the play, but Dwyaniel Day Lewis' performance was too fantastic to ignore. A foul was called, and Manu Ginobili, one of the league's greatest thespians, found himself on the other end of a reactionary whistle.
Mario Chalmers' flagrant foul on Tony Parker late in the fourth quarter seemed like it was going to be a turning point for the Spurs. As detailed above, it wasn't, but that shouldn't take away from the stupidity of Wario Chalmers' decision to elbow Tony Parker at such a key moment in the game. The full speed replay seemed to help his case that it wasn't a flagrant, but the slow motion replay made it clear the ‘bow was intentional. Parker's injury spawned a new awful hashtag, which is of course a reaction to the one created in Game 1, and I really, really hope this joke dies a fiery death. The next person I see #Parkering has invited a swift elbow to the ribs.
And a GIF shout out, as always, to @cjzero, who you should definitely be following on Twitter.
Somehow, the Spurs cut their turnovers in half and still lost the game. Even weirder, they had fewer turnovers than the Heat but scored fewer points off those turnovers. That kind of flies in the face of everything we expected after Game 1.
I'm not sure why I'm only now discovering this, but apparently the correct way to write Miami Heat is "Miami HEAT." I'm not sure when Michael Baiamonte became the head of their marketing department, but yeah, I'm not going to type that.
Normally I add a Game MVP and Game LVP, but here's what I'll add in the absence of a separate section. LeBron James was amazing in that game and played brilliantly throughout, particularly in the third quarter, where his hands turned to fire and he burned all your dumb hashtags to the ground. There's your MVP. And the LVP? A tie between the Heat's two point guards. Norrio Colemers was pretty bad, but the Heat offense played so well down the stretch that it didn't matter.
BY THE NUMBERS
- 1: Number of games Kawhi Leonard has fouled out in his career. (Sunday night's game was his first.)
- -5: Spurs deficit in points off turnovers. Miami scored well and often in transition, and their transition defense prevented the Spurs from making them pay for turnovers.
- -10: Spurs points in the paint deficit. I'm not sure anybody would have guess this after the first half, where Tim Duncan seemed to score at will, but the second half was a different story.
- 8: Number of Spurs missed free throws in a game where each team took just about the same number of attempts. Did I mention the Spurs lost by two?
- 157: Career playoff double-doubles for Tim Duncan, tying him with Magic Johnson for most all time.
BIRD IS THE WORD
Read somewhere today that LeBron's lean muscle contributed to his cramps, and now I'm POSITIVE Boris Diaw is the league's smartest player.— Caleb Saenz (@calebjsaenz) June 8, 2014
Lil Sebastian this early in the series is a power move.— Mike Prada (@MikePradaSBN) June 9, 2014
Lucy starring Tim Duncan.— Liberty Ballers (@Liberty_Ballers) June 9, 2014
Only Spurs would be described as "arguing calls respectfully" like it's debate or Plato— Bethlehem Shoals (@freedarko) June 9, 2014
What the hell is Popovich gonna talk to a bunch of elementary school kids about? "100 years ago, half of you would be dead of influenza."— Ryan Nanni (@celebrityhottub) June 9, 2014
That Patty Mills was the only guy to pick Boris Diaw up off the floor says everything you need to know about Mills' offseason conditioning.— Caleb Saenz (@calebjsaenz) June 9, 2014
Belinelli looks like an anime Ginobili.— Kevin McElroy (@knickerbacker) June 9, 2014
Guarantee their greatness. Name all your children Boris. There are no bad Borises anywhere, ever.— Spencer Hall (@edsbs) June 9, 2014
Pretty sure nobody's heading to the Bud Lite Courtyard for postgame party, unless it involves binge drinking and fighting.— Dan McCarney (@danmccarneysaen) June 9, 2014
Takin' this series home to meet my parents.— Jason Gallagher (@jga41agher) June 9, 2014
THE GAME IN SONG
The Spurs might want to start Boris Diaw. The usual starting lineup didn't really kill the Spurs, but San Antonio could use the spacing. With Tim Duncan playing so effectively, adding Diaw to the starting lineup would force the Heat defense to make some difficult decisions. Tiago Splitter's presence has helped the Spurs start well closing off the paint, but in Game 2, Chris Bosh kept the Heat offense afloat, pulling Splitter out of his usual defensive spots. It's a wrinkle that Gregg Popovich will likely introduce at some point in the series, and while I doubt it will happen in Game 3, your guess about Pop's rotation changes is as good as mine.