Finals Vs. Miami Game 2: Heat 98, Spurs 96 Series Tied: 1-1
Whenever the game broadcast cuts in to the Spurs huddle this time of year, it inevitably eavesdrops on coach Gregg Popovich saying some variant of "This isn't supposed to be easy."
Well, through two games of the Finals against the twice-defending champion Heat, the Spurs have certainly discovered as much. Miami's not at all content with the two 'chips that they've got and won't be surrendering the title easily any time soon. Despite our optimistic hopes, the stark reality points to these two teams being as evenly matched as possible -- just like they were last year -- and in the end we're basically just going to be left hoping to win four of seven coin flips.
The disappointing aspect of Game 2, besides the end result of course, was that for large portions of the contest the home team fell for the trap of playing at the visitors' preferred pace. The Spurs were so conscious of not repeating the mishaps of Game 1, where they turned it over 23 times, that they course-corrected too far toward conservatism, pounding the ball endlessly and aimlessly, not whizzing it around the perimeter, and settling for bad jumpers at the end of the shot clock. Even when the jumpers fell in, the Spurs were still falling for the Heat's trap, draining that clock, shrinking the number of possessions in the game and denying themselves the opportunity for better looks in favor of any old look.
When the Spurs are at their best, they don't need the whole shot clock, the ball moves and they certainly don't settle for long twos. Instead, for much of Game 2, they were left with individuals trying to match the one-on-one heroics of LeBron James; always a losing proposition. The Spurs should be looking to maximize the number of possessions as much as possible. The more both teams get, the more of a chance that they'll not only tire the Heat out but more importantly that their superior offensive depth will make a difference.
Making some mistakes is okay. It happens when you play fast. The faster you play, the more time and chances you give yourself to make up for those mistakes. When you play slow, you force yourself to be precise and perfect. That's exactly what Miami did Sunday night. They gave the ball to James, told everyone else to get out of the way, and handed the Spurs a dose of Chinese water torture.
The Spurs have to find that happy medium of turning it over an acceptable amount of times but not surrendering their advantages of pace. That has to be their biggest goal heading into Game 3.
The smaller, more easily achievable goal should be sharply cutting down the minutes of one Marco Belinelli, who is not doing the Spurs any favors out there on the floor, and hasn't most of this postseason. Early in the second quarter the good guys were up 30-19 and had all the momentum in the world, their defense positively stifling the Heat. Belinelli, for reasons known only to him, left Ray Allen -- who had the ball mind you -- because Allen faked a pass. What would compel anyone to ever leave the league's best three-point shooter, even if he did pass it? The open three started a 15-3 run for Miami.
In the second half Belinelli played 8:03 and didn't register a stat, except for a lone rebound. He's a ghost out there, hardly touching the ball, much less getting a shot off, and all we're left for with him is hoping the Heat don't isolate and toast him defensively. The rationalization will be that Belinelli had to play some extra minutes because of Kawhi Leonard's foul trouble, but those minutes could've been picked up by Manu Ginobili and Danny Green to a large degree. At this stage of the game Belinelli should be the tenth man, playing spot minutes at best. How he got 22:24 of playing time in an NBA Finals has me a bit dumbfounded. Foul trouble affected the minutes of Leonard, Green and Ginobili at times, with Belinelli being largely the beneficiary in all three cases, but again I think Pop erred on the side of caution here instead of trusting his veterans to not foul. Ginobili and Green in particular needed to play more.
Leonard had the best second round not only of any Spur but probably of anyone in the league. Since then though, he's been inconsistent in the extreme, struggling to make his mark against the Thunder -- though he was superb in the first half of Game 6 -- or in these first two games against Miami.
He's struggled with fouls, picking up a couple of silly ones per game. But the real problem is his overall aggressiveness. He killed Miami inside and on the glass last Finals, but because the Spurs are playing big so much these days, he's not having the same impact there. When the Spurs did go small, he got overpowered by James repeatedly for rebounds, with some really poor box-outs. Offensively he's not looking to drive inside at all and has become exclusively a perimeter player. Defensively he's not closing off James well enough on drives and has come up with just two steals in two games, compared to four turnovers.
If Leonard doesn't significantly raise his level of play, the Spurs are in trouble. They've been too reliant on the Big Three these first two games and that's not to their advantage.
What is it about playing Miami that prevents the Spurs from making clutch free throws? Four straight misses by Tony Parker and Tim Duncan were absolute killers and for the game the Spurs shot just 12-of-20, 60 percent. That's some old school Spurs right there.
To me, the real game-changing plays involved calls and no-calls with Ginobili. Dwyane Wade flopped his way to drawing Ginobili's third foul with 4:09 to go in the second quarter, with ref Jason Phillips, who wasn't even looking in Wade's direction when Manu tried to swat the ball from him, blew the whistle anyway. That took Ginobili out for the rest of the quarter and hurt their chances of going into half with a little cushion.
Then, with 1:10 to go in the game and the Spurs trailing by two, Ginobili was fouled on the top of the key but didn't get a call, eventually turning it over with a pass too fast for Duncan to handle. On the next trip down, he was shoved off the ball to no avail. Those non-calls were difference-makers as much as anything else.
The Spurs got themselves in the penalty very early in the fourth quarter but couldn't get to the line after Duncan's two misses with 6:34 to go.
To be fair to the refs, the Spurs didn't play intelligently at all down the stretch. Instead of using the penalty to their advantage and bullying their way inside, they just dribbled themselves to death and settled for jumpers. The Heat finished with a 44-34 edge in paint scoring and that's just inexcusable considering the size advantage the Spurs have.
Tiago Splitter was another guy who didn't get enough minutes, but he, Duncan and Boris Diaw all needed to be more forceful down there and the Spurs needed to do a better job of setting screens and probing driving lanes. They played the Heat's game and lost and now it's a series. On to Game 3.
Really hoping we got the "LeBron James can't miss" game out of the way.
Your Three Stars:
3. Tony Parker (30 pts)
2. Manu Ginobili (30 pts)
1. Tim Duncan (35 pts)