NBA Finals Game 1 Thoughts: It’s a Spurs world, and Miami just lives in it

In the aftermath of an epic Game 1 win last night, a few thoughts stemming from the NBA Finals:
 
It’s San Antonio’s world, and Miami’s just living in it
 
92-88 game, with a 2-point differential in the last 29 seconds? Sounds like a close game.
 
But it wasn’t. Not nearly as much as the final score would have you believe.
 
The Spurs completely dictated the pace of the game, and Miami should be so fortunate that they even kept it that close. The most telling numbers:

  • 9: Number of Miami fast break points. The Spurs were able to control the pace all night long, whether that meant a Tim Duncan possession in the high post, or slowly swinging the ball around the perimeter until an open man appeared with a long range shot. Several people (including myself) felt that San Antonio’s offensive style would lend to a quickly executed offense, and thus, many fast break opportunities for one of the most deadly running teams in the league in Miami. Not so much. Why?
  • 46-37: The Spurs outrebounded the Heat by 9, and ended up with 6 more field goal attempts. It’s no surprise that Miami wasn’t able to control the boards (after all, they were one of the NBA’s worst rebounding teams all season long), but considering that they knew that the key to the game was controlling possessions, it’s a disappointing statistic. LeBron did his part with a monstrous 18 rebounds, but no other Heat player nabbed more than 5. Chris Bosh and Chris Andersen must, must, MUST do their parts here.
  • 4: Number of turnovers by San Antonio. No, that’s not a quarter–that’s the whole damn game. For the entire team. Though the Heat pressured the Spurs all night long, they simply weren’t able to get the savvy Western Conference champs to give up the rock. Primary ball handlers Parker, Gary Neal and Manu Ginobili combined for 1 (!) turnover, which may well have been the key ingredient for a Spurs W last night. Case in point: Parker’s miracle shot at the end of the game shouldn’t have even got to a replay situation. The Heat had their opponent on the ground, scrambling for the ball and struggling to find an outlet for the ball. At that point, multiple defenders have to be on Parker—there’s simply no excuse for letting him get back on his feet and shoot…even if it was just from one foot. I suppose you can live with that shot, but it shouldn’t have gotten to that point with Parker on the ground.
  • 7-23: The Spurs FG-FGA from 3P. San Antonio was piss poor from downtown last night, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. They got exactly the shots they wanted, but they simply weren’t dropping in. Danny Green, Gary Neal and Kawhi Leonard got open looks time after time but didn’t convert. Leonard scratched on his 4 attempts, Neal hit 1-5 and while Green’s 4-9 mark is solid, that’s only without the context of in-game action—the dude was wide open most of the night.

In many ways, Miami was lucky this wasn’t a complete blowout. The Spurs are an efficient three-point shooting team (4th in the league at .376 in the regular season) who just happened to have a bad night from the arc. As predicted before the series started, the Heat overcompensated on defensive rotations, going far too aggressive in trying to trap wayward shooters. They’re extremely fortunate that the Spurs didn’t make them pay, and that this game was even manageable in the waning seconds of the 4th quarter. Speaking of which…

LeBron is wired as the ultimate team player—but he needs re-wiring in winning time

James had a monster night in many ways, registering a triple double with 18 points, 18 boards and 10 assists. He controlled his team’s offensive possessions, whether it be starting the break with a rebound or setting a teammate up for an open look. It’s hard to say he didn’t contribute to a near Heat victory—the guy accounted for HALF of his team’s rebounds, assisted on 10 of the team’s 27 field goals and continually got guys open looks even when they didn’t convert. It’s really, really difficult to say he wasn’t great. LeBron made the plays that every coach teaches from grade school to the pros: take the shot yourself, but hit the open man whenever possible. He played the game the right way, which is the team way. That’s just how LeBron is wired. He’s at the same time a dominant one-on-one player due to his outrageous physical gifts, but also the ultimate teammate who would be just as happy creating shots for others.

However.

LeBron finished with just 18 points on 16 shots, only 4 free throws and most importantly, his team lost. It seems almost offensive to ask a guy who dropped a triple-double in the Finals to do more, but…he’s got to do more. In the fourth quarter, James had 6 points, 2 made field goals and only 4 attempts…2 of which were jump shots. As well as the Spurs guarded the paint, the best player in the world (and one of the best coaches in the NBA) has to create more opportunities for LeBron to get in the lane, force some contact or, better yet, hit some buckets. Time after time, James made the “right play”, including passing to a wide open (no player in any direction for 10 feet) Chris Bosh, who clanged a three-pointer. But like all great players, in the 4th quarter of a close game, it should always be on the shoulders of your best player to win or lose the game. Just proof that the game isn’t black and white—you can play by the fundamentals of the game, but it’s not always playing by the rules that equates to greatness.

If the Heat don’t find a way to control the game, this isn’t going to be a 6 or 7 game classic. It’s going to be a gentleman’s sweep

As I mentioned, the Heat are lucky this game was as close as it was. The Spurs missed a ton of easy looks from dependable shooters, and to Miami’s credit, had subpar shooting nights from Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan.

The Heat need to do something that makes San Antonio adjust to their strengths and their tempo if they have any prayer of making this a series. Part of that strategy is easy, but extremely telling by the following statement: this is the first time I’ve mentioned Dwyane Wade in this post. He finished with 17 points on 15 shots in an extremely forgettable performance—aside from some partially dynamic spurts in the first quarter, he didn’t impact the game in the way he could, or should. It’s easy to say that Wade and Bosh need to get going, but we’ve essentially been saying that for two rounds now. Both guys are clearly hurt and can’t be counted on for breakout performances on a night to night basis.

Unfortunately for the Heat, they’re counting on LeBron to be not just great, but historically great. They need him to be a great team player, a great individual scorer, a fantastic defensive presence and the best defender on the court. He’s the lone factor I feel that San Antonio will have to adjust to this series.

Miami needs to find something and fast. Despite such a close numerical score in Game 1, this wasn’t a close game. I’m less encouraged about the Heat’s title prospects than I have been all season long.

 

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