The Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs are tied 1-1 in the 2013 NBA Finals. The Spurs won a close Game 1 after Tony Parker hit an incredible shot as the shot clock expired to put the Heat away and steal home court advantage. Game 2 was close until the end of the third quarter when Mario Chalmers and LeBron James combined to blow open the game with a 33-5 run. Game 3 is Tuesday night in San Antonio(as are games four and five). Here are one man’s thoughts on the first couple of games in Miami.
The Spurs have a couple of bigs that are more skillful than the bigs from Indiana. Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter can do damage in the post with their skills in shooting and passing. David West and Roy Hibbert gave Miami a lot of trouble because their size is just so imposing. Roy Hibbert has a few inches on any Miami big and David West is too strong for the likes of Chris Bosh or Udonis Haslem. Bosh, Haslem and the Birdman, Chris Anderson, are all good defenders, but did not match up well with the size of Indiana. You could see how much it hurt the Heat last series, but in this series, it does not appear that the Spurs can really take advantage of the Heat’s biggest weakness.
Miami will continue to win the battle inside, or at least keep it close as long as Tim Duncan stays closer to the perimeter shooting jumpers rather than banging down low in the post. The Spurs shoot the three ball extremely well, but if Miami can keep them shooting long twos instead of open threes, it will be a huge win for them. Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili have all been inconsistent throughout the postseason shooting jumpers. They are averaging less than ninety points in the two games, in large part because they have been settling for a lot of jumpers.
The guy who has not been struggling from the outside in this series is Danny Green. He is 9-14 on three pointers over the past two games. Early in Game 1, Green was the only reason the Spurs were hanging around when the Heat were up by 7-9 points. In Game 2, he hit on all five of his three-point attempts and was the sole reason for the Spurs grabbing an early lead. He has been lights out. Both teams have been shooting the three very well. Miami is 18/44 in the two games and San Antonio is 17/43.
It is a shame that one of the postseason’s biggest storylines has been the injury bug. It murdered the Thunder’s title shots in a moment, squashed whatever glimmering sliver of hope the Lakers had, never allowed the Bulls to have a glimmer of hope and may have affected the Warriors run for better or worse. But these two teams do deserve to be in the Finals. It is a little weird however, that the bug is affecting this series. Two of the series’ best six players, Dwyane Wade and Manu Ginobili are clearly not right. They are both out their giving their best, but when was the last Finals that had such big names playing at a level significantly less than 100%? No recent Finals come to mind.
Wade and Bosh have been playing much better over the past three Miami games. And wouldn’t you know? Putting in more effort leads to better play. Wade, a number of times against Indiana, had the ball knocked out of his hands and as it was bouncing around gave a 10% effort to get the ball back. I don’t know if his knee is feeling much better, but the effort is there. The Heat need Bosh and Wade to show up. Bosh has to be a bigger factor rebounding the ball and taking the Spurs bigs off the dribble to the hoop.
We have seen variations of this small-ball lineup that Miami can throw out that can put points up in a hurry. LeBron is at the four flanked by shooters such as Allen, Mike Miller and Chalmers with any big man. What a dangerous lineup. What do you give up against that team? Do you double LeBron down low, something that the Spurs have done often over the first couple of games? If you double, Birdman is cutting to the hoop, or you leave Miller, Allen or Chalmers. When those guys are hitting their threes, there is nothing to do. How often will Miami go to these lineups, leaving Wade and Bosh off the court? What will the Spurs do to counter.
Much of what happens to Miami over the course of this series and next year and beyond will depend on how LeBron and Wade figure out their relationship as teammates. This might be a big enough story to be its own article. But Wade has not been himself throughout these playoffs. Or maybe he has just been the New Wade that we are going to see from here on out. Will Wade be OK getting considerably less touches? Last year’s Miami team had so much success in part because Wade conceded being Number 1 to LeBron. But after Game 6 in Indiana, Wade may have grown tired of his touches decreasing. He indirectly asked LeBron to not forgot about he and Bosh. What is LeBron to do?
LeBron is beloved by teammates; he is one of the ultimate team players. But are Wade’s words taking a toll on him? By the looks of the first pair of games in this series, and Game 7 against Indiana, it appears that it is affecting LeBron’s play. I don’t necessarily agree with Kobe Bryant or the way that he leads his team or even the way that Michael Jordan did so in his playing days, but this is one thing I do know. At the peak of their abilities, there was no way that they would start being less aggressive to appease their wingman. Their DNA, their leadership styles differ greatly from LeBron’s, but I cannot help but think that LeBron is playing a little differently in order to keep Wade happy. And who am I to say which way is right? Jordan has six rings, Kobe has five and LeBron may well be on his way to number two of many. LeBron’s game is always unselfish anyway. On a game to game basis, he walks a very fine line between getting everyone involved and being too passive. But these first couple of games he has erred on the side of being passive, and that could spell trouble for the Heat and their future.
What to make of LeBron in this series? Before his monster 8 minute stretch bridging the third and fourth quarters of Game 2, I was wondering if the “2011 Finals” version of LeBron came to play in 2013. In Game 1, he put up an 18-18-10, but was disappointing(I don’t think that sentence could possibly be written about anyone else in the league right now). He was not aggressive, did not look for his shot enough, turned the ball over down the stretch and did not show enough fire. In the first 30 minutes of Game 2, the same could be said about King James. But then he played a few minutes of basketball that the Spurs could not keep up with. That small portion of the game was enough to put Game 2 in the books. He had one sequence of plays that left you wondering who else could have possibly duplicated it. I doubt anyone in today’s game could have, but there are probably at least a few in the history of the NBA. We go to the tape:
8:23- fourth quarter: Heat are up 86-67. Neither team has called off the dogs yet. Bigger comebacks have happened. The Spurs have four starters on the floor. Teams are still going full steam ahead. Parker runs a pick and roll with Splitter. Splitter catches the ball in the paint, takes a couple of steps to go up for a dunk and cocks back to really throw it down. LeBron meets Splitter in the air and gives a hellacious block.
8:09- LeBron, after sitting under hoop hearing it from the crowd, finally decides to catch up with his team on their fast break. He runs a pick and roll of his own with Chalmers, catches the ball in the paint and throws a no-look pass to Jesus Shuttleworth(Ray Allen, He Got Game) in the corner. Buckets. Heat up by 22.
7:50: Parker drives the lane and tries to kick the ball out to Green on the wing. LeBron jumps the pass and knocks the ball to Mike Miller. Miller throws the ball over his head.
7:48- After sprinting away from everyone on the court, LeBron grabs the ball and slams the ball home with authority. Series even. How do we know Poppovich was done after that? Tracy McGrady entered the game. Yes, THAT Tracy McGrady.
Believe me, any knowledgeable basketball fan rooting for the Heat(we could probably count the number of those in Miami on one hand) has been frustrated with LeBron’s play for 80 of the 96 minutes in this series. Much of what happens in this series will depend directly on how LeBron plays. Simply put, he holds the fate of this series in his hands. 80 out of 96 LeBron means the Spurs win in 6. Eight minute stretch LeBron means Miami wins in 5, maybe 6.