Corner 3-Pointers, Paint Play Will Likely Dicate These NBA Finals


MIAMI — One of the most intriguing aspects of this year’s Finals matchup is that the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs have never really played each other.

Gregg Popovich sat his stars in their Nov. 29 meeting and Erik Spoelstra sat his on March 31. So there’s really no head-to-head data to look at in previewing the series.

The two teams played once last season, but both Manu Ginobili and Dwyane Wade missed that one. Besides, both of these teams have evolved quite a bit in the 16 months since that game.

The Heat have fully embraced their pace-and-space style, which elevated them to the No. 1 offense in the league. The Spurs, meanwhile, took a good look at their defensive numbers and figured out how to get back to being a top-three D. At the same time, the Heat regressed a few points per 100 possessions defensively and the Spurs did the same offensively.

Still, they were two of the three teams– Oklahoma City was the other — that ranked in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency in the regular season. And we’ve now got a matchup of the best offensive team and the best defensive team of the playoffs.

Heat pace and efficiency

Pace Rank OffRtg Rank DefRtg Rank NetRtg Rank
Reg. Season 93.0 23 110.3 1 100.5 7 +9.9 2
Playoffs 89.2 14 108.4 1 97.6 4 +10.8 2

Spurs pace and efficiency

Pace Rank OffRtg Rank DefRtg Rank NetRtg Rank
Reg. Season 96.4 6 105.9 7 99.2 3 +6.8 3
Playoffs 92.2 8 106.5 2 95.4 1 +11.1 1

The most efficient shots on the floor are at the rim and from the corners. And a deeper look into the numbers shows that both teams are strong, both offensively and defensively, from those spots. It’s as if both coaches know what they’re doing.

Miami offense vs. San Antonio defense

The No. 1 offense in the league led the league by shooting 68.2 percent from the restricted area and led the league with 309 corner 3-pointers (3.8 per game).

LeBron James and Wade were the guys attacking the rim. The MVP led the league with 411 baskets in the restricted area, while Wade was tied for eighth with 311. And though they’ve faced two great rim protectors — Joakim Noah and Roy Hibbert — in the last two rounds, they rank first and fifth in the postseason.

Shane Battier and Ray Allen were the guys shooting from the corners. Battier led the league with 88 corner threes, while Allen ranked eighth with 63. And though they’ve faced the two teams — Chicago and Indiana — who allowed the fewest corner threes in the regular season, the Heat have still hit 48 of them (3.0 per game) in the playoffs, with Allen (15), Battier (11), Norris Cole (7) and Chris Bosh (6) making up most of that total.

The Spurs ranked fourth by allowing their opponents to shoot just 57.4 percent in the restricted area in the regular season. And when Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter were on the floor together, opponents shot just 50.9 percent in the restricted area (just slightly higher than the 50.8 percent that Indiana opponents shot when Hibbert and David West were on the floor). Neither Duncan nor Splitter is the individual deterrent that the 7-foot-2 Hibbert is, but they protect the rim well.

The Spurs allowed just 156 corner threes in the regular season, the seventh fewest in the league, and have allowed just 1.9 per game in the playoffs.

As they were in Game 7 on Monday, trips to the free throw line are also a key component to the Heat’s offense. But the Spurs ranked second in opponent free throw rate, allowing just 24 free throws per 100 field goal attempts. The Pacers liked to talk a lot about defending without fouling, but the Spurs really do it.

The numbers favor the Spurs’ defense against the Heat’s offense. But James has been on the floor for only 39 of the 4,673 minutes (0.8 percent) the Spurs have played this season. And he has the ability to make a great defense look bad.

San Antonio offense vs. Miami defense

Like the Heat (and Thunder), the Spurs shoot the ball well from everywhere. They ranked fifth in field goal percentage from the restricted area, fifth from elsewhere in the paint, second from mid-range, sixth from the corners and seventh on threes from above the break.

Though they didn’t finish at the rim as well as the Heat did, the Spurs took a greater percentage of their shots from the restricted area than Miami. Splitter (274), Duncan (229) and Tony Parker (229) all ranked in the top 40 in buckets at the basket and all shot them at a percentage much higher than the league average (59.4 percent).

San Antonio ranked third in corner threes, with Danny Green (second with 73) and Kawhi Leonard (18th with 52) ranking in the top 20 for individuals.

The Heat ranked sixth in defending the restricted area and second in defending corner threes. They also ranked fourth in forcing turnovers, while the Spurs ranked 10th in taking care of the ball.


The Eastern Conference finals showed how important a bench can be. Over the seven games, the Pacers were a plus-46 with all of their starters on the floor, but a minus-74 whenever one or more of them rested.

The Spurs’ depth has been critical. In the playoffs, they’re just a plus-11 in 134 minutes with their starting lineup on the floor, scoring less than a point per possession.

All other San Antonio lineups are a plus-131 in 562 minutes, scoring an efficient 108 points per 100 possessions. The Spurs have been particularly lethal (115.5) in 132 minutes with Matt Bonner and Ginobili on the floor together.

Miami’s reserves have been nearly as important. Its starters are a plus-53 in 234 playoff minutes together, strong on both ends of the floor. But the Heat suffer little drop-off when they go to their bench. All other Miami lineups are a plus-100 in 538 minutes in the postseason, scoring 109 points per 100 possessions and allowing just 99.

It helps that James, averaging 41.2 minutes per game in the postseason, has been part of a lot of those bench units. And the Heat’s minutes with James on the bench in this series will be critical.

Any foul trouble could be an issue for either team as well. But it’s not like fans of either squad will need to close their eyes when they go to the bench, as Pacers fans surely did over the last month.


With the best pick-and-roll point guard in the league and plenty of perimeter shooting, the Spurs have the perfect offense to make the Heat pay for their aggressive D. And history tells us that when a great offense goes against a great defense, the great defense has the advantage more often.

Spurs in 6.


  1. daezarkian says:

    Spurs in 6. The ignorance of Heat fans is monumentally entertaining.

  2. wooderson says:

    I also find it funny that everyone keeps saying that you cant read anything into the regular season games because both team rested their stars,….uuuuuummm, Miami still won both! you don’t remember the Bosh-led heat dominating the full strength spurs??

    • daezarkian says:

      You mean the game with the BS foul call there at the end (Cole falling over with no one touching him, Spurs called for foul) that led to that win? Yeah, I remember that one.

  3. wooderson says:

    actually im going with a prediction of the heat in 5 games, 4 if they shoot well

  4. crossover says:

    If the refs call it the way they should, Miami doesn’t have a chance. I see the Heat as the second coming of the bad boys ( Pistons of the ’80’s) Miami is dirty. We’ll see.

  5. borat says:

    heat in 9

  6. Busha Koffa says:

    The only problem I have with calling the Spurs the number 1 defense is that they played offensively challenged team in two out of three series to get to this point. Duncan and Splitter put no fear in LBJ hearts the way Hibbert and West does. I say that because back when Lebron was in his early 20’s postersrized Timmy! Made him fall to the ground. I honestly think LBJ is going to shoot a crazy FG% due to the fact he’s not the least intimidated by the likes of Splitter, Duncan, Diaw, Bonner, etc.

    Heat in 6.

  7. Miami Heat Fan says:

    it’s just like THUNDER vs HEAT last finals. or much worse than the Spurs now. I saw a blow out win always for Miami Heat. Heat in 5 or maybe 6. Spurs will go down and melt like a butter against the HOT Miami Heat. it’s raining 3’s and dunks on game 1 and Spurs players doesn’t know what to do. Coach Pop will just call it a day on game 1….lol

  8. woadie says:

    When the title of your article is spelled wrong most people won’t read it. Now all the stats and predictions can help the Spurs, but when you have Lebron and D. Wade on the same team, (with other additions such as Ray Allen and the birdman who has been contributing more) there is no doubt that the Spurs will need some Heat players to win games for them. I won’t predict how many games the Heat will win in, but they will bring the title back to Miami this year.

  9. popovixx says:

    Spurs in 6

  10. busa-boss says:

    spurs in 4

  11. D WADE says:

    Although Spurs have great defence, Miami is going to win the finals. Lebron will join Jordan, and Bill Russell to win consecutive championships and back to back mvps

  12. sirokul says:

    refs will likely dictate the Finals

  13. leslie green says:

    heat will win for all you heat haters!

  14. SPURS says:

    Keep Dreaming Guys! As what John Says Game 6 belong to the Spurs.

  15. heat_champs says:

    schuhmman is a hater.

  16. Saosin says:

    Heat in 3

    • Vante says:

      3 is impossible hope u miss wrote this and didn’t think it was actually 3 when u wrote it

  17. King says:

    Heat in 5

  18. Silence I'll kill u says:

    @ john schuhmann, wanna bet candies? Miami in 5!

  19. hipster says:

    I heard The Bostrich likes the rim play.