MIAMI — Game 1 of The Finals was one of the best played playoff games you will ever see. The Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs committed just 13 combined turnovers and 24 combined personal fouls, a Finals record.
But the Spurs took a 1-0 series lead, in part because Tony Parker hit a ridiculous shot and in part because they held down the Heat’s offense in the fourth quarter.
The Heat scored just 16 points on 22 possessions in the final 12 minutes, the only time either team was held under a point per possession in any of the four periods. LeBron James was off the floor for the first 2:59 of the fourth, but Miami still scored just 12 points on 16 possessions after he checked back in.
Those 16 possessions were largely a result of the defensive improvement the Spurs have undergone this season. After an evaluation of what defensive numbers were really important, they improved from No. 11 in defensive efficiency last season to No. 3 this year. And they’ve held their opponents under a point per possession in 11 of their 14 playoff games leading into The Finals.
They forced the Heat into 5-for-18 shooting in the fourth quarter (which made for a very bloody shot chart), as well as five turnovers (four of which were live-balls). It was great defensive work by all five guys on the floor, but the Heat also hurt themselves with some sloppiness and poor decisions.
Here are five noteworthy stops from the final seven minutes…
Possession No. 10 – 6:52 left – Bosh misses a three
James attempted just four of his team’s 18 shots (plus two free throws) in the fourth quarter. And if you want to question his aggressiveness, this is the play to point out.
He comes off a Chris Bosh screen and encounters Tim Duncan outside the paint. The rest of the Spurs – other than Gary Neal, who smartly stays attached to Ray Allen in the corner – are in good help position, ready to help on James or a rolling Bosh.
There are two questions for the Heat on this play. First, does James miss an opportunity to drive past Duncan and get to the rim here? He was 5-for-5 in the restricted area in Game 1, but just 2-for-11 outside it.
Second, shouldn’t Bosh be rolling the basket instead of popping out to the 3-point line? If he rolls, there’s only Parker there to stop him.
Possession No. 13 – 5:20 left – Duncan foils a Wade drive
This is just 10 seconds of terrific help-and-recover defense by the Spurs. First of all, Neal again stays attached to Allen when James screens down. Then Kawhi Leonard helps on Mario Chalmers and recovers back to James, enough to prevent a straight-line drive to the basket.
Duncan helps on James’ drive, recovers back to Chris Andersen, and then helps again when Manu Ginobili closes out a little to hard on Dwyane Wade.
Perhaps James misses an opportunity here to roll to the basket…
Possession No. 14 – 4:48 left – Transition D leads to a turnover
The Heat had nine fast-break points in the first half, but none in the final 24 minutes, and this example of the Spurs’ terrific transition defense was a big reason why. James gets the rebound at 4:48 and tears down the court with three teammates at his side. But the Spurs run back to stop them.
When Chalmers gets the ball in the corner, he’s run off the 3-point line by Leonard. And when he drives baseline (with 20 seconds still left on the shot clock), he’s greeted by three other Spurs.
Ginobili, who had hit the floor on the other end, sprints back and helps prevent an Allen three, with Neal also closing out from the baseline. And then Parker gets to the corner to challenge Chalmers, who coughs the ball up.
You can say that’s an unforced error, because Chalmers just lost the ball. But the possession doesn’t get to that point without a ton of effort from the Spurs.
Possession No. 15 – 4:13 left – Ginobili stops Wade
Sometimes, it comes down to a one-on-one situation. And here, Ginobili does a terrific job of staying in front of Wade on an isolation. Both Leonard and Duncan show Wade that they’re in position to help, but this is just great one-on-one defense. And when Wade surrenders the ball to Chalmers in the corner, Parker smothers him.
The Heat are certainly to blame for taking too long to get into this possession, but not many defenders keep Wade from getting off a shot in that situation.
Possession No. 20 – 1:08 left – Another Bosh three
The Heat run one of their favorite plays, with Allen setting an on-ball screen for James and then flaring out to the left wing.
Parker knows what’s coming and stays attached to Allen, but that gives James a clear path to the lane. Duncan, of course, steps in to stop James, leaving his man, Bosh, wide open at the 3-point line.
Bosh is 6-foot-11, and he took 12 of his 16 shots from outside the paint on Thursday. He was 0-for-4 from 3-point range and seemed content to just float around the perimeter.
Here’s a question for this possession: What happens if Bosh is positioned where the red arrow points to below?
If Bosh is on the baseline, Duncan still has to help on James, who could then hit Bosh for a layup. If Danny Green decides to slide down to help on Bosh, Mike Miller is then wide open in the corner. And Miller from the corner is a better shot than Bosh from the wing.
So, while the Spurs deserve a ton of credit for their fourth-quarter defense, the Heat can certainly help themselves with better decisions. Specifically, they need to provide more of a threat in the paint.