- Series Hub: Spurs-Heat
Now that the Heat and the Spurs have that out of their systems – as well as that – much of the NBA-watching public has to be hoping that The Finals can return to the sort of tense, surgical action of Game 1. The opener of the championship series was played with scalpels compared to the blunt-ax trauma inflicted first one way, then the other a contest later.
San Antonio saw Miami’s 19-point victory on Sunday and, 48 hours later, raised by 17 more points, the 113-77 blowout registering as the third biggest in Finals history. Chicago beat Utah in Game 3 in 1998, by 42 points, and the 2008 Celtics won their trophy with a thoroughly anticlimactic 39-point drubbing of the Lakers in Game 6.
But as LeBron James and several other Miami players said late Tuesday, regardless of the number of points, such games still only count one toward the grind for four victories. Same with their fat Game 2 triumph, which had a shorter shelf life than a fistful of cut flowers. Here’s to tighter games and far less deviation in a series that seems destined to reach six or seven games.
RIGHT: LeBron James owned the loss in his postgame comments and he was right to do so. It’s silly to fret and hammer him whenever he falls short of a 25-12-10 triple double, because his star in the NBA’s heavens is firmly established. There always has been a combination Magic Johnson/Michael Jordan vibe to James’ game and through the first three outings in this series, he has veered toward too much Magic and too little Michael. A 16.3 ppg scoring average wont’ get it done for Miami. James needs to be more aggressive as a scorer and let the facilitating take care of itself at the back end, when the Spurs start scrambling and gambling. He has to remember that, yes, the Spurs confront him with multiple bodies whenever he heads toward the paint but it’s not as if he’s faced with Tim Duncan standing on top of Roy Hibbert‘s shoulders. Maybe the next thing James has to “own” is the low post, taking Kawhi Leonard down to the block the way he did Paul George in Game 3 of the Indiana series. A world of possibilities opened up for him and for the Heat that night.
WRONG: James wasn’t fooling anyone when he said that the Game 3 debacle was all on him. Nice noble way to act as a leader, to nominate himself as the lightning rod from now through Thursday night and to take heat and flak off his teammates. But Miami has other issues. Dwyane Wade can’t seem to put together more than a couple of quarters offensively, and he’s not even giving that defensively. Bad knee, a lifetime of hard basketball knocks or whatever, he’s on the verge of being eclipsed by his fashion tastes and a fame earned over the past decade rather than the last week. Chris Bosh should have been in the stands for that laser-and-smoke show in July 2010, the way he’s receded into role-playing. Meanwihile, Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole should have romped on a night when Tony Parker pulled up lame; instead, they combined for eight points with four assists and seven turnovers in a total of about 47 minutes.
RIGHT: The Spurs’ role players rate as perhaps the biggest surprise of the Finals. The Heat are battle-tested, competing for the championship for the third consecutive June. San Antonio’s big-name players – Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili – are obviously big-game players; that’s how you build those names. But for fellows such as Leonard, Danny Green and Gary Neal have had no problems playing their usual games, despite the pressure and attention on The Finals. That Second Three for the Spurs came within 12 points by themselves of matching the Heat’s 77 points.
WRONG: San Antonio might wind up on the outside looking in if Tony Parker doesn’t swiftly shake off his hamstring issue in his right leg. It won’t beat Miami twice more without the services of its All-Star point guard, maybe not even once. That 11-5 mark for the Spurs when Parker did not participate this season? None of those victories was against the defending champions while a full strength. Forget tea leaves or expert analysis, the future of the 2013 Finals might best be read off Parker’s MRI results.
RIGHT: Neal is about as un-Spurs-like as this team has gotten in recent memory, unless it decides to go shopping in free agency for Nate Robinson. But a little irrepressibility can go a long way, as Neal showed with his 24 points in Game 3 and 41 so far in the series. Green, meanwhile, has been out Ray Allen-ing Allen himself. His 16 3-pointers so far in the series are the most over a three-game span in the Finals by anyone in NBA history, topping Allen’s mark of 15 in both 2008 and 2010.
WRONG: Good thing the fringe guys have stepped up because Ginobili has looked every day of his 35 years. The versatile Argentina import is averaging 8.3 points with lousy shooting numbers across the board (37.5 percent overall, 23.1 percent on 3-pointers and 66.7 percent from the foul line). Duncan’s shooting has been off and he’s been getting physically abused by defenders in the post. Parker has the hamstring as cover after a sub-par Game 2. Tiago Splitter and Matt Bonner have looked silly out there at times. But Ginobili has been so shaky, a lot of Spurs fans don’t want to see him even touch the ball because two out of the three things he can do with it – shoot or dribble – have been turning out bad.
RIGHT: The Heat aren’t at a total loss after Game 3. One bright spot: The play of Mike Miller, the tape-and-gauze king of south Florida. Miller has boosted himself in the Heat’s rotation to become the first player off the bench and he’s 9-of-10 from 3-point range in The Finals. They also managed to put together nice little runs near the ends of the second and third quarters that pushed San Antonio to stick with its key guys and gives the Heat something to build on for Game 4. Yeah, that’s faint praise for the team most people picked to win the championship. But right now, the Heat will take it.
WRONG: When Wade and James complained about Wade’s double-dribble call in Game 3, they did so by gesturing in the universal double-dribble sign (both hands, palms down, alternating up and down) to the refs. Uh, guys, that’s what you do if you think you thought an opponent had gotten away with a double-dribble.
RIGHT: Heat coach Erik Spoelstra was right to put the focus of Miami’s failure squarely on the defense. His guys didn’t close out on shooters the way they needed to, they didn’t show the sort of feistiness and intensity they displayed in Game 7 against the Pacers or Game 2 of The Finals just 48 hours earlier. They were lackadaisical on the boards – Chris (Birdman) Andersen played 11 minutes without grabbing a rebound and Udonis Haslem managed just three in his diminished 10:29 starting stint. Yes, scoring 77 points is a problem but not necessarily dire if the other teams isn’t racking up 113. “I don’t even want our guys bringing up [the offensive] side of the floor,” Spoelstra said. “If that’s what we’re going to pinpoint, we’rd kidding ourselves.”
WRONG: Everyone else will be kidding themselves if they put too much emphasis on the history either of the participants or the Final. Yes, the team that broke out of a 1-1 tie to take Game 3 has won 11 of the past 12 championship rounds. But that trend already got squished a little because Miami in 2011 was the lone team to break ranks and the core of that team is back now. So this stuff about Miami not losing consecutive games since early January? Bah. San Antonio being just two victories away from a title. Right. We’ve seen this before: Indiana was “just” two victories away with a series lead last year in the East semifinals. Miami trailed in its series against Boston in the East finals in 2012, against Oklahoma City in last year’s Finals and again this spring against Chicago. The Pacers pushed them to the brink of elimination with a Game 7 a week and a half ago. The Heat still are here. James still has time. There will be a lot more rights and wrongs in this series before it’s done.