SAN ANTONIO — The differences between Games 1 and 2 The Finals were on both ends of the floor. The Miami Heat were better offensively in Game 2, and the San Antonio Spurs were worse.
Both games were decided in the fourth quarter, and on Sunday, LeBron James was on the floor with the game on the line. That was the most important difference, and James’ ability to get to the rim in the first half and knock down jumpers in the second gave the Miami offense a boost. The Heat scored 82 points in James’ 37:36 on the floor (105 per 48) and just 16 points in his 10:24 on the bench (74 per 48).
But defense was just as (and maybe more) critical to the Heat’s 98-96 victory. The Spurs’ offense is rarely shut down completely, but if Miami can slow it down somewhat, it’s own offense should be enough to win a third straight championship.
In Game 2, San Antonio scored 17 points on 23 possessions in the second quarter and 18 points on 20 possessions in the fourth. Those had been the Spurs’ best offensive quarters for most of the playoffs, but certainly weren’t Sunday.
Afterward, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich blamed a lack of ball movement.
“We can’t put it in somebody’s hands and have them create everything for us,” he said. “It’s got to be a group effort and we didn’t do that.
“That puts a lot of pressure on everything else. It means we’re going to have to be perfect on defense, we can’t miss four free throws in a row, those sorts of things.
“You move it or you die.”
The lack of ball movement wasn’t just about the Spurs. The Heat’s defense played its part.
The Miami defense had issues in Game 1. A lack of ball pressure and slow rotations from the weak side allowed Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter to make easy catches in the paint and shoot 14-for-16, with 14 of those 16 shots in the restricted area.
The pair got another 14 shots in the restricted area in Game 2, but converted only eight of them this time. None of Splitter’s three shots were on straight pick-and-rolls like he was converting on in Game 1.
The power of the switch
- NBA.com/stats video: The Heat switch twice and close out on Mills
One adjustment the Heat made was switching high ball screens for Manu Ginobili to prevent the roll man from going untouched into the paint.
Here’s Norris Cole, at the end of the first quarter, switching onto Splitter after he set a screen for Ginobili …
And early in the second quarter, here’s Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade switching a high ball screen…
Immediately followed by Bosh and Chris Andersen doing it…
Switching screens takes some of the bite out of the Heat defense, but also takes some bite out of the Spurs’ offense. Not only does it help prevent those open rolls to the basket, but by not sending two guys to the ball, it doesn’t give San Antonio 4-on-3 situations where their passers will usually find the open man. The adjustment was one of the reasons the Spurs didn’t turn the ball over as much, but also why they got stagnant at times.
Running them off the line
Not sending two to the ball also makes it easier for the other three defenders to stick with their man. They don’t have to help as much and are able to recover out to the Spurs’ shooters.
On that same possession that the Heat twice switched a Ginobili ball screen, the ball was swung to Patty Mills in the corner. And because he didn’t have to meet a roll man under the basket, Cole was able to close out on Mills on the corner, run him off the 3-point line, and force a tough scoop shot from just outside the paint.
The Spurs have shot 49 percent from 3-point range in The Finals and had more 3-point attempts in Game 2 (26) than they did in Game 1 (25). But that’s partly because they took 14 more shots overall, a result of them cutting their turnovers in half (from 23 to 11).
The number that really jumped up was San Antonio’s mid-range shots. After attempting 11 in Game 6 in Oklahoma City and eight in Game 1 of The Finals, the Spurs took 23 mid-range shots in Game 2.
The Spurs’ first possession of the game was a broken play, but was an example of the Heat running them off off the line and forcing a mid-range shot. Wade recovered out to Danny Green and forced him to pull up for a 18-footer.
That shot went in, but the Spurs shot just 7-for-23 from mid-range for the game. That’s just 0.6 points per shot, compared to the 1.2 points they scored on their other 59 field goal attempts.
Time and time again, in part because their defense wasn’t compromised elsewhere, the Heat were able to meet the Spurs at the arc and force them to take a less efficient shot from inside it.
A late first-quarter possession was a good example of two close-outs, one by Cole on Mills …
… and another by Ray Allen on Kawhi Leonard …
… forced a tough shot by Leonard. There was some miscommunication on that possession, but energy made up for it and there were no open shots to be had.
There were other cases where the Spurs did hurt themselves. At times, Tony Parker was too eager to go one-on-one with his defender instead of moving the ball to the open man.
Here’s Parker trying to isolate on Wade (who had switched onto him) early in the second quarter as Boris Diaw frees Marco Belinelli with a back-screen…
And early in the fourth, here’s Parker again trying to go one-one-one with Wade, though Diaw is open on the baseline…
Diaw wasn’t in scoring position on that play (Belinelli was on the earlier one), but a quick pass to the baseline would have had the Heat defense scrambling. Help would have had to come from Bosh (leaving Splitter open for a layup) or the weak side (leaving a shooter open from beyond the arc).
The Heat didn’t switch on Parker ball screens as often as they did on Ginobili (though you’ll see one example in the video at the top of this post), perhaps because they know Parker is less likely to make a quick, penetrating pass. If he’s going to hold onto the ball for a beat or two, the Miami defense can hedge the screen and recover.
Maybe Popovich will have a word or two with him about that before Game 3.