Film Study: Spurs on a string


VIDEO: Through the Lens: Finals Game 4

MIAMI – The 2014 Finals have turned into a thorough beatdown. The Miami Heat have won a game by two points, while the San Antonio Spurs have won games by 15, 19 and 21.

They got help from LeBron James‘ cramps in Game 1 and had a flukey shooting performance in Game 3, but were still the better team through the first 144 minutes. And Game 4 was their most complete performance yet.

Except for a couple of ugly quarters, the Spurs’ offense has been humming all series. On Thursday, they were just as good on defense.

James scored 28 points in Game 4, but 19 of those came in the second half, when the Spurs had the game well in hand. They held the Heat to just 36 points on 43 possessions in the first half and basically shut down James’ supporting cast … until James Jones hit four straight shots in garbage time. It was Miami’s worst offensive game of the postseason.

The Heat are the best finishing team in the league. In the regular season, they led the league by shooting 68.0 percent in the restricted area. Through the first three rounds, they were shooting even better than that at the basket and they were solid in the paint through the first three games of The Finals.

But in the first half on Thursday, the Heat had almost as many turnovers (7) as points in the paint (8), where they shot a miserable 4-for-15.

On a string from the start

The first possession of the game foreshadowed exactly what was to come for the next 48 minutes. It was five guys on a string helping each other, closing off the paint, recovering out to the perimeter, keeping the Heat from getting an open shot, and, eventually, forcing a turnover.

The possession started with a Mario Chalmers/LeBron James side pick-and-roll, with Kawhi Leonard sitting back at the foul line, where he can help on Chalmers, but also get back to James. Every other Spur was ready to help…

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After Chalmers swung the ball to Dwyane Wade, he got a sideline screen from Rashard Lewis, and there was Tim Duncan, at the block, cutting off the paint…

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Wade squeezed by Duncan under the basket, but had no shot on the other side of the rim, because Leonard sunk down to prevent it…

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When Wade kicked the ball out to James, Boris Diaw rotated out from the corner. James saw it coming and immediately got the ball to Chris Bosh, but there was Leonard again, closing out…

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Bosh attacked the close out and got by Leonard, and there was Duncan again…

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And when Bosh tried to slip a pocket pass to Wade, Leonard had recovered and got his big mitts on the ball.

It was a supreme effort by Leonard, who was all over the place over a span of 15 seconds. But it was also an example of perfect synergy from all five Spurs. There was no miscommunication and no hesitation in their rotations. When one guy got beat, another guy stepped up and everyone else reacted quickly and appropriately.

It starts in transition

Great defense can start with great offense. When the Spurs made almost every shot they took in the first half of Game 3, they didn’t have to worry much about defending the Heat in transition. They didn’t shoot as well on Thursday, but still kept Miami from scoring a single fast break point in the first half of Game 4.

After a Tiago Splitter miss late in the first quarter, James had the ball across the midcourt line just three seconds into the shot clock, but four Spurs were already in front of him…

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James tried to go one-on-one with Matt Bonner, but Bonner held his ground…

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“We don’t care who’s guarding who,” Tony Parker told NBA TV after the game, “we just want to be in front of them.”

As we saw on the first possession of the game, it does help if Leonard is involved in the play, though. And on this one, Leonard helped Bonner as James got to the basket…

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… and then turned around and challenged Wade after James dropped the pass off. When Leonard bit on Wade’s pump fake, Wade was met by Splitter, who had been on his back at the opposite end of the court just six seconds earlier…

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Wade must have been thoroughly confused by how a guy could miss a shot, get knocked down, and get back on defense so quickly.

As the saying goes…

This was the story all night. The Heat were the No. 1 offense through the first three rounds of the playoffs. And in their most desperate situation of the year, they got shut down.

The Spurs’ own offense is gorgeous. But their defense can be just as beautiful when it’s working as hard and as in sync as it was in Game 4. They knew they weren’t going to shoot the lights out again, and they brought the needed effort and focus defensively to still win a road game in The Finals. Ultimately, it was another efficient offensive performance, but it didn’t need to be.

San Antonio had regressed defensively every year for eight seasons until last season, when they returned to the top-five in defensive efficiency after a four-year absence. They were back again this year and that defensive improvement is the biggest reason they’ve been to two straight Finals.

Now, it has them on the brink of a championship.

23 Comments

  1. kevspilla says:

    Reblogged this on MyExpressiveConduit and commented:
    heat getting a spanking..

  2. prahumac says:

    spurs are just unstoppable when coming to their home so finally a 5th title for the champs!!!!!!!!! hurrayyyyyyy go spurs go

  3. marjalago says:

    This finals is a triumph of team play over chest thumping I’m da man schoolyard play that is killing the sport. The Heat defense is designed to trap the same kind of stand around offense that they play not the beautiful ball movement that the Spurs are killing them with. The Spurs are coached by the best in the game and the Heat are coached by an imbecile who spouts platitudes and basically stays out of his players’ way.

  4. ricz says:

    “The Heat were the No. 1 offense through the first three rounds of the playoffs” But then again… We are talking about eastern conference where Heat is the only good team out there(this season)

  5. celtics4life says:

    I never liked the heat, not because of anything in particular just because they are such an “overdog”. no real challenge. Too much stardom. Too much ego. No team work. Was not even going to watch the Finals until I saw the Spurs. WOW they were like the 2008 and 2010 Celtics. Go spurs! I notice how just about every other teams fans boo the heat. LOL everyone hates the heat

  6. manuel Mercado says:

    IT WAS A GREAT BASKETBALL SEASON FOR ALL TEAMS. MANY BASKETBALL PLAYERS GAVE THE BEST FROM THEM. APPLAUSE FOR ALL THESE YOUNG GUYS THAT GAVE US A LOT OF FUN. APPLAUSE TO THE MIAMI HEAT THAT IS DEFENDING THE TITLE WITH A GREAT TEAM LIKE THE SPURS. AT THESE TIME THE SERIE IS 3-1. WHO EVER WIN HAS DEMONSTRATE BE THE BEST THIS YEAR. CONGRATULATIONS TO THE WINNER. THANKS TO ALL MIAMI HEAT BASKETBALL PLAYERS, WE ARE PROUD TO HAVE A WONDERFUL BASKETBALL TEAM.

    HEAT FAN FOR EVER.

  7. Héctor Laboy says:

    What a beautiful basketball by San Antonio! Almost perfect!

  8. Dominic says:

    I dont understand the big surprise. This series could very well have been over in 4 games had the spurs made those crucial free throws in game 2.

  9. aces says:

    I don’t understand all da hate towards LeBron. Instead of appreciating what the Spurs are doing, people continue to talk about Heat n LeBron in particular. We are seeing a top 8 player in nba history get a chance to win his 5th championship. Let’s appreciate that and appreciate all he’s done for basketball in 17 yrs

  10. Nbafan says:

    Refreshing to see young players like Leonard and Mills not whine after every call and just keep playing hard. Also, I noticed Tim Duncan helped Ray Allen up before any Heat player even tried to help in game 4. Great sportsmanship and recognition of an outstanding player on another team IMO.

  11. bless says:

    Anybody see OR hear from LBJ?

  12. TheBestTeam says:

    It is always easy to talk when the game is over…It was Lebron here…Lebron there…Heat here, Heat there…But today no more excuses or projection…The Spurs are just the best team…It is time to stop dreaming Heat fans ! The Spurs is not a show off team…They just play…A kind of lethal team…For me the Final MVP is The Spurs Team no an individual player !

  13. pacersbandwagon says:

    lebron will have the greatest finals comeback in nba history

    • Brad T says:

      What year? ‘Cause it aint this year pal

    • DMG says:

      I would have preferred to see the Pacers take the East. They are a young talented team who work hard and don’t have to buy every superstar that comes available to win. Lebron is great, but you have to wake up buddy, The Heat won one game by 2 points compared to a combined 55. And now you expect them to win 2 games in SA when they couldn’t defend their homecourt. Sorry not likely

    • Chris says:

      First people say “heat will sweep the spurs” than “heat in 5″ then “heat in 6″ now the heat are gonna win 3 in a row, against a team that had basically made their pressure defense look soft.

  14. jay says:

    one more game to win, lets not judge yet till its over

    • Chris says:

      No team has come back from 3-1 in the finals. But you’re right, leaving the window cracked here

    • 37yrfan says:

      ….gotta keep playing hard till the final buzzer…………

    • Brad T says:

      LOL “let’s not judge until its over” — how about let’s judge the 4 (at least) NBA RECORDS that were set already in this Finals by the Spurs.

      How about we judge that? AS AWESOME

  15. standard says:

    spurs raping the heat and le cramps
    no doubt about it