2014 NBA Playoffs

Right & Wrong: Spurs take control


Video: GameTime: Is the series over?

MIAMI — While the Spurs grabbed the lead in Game 3 of the 2014 Finals as a result of an historic first half of shooting, Game 4 was a more measured blowout, if there is such a thing. In Game 4, the Spurs jumped ahead early, leading 13-10 halfway through the first quarter, and never looked back. The Spurs led by 9 after the first quarter, led by 19 at halftime, by 24 after three, and won by 21. Miami closed to within 13 in the third quarter, but the Spurs never seemed to even come close to losing control of the game.

And they did it by playing a controlled, complete brand of basketball. Offensively, the Spurs moved the ball with ease, finding the open man for simple shots on play after play. Defensively, they took a page from Miami’s book and switched many pick and rolls, keeping Miami out of the paint and forcing the Heat to rely on the outside shot.

Here’s a look at what went right and wrong in Game 4:

Right: For a second consecutive game, Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard carried the load for the Spurs. After fouling out of Game 2, Leonard went for 29 points and 4 rebounds in Game 3, and then 20 points and 14 boards in Game 4. While Leonard seemed tentative early in The Finals, he’s been all-in in both games in Miami. While other players on the Spurs have played important roles, to be sure, no San Antonio player has changed the tenor of this series as prominently as Leonard. Also, his missed dunk attempt on Chris Andersen late in Game 4 nearly broke Twitter.

Wrong: Miami’s Big Three was missing two key parts. After going 4-4 in Game 3, Chris Bosh went for 5-11 in Game 4, contributing just 4 rebounds in nearly 40 minutes of action. Meanwhile, Dwyane Wade had his worst performance of the series, lacking lift near the rim and missing 7 shots in the paint. Wade finished 3-13 from the floor. “Yeah, I just missed them,” he explained. “You know, I’m a very accurate shooter, so I don’t like missing. I’m not used to missing around the basket. But law of averages, man. The ball just didn’t go in. But I’ll take those same opportunities next game for sure.”

Right: The Spurs were playing The Beautiful Game on Thursday night, moving the ball with poise and precision, and no player better exemplified that than Boris Diaw. The Frenchman almost messed around and got a triple-double, finishing with 8 points, 9 rebounds and 9 assists, Including a brilliant touch pass to Tim Duncan, as well as a stunning behind-the-back dish to Tiago Splitter. “You know, Boris pretty much does the same thing every night as far as helping us be a smarter team, at both ends of the floor,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. “He knows what’s going on most all the time. At the offensive end he’s a passer. He understands mismatches. He knows time and score. At the defensive end, he knows when to help. He’s active. So he just helps the whole team have a better IQ, I think.”

Wrong: The Heat point guards followed up a lackluster Game 3 with another rough night. Norris Cole and Mario Chalmers combined for 8 points (with no three-pointers) and 6 assists in almost 48 minutes of play. They also did little to limit Tony Parker, who finished with 19 points and seemed to get to every spot he aimed for on the court with little resistance.

Right: Considering how much went wrong for the Miami Heat, we should note the complete game LeBron James turned in. After two early trips to the locker room — one a restroom stop, one to get an ankle re-taped — James finished with 28 points (including 19 in the third quarter), 8 rebounds and 8 assists, leading the Heat in all three categories. He didn’t get help from anyone else, but any blame for the Miami loss shouldn’t fall at James’ feet. “If it’s not helping us get into the game, it didn’t mean nothing,” he said. “I tried to will us back into the game, but they continued to execute. I continued to make shots. I had a huge third quarter, but it meant nothing.”

Wrong: Rashard Lewis probably shouldn’t be expected to carry too heavy of a load, but scoring 2 points in almost 16 minutes and not making any three-pointers isn’t doing anything to help space the floor or carry the Heat. Lewis, who also seemed to be a liability defensively, finished with a -17 plus/minus rating in those 16 minutes.

Spurs are one game away from redemption


VIDEO: San Antonio dominates Heat for second straight game to move to 3-1

MIAMI – This isn’t a five-point lead with 28 seconds left, but it’s close.

The San Antonio Spurs waited 12 months and played eight hoping to get back to this point, the place they’d reached last June when they had an NBA championship within their grasp. Only this time, of course, they’d grab it and hold tight.

It didn’t go that way a year ago when Ray Allen hit that shot in Game 6 and LeBron James shoved them aside in Game 7.

So the Spurs have lived ever since knowing they came closer to winning a title, only to lose it, than any other team in league history. Now they’re poised to fix that, to re-write the ending, to redeem themselves so completely that it might soothe the sting and heal any psychic scars. A real double-or-nothing opportunity, even if the Miami Heat haven’t signed off on handing over any rings.

Or…

The Spurs could do over three more games between now and next Friday what they crammed so miserably into that fateful half minute and all that followed. No team in Finals history ever has opened a 3-1 lead after four games and not gone on to win the championship. The record is clear: 31 teams have led 3-1, 31 teams have closed out successfully.

The Spurs and their fans dare not think about failing now. Heck, against the two-time defending champions and the world’s best basketball player, they dare not even breathe.

There might be no coming back from that sort of trauma. So the best thing for San Antonio to do might be to stay locked in from the moment their flight touches down back in Texas right through their next 48 minutes against the Heat.

Stay focused, stay driven, stay hungry, no pondering or calculating allowed, right?

“If you think about it last year, we had two opportunities to win,” Spurs guard Manu Ginobili said. “Now we have three. It’s not that different. So now we’re going to have one opportunity at home and we just have to think about that being the last opportunity.”

Uh, OK. He means Game 5 Sunday at the AT&T Center, right?

“That’s a Game 7 for us,” Ginobili said.

Enough with the pondering and calculating, Manu.

All the Spurs need to do to keep their sneakers on Miami’s throat and close this series out is to show up Sunday as big a moving target as they did for Game 4. The way they had shot in Game 3, the way they had hung points on the Heat at home and had blown them out, well, even Spurs coach Gregg Popovich labeled it an anomaly. Not gonna see that again anytime soon, players and coaches on both sides agreed.

They were right. What they got in Game 4 Thursday night at AmericanAirlines Arena was even more incongruous, outlandish and unexpected. It was an outlier of its own, a surprise even Malcolm Gladwell might not have seen coming.

The Spurs grew more dominant, not less, by shooting a little worse but defending better.

The Heat lost their way completely after a second consecutive punched-in-the-mouth start.

This time, instead of making a run that had the Spurs sweating when their lead dwindled to seven, the Heat squandered a brilliant third quarter from James (19 points) and never got closer than 13. San Antonio countered every thrust, matched every move and pumped its lead bigger by the start of the fourth than it had been at halftime.

If not for four missed free throws by Tony Parker and Tim Duncan in Game 2… actually, the Spurs and their fans dare not go there either. Already the best team through four games, San Antonio needs one more as near-flawless as the pair it played in Miami. But the sort of babbling and projecting Ginobili did above is asking for trouble. It’s the first sign of a team letting go of the rope, something the Spurs want no part of. Miami is too dangerous, even in its current flummoxed state. James might be back in Cleveland mode, having to do too much, but until his team is six feet under, he might as well be Michael Myers.

“I’m glad that they performed as well as they did while we’ve been in Miami, and that’s about as far as it goes,” Popovich said. “Now we’ve got to go back home and play as well or better.”

Said Boris Diaw, the Vive la difference forward whose upholstered physique belies his ball skills and awareness: “We are not going to make the mistake to think it’s going to be an easy game because we’re playing at home. We know they’re going to play for their lives.”

That sounds right – except that Miami was supposed to have been playing for its life Thursday, after the beatdown it took in Game 3 48 hours earlier. But the urgency never showed up. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra and his players were gracious, talking about how well San Antonio played. But 28 points from James and just 28 more from the other Heat starters won’t get them back in this series, never mind winning it.

The contrast in styles, not just in how they play and spread the responsibilities around but in how their rosters were built, was on full display Thursday. San Antonio might as well have been wearing sepia-toned uniforms the way it was working five-as-one, swinging the ball side to side and staying patient not just for the extra pass but the extra extra pass.

Miami, or at least its fans, kept looking for a star to fix the growing mess. James? Dwyane Wade? Chris Bosh? The team built around big names didn’t get enough boost from its main guys or enough bump from its role players.

The Spurs, meanwhile, purred. They were throwback-Thursday good, the audiophiles’ equivalent of vinyl over cold, bloodless digital. It’s that jazz thing that makes basketball better than other sports, five players working in concert, improvising off each other, the magic coming in the seams and the pauses rather than on the melody.

It’s important, naturally, not to overstate anything here. Miami somehow has managed to get to four Finals in a row and win two of them, this third one still pending. A victory at the AT&T Center in Game 5 should shift everything, including momentum, right back to the AAA. There were glimpses when James and Wade didn’t look good or very resilient during the game, but afterward neither seemed beaten or ready to spit out the bit.

“They’re able to throw it in another gear, and they’re going to do just that,” Duncan said. “They don’t want this to be done. They’ve already won on our [court] so they feel they can do it again, and we don’t want to give them any life.”


VIDEO: Gregg Popovich talks about the Spurs’ Game 4 performance

Heat pushed to unfamiliar place


VIDEO: San Antonio puts Miami on the brink of elimination

MIAMI — In their most important game of the season, a game that Chris Bosh had referred to hours earlier as a “must-win” game, the Miami Heat lost, at home, to the San Antonio Spurs by 21 points, 107-86. This just two days after losing, at home, to the Spurs by 19 points, 111-92.

To be fair, calling these two games “losses” by the Heat may be selling the Spurs a bit short. In Games 3 and 4, the Spurs have systematically dismantled the Heat, exposing almost every flaw of the two-time defending champs while on the game’s biggest stage.

“I mean, they smashed us,” said LeBron James. “Two straight home games, got off to awful starts. They came in and were much better than us in these two games. It’s just that simple.”

“Well, I think they’re getting to their game a lot better than we are,” said Dwyane Wade. “They’re doing what they want to do better than we are. So right now they’re playing better than us, no question about it. We’ll see at the end of the series. Whoever wins is the better team. But the Spurs are playing better than us. They whipped our butt here at home, and you’ve got to give them credit for coming out, getting to their game plan, their game for 48 minutes, and we haven’t been able to do that. So if we want to get back into the series, we have to be better than them on Sunday. If not, then it will be over.”

For a team built around three superstars, during Games 3 and 4, the Heat have looked suspiciously like a team with one star who has been getting precious little support. While James finished Game 4 with 28 points, eight boards and eight assists, Bosh and Wade combined for just 22 points, six rebounds and four assists. The only other Heat player to score more than eight points was James Jones, who scored 11 once the game was out of reach.

As this series has played out, the Heat have looked like a tired team, a squad that has played every one of the 86 playoff games they’ve logged over the last four years. While the Heat players dismissed talk of exhaustion, the eye test has seemed to show a Heat team relying on making plays that haven’t always been there when needed.

Which isn’t to say this series has been all about the Heat’s failures. The Spurs have shown on possession after possession, on both sides of the ball, that simple things like ball movement, spacing, help defense and teamwork still hold ultimate value. According to James, the Spurs present a singular set of challenges, almost a perfect basketball storm.

“Man, they move the ball extremely well,” said James. “They put you in positions that no other team in this league does, and it’s tough because you have to cover the ball first, but also those guys on the weak side can do multiple things. They can shoot the ball from outside, they can also penetrate. So our defense is geared towards running guys off the three-point line, but at the same time those guys are getting full steam ahead and getting to the rim, too. The challenge is as well, with them, implementing [Boris] Diaw into the lineup has given them another point guard on the floor. So Manu [Ginobili], Tony [Parker], and Diaw and Patty Mills on the floor at once, they’ve got four point guards basically on the floor at once. So all of them are live and they all can make plays. So it’s a challenge for us all.”

This Heat core was assembled to win numerous titles, as James famously said at their introductory press conference: “Not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven.” They’ve got two, but number three had looked more and more elusive as the 2014 Finals has played out. Yet for a Heat team that has put together four consecutive runs to the NBA Finals, perhaps their biggest test yet still awaits beginning with Sunday’s Game 5 in San Antonio, as the odds are stacked against Miami — no team in NBA history has come back from a 3-1 Finals deficit to win an NBA championship.

“I don’t care about odds,” noted Bosh. “Odds are for people that can’t do it.”

“Obviously, I do know the numbers,” said James. “It’s never been done before, but we’re still a confident bunch, even though our heads are lowered down right now. Of course, being down 3-1, and losing two straight games at home, that’s just human nature. But we’ve still got to go out and play on Sunday.”

The Finals Stat: Game 4


VIDEO: Charles Barkley feels the Miami Heat will lose this series

Game 4 basics
MIA SAS
Pace 84.9 84.9
OffRtg 99.1 128.9
EFG% 51.4% 63.6%
OREB% 15.8% 36.4%
TO Ratio 15.0 16.9
FTA rate 0.282 0.357

MIAMI — For the second time in three days, the San Antonio Spurs blew out the Miami Heat on their home floor, taking Game 4 of The Finals with an easy 107-86 victory. One stat stood out from the rest as the Spurs took a 3-1 series lead and gave themselves a chance to win a championship at home Sunday.

The stat

38 – Total point differential in the first quarter of the series.

The context

The Spurs have begun the second quarter with at least a six-point lead in all four games. They’ve won first quarters by six, seven, 16 and nine points.

It’s been dominance on both ends of the floor. The Spurs have scored a ridiculous 129 points per 100 possessions in the first quarter and have held the Heat to a paltry 87.

The first quarter has been the Heat’s worst all season and through the playoffs. In their first round sweep of the Charlotte Bobcats, they won the first quarter by only one point. In their five-game series against the Brooklyn Nets, they won the first quarter by only three points. And in the conference finals, the Indiana Pacers outscored them in the first quarter.

Against lesser opponents, the Heat could deal with bad starts, climb themselves out of holes, and rely on fourth-quarter execution. But the Spurs are much better than any of the teams they faced in the first three rounds.

The Spurs were at their best in the first quarter in the regular season, outscoring their opponents by 10.4 points per 100 possessions. They had some early struggles in the Conference finals, but have otherwise been strong in the first quarter in the postseason.

Two nights after dropping 41 on the Heat in the first 12 minutes, the Spurs’ early success was more about defense. They held Miami to just 17 points on 23 first-quarter possessions. Their rotations were quick and sharp, and they just swarmed the Heat whenever they got near the basket. The team that led the league in field goal percentage in the restricted area began the game just 2-for-7 from there. Dwyane Wade finished the game shooting just 2-for-10 in the paint.

And the Spurs never let the Heat off the mat. The rout was on and San Antonio is just one win away from its fifth championship.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
EFG% = (FGM + (0.5 * 3PM)) / FGA
OREB% = Percentage of available offensive rebounds obtained
TO Ratio = Turnovers per 100 possessions
FTA Rate = FTA / FGA

GameDay Live: Heat-Spurs Game 4


VIDEO: Old man River Walk (Tim Duncan) and the Spurs looked just as good away from home in The Finals

MIAMI — Didn’t see it coming.

None of us did.

Not like this.

Not from the San Antonio Spurs or the Miami Heat.

Not like this.

In the span of eight quarters the Spurs took the Finals and flipped it upside down and inside out, pushing their lead to 3-1 after Thursday night’s 107-86 thrashing of the Heat at AmericanAirlines Arena. The best road team in the NBA this season showed themselves to be every bit of the juggernaut away from home that their record indicates they should be.

All that’s left is the close out. It could come as early as Sunday night in San Antonio, provided the Spurs keep this up. No team has ever come back from a 3-1 deficit in The Finals (0-31). No team has won consecutive road games by 15 or more points in The Finals … until now.

History will be made in this series, one way or another.

But I promise, no one saw this coming.

No one!

The Spurs didn’t.

And the Heat certainly didn’t see it coming!

Revenge of the Spurs

Tony Parker said he likes the term “rematch” better. Call it what you want. But two straight beatdowns on the road gives the Spurs the right to call it whatever they want.

(more…)

Miami Heat focused on Game 4


VIDEO: Heat-Spurs Game 4 preview

MIAMI — Being down 2-1 in the NBA Finals is nothing new for the Miami Heat. Just one year ago, the Heat were blown out by the San Antonio Spurs in Game 3 of the 2013 NBA Finals, 113-77. In the aftermath of that loss, Heat president Pat Riley famously showed up at Miami coach Erik Spoelstra‘s hotel room bearing a couple of bottles of wine and spent a late night breaking down film. The end result was Miami bouncing back for a Game 4 win, 109-93, which evened the series.

With the Heat getting worked in Game 3 of the 2014 Finals, losing 111-92 to fall behind 2-1 in the series, history did not repeat itself, at least in the run-up to the game.

“No, [Riley] didn’t come over to my house last night with a case of beer,” Spoelstra said, hours before the tip of Game 4. “We all went our separate ways and watched film and met in the morning. There was nothing dramatic. I’d love to give you guys a great storyline — Pat came over at 3 a.m. — or a great analogy.”

Methods aside, Spoelstra said the Heat have had good “prep days” leading up to tonight’s Game 4: “We understand the outcome, or how many points you lose by in one game, doesn’t dictate at all the next game. You have to get on to this next opportunity.”

And with the new 2-2-1-1-1 Finals series home-court schedule, the Heat can’t rely on a another shot at home in a Game 5. So the Heat say they are fully focused on tonight’s Game 4.

“Yes, this is a must win,” noted Chris Bosh, with a thin smile as if to acknowledge that sure, every game is must win. “We cannot go to San Antonio down 3-1. That is out of the question.”

“We’re not talking about Game 5, that’s not even on our mind,” said Spoelstra. We’re not there. That would be an absolute waste of thought and energy if we’re thinking ahead or thinking in the past. All we’re thinking about is this is a great opportunity tonight, at home, and what do we need to do to get the job done.”

Pop’s lesson: Learning to shut up


VIDEO: Popovich discusses Game 3 and looks toward Game 4

There have been so many great speeches delivered by leaders down through the years:

FDR’s pep talk during the Great Depression: “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

JFK’s inaugural address on the steps of the Capitol: “ask not what your country can do for you…”

John Belushi in Animal House: “Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?”

But even to those who know him only through those grumpy, often hilarious in-game TV interviews, after nearly 18 years on the job, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has learned that delivering messages and speechifying is often vastly overrated.

“I think I’ve learned to shut up more, and that probably is due to Manu Ginobili,” Popovich told reporters in Miami. “When he first came, I was going to make him a heck of a player. And after 20 minutes I realized that he didn’t need me to do that. He was already a heck of a player. Sometimes being quiet and letting the player play is much more important than trying to be Mr. Coach and teach him this or teach him that.

“So I think as time evolves and you get older in the business you figure out what’s really important, and you don’t waste time trying to make people what they’re not going to be.

“I didn’t make him a competitor, and there is no way I could make him a non-competitor, so you’ve just got to figure out who people are and what they can give you and take advantage of their positives.

“A lot of people talk about they’re going to draft this guy or that guy and in time he’s going to really be something. It’s usually with big guys. You look around and you say how many big guys, these 7-foot guys have really gotten better five years later?

“You look at Hakeem (Olajuwon), and Hakeem was Hakeem when Hakeem started to play in the league. He didn’t become Hakeem; he already was.

So you learn that you can’t make everything the way you think you might. You can’t make somebody great, so you don’t waste your time. You make a trade. You get rid of somebody. You make sure you’re bringing people in who fit in all the areas you want. Competitiveness and team play, that kind of thing. So I’ll just leave it at that. That’s all I can handle this early.”

Pop’s Law: Sometimes the best words are none at all.


VIDEO: Sounds of the Finals

Game 4: Miami’s 1st ‘must win’ of Finals


VIDEO: What’s in store for Game 4 of The Finals?

MIAMI – The Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs have played 10 June games against each other in a little more than a year. They’re 5-5 so far. In fact, San Antonio has outscored Miami 1,001-964, an average of 3.7 ppg. But the Heat players, coaches and front-office staff have all the rings based on last year’s Game 6 turnaround and Game 7 Finals clincher.

The Basics:

Game 4 tips off Thursday night at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.

The Heat get a second chance to do the home-court thing right, after suffering their first home loss of the postseason. They’re 8-1 after falling two victories short of the NBA record for most consecutive home triumphs in a single postseason.

Thanks to the revived 2-2-1-1-1 format, a pre-1985 configuration, Miami only has this one additional shot at home before the series shifts back to Texas, perhaps never to return. Then again, the Heat have history on their side, as in, they’re tenacious about not losing two in a row come playoff time. They have backed up their last 13 postseason defeats with a victory, in a streak that stretches back 48 games; you need to go back to the 2012 East finals, when Miami lost Games 3, 4 and 5 before pulling that series out in seven.

The Narrative:

The Spurs weren’t happy with their Game 2 performance, specifically down the stretch when they spoke afterwards about the basketball “sticking” in their offense, resulting in too many one- or two-pass possessions. That allowed Miami’s defense to zero in on the man with the ball, which is like Rottweilers zeroing in on a T-bone steak. So coach Gregg Popovich fixed that in a big way to start Game 3 — a big, big way that resulted in San Antonio scoring 41 points in the first quarter, 71 in the first half, and setting a Finals record for the hottest shooting first quarter ever (86.7 percent, 13 of 15). The Spurs led by 25 early and were able to manage that to their 111-94 victory.

Just like that, they grabbed back home-court advantage. But the Spurs know this series has merely followed the pattern established last June, when they enjoyed a blowout victory in Game 3 only to get thumped again in Game 4. Miami eventually would be fine if the script to this sequel hews closely to the original. Remember, Game 4 was the one last year when LeBron James caught fire, scoring 33, 25, 32 and 37 points the rest of the way. James had a familiar sort of intensity and resolve when he spoke to the media Wednesday.

The Subplots:

Big 3 vs. Big 3? Not so fast. San Antonio got its biggest offensive boosts from non-traditional sources. Kawhi Leonard set a career high – regular season or playoffs – with 29 points, attacking Miami every which way (perimeter, drives, 3-pointers, dunks) and shooting 10-of-13 overall. Danny Green, meanwhile, surprised the Heat by putting the ball on the floor more than they’d seen and getting inside the Heat defense. In 21:19, Green hit 7 of his 8 shots, scored 15 points and only hoisted two 3-pointers (hitting one). Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker? They totaled 40 points, fewer than James and Dwyane Wade (44).

Chris Bosh had played so well. He was hushing up his critics and asserting himself again in the Heat’s pecking order, and then … nine points. Bosh got just four field-goal attempts, getting neglected in Miami’s scramble to whittle down the deficit. The Heat got as close as seven points, but might have been too frantic about it because Bosh made every shot he took and the offense didn’t find him. If it’s not James going strong from the get-go, expect to see Miami serving its lanky power forward/center with early offense.

X’s and O’s:

James’ tendency of letting a game come to him, allowing it to breathe so he can assess the situation and summon the particular skills needed on any given night, experienced a rare backfire because Game 3 got out of hand so quickly. There was only one mode for James and the other Miami players to play in: catch-up mode. He would do well to impose his will and his powers on Game 4 from tipoff, and 22 points won’t be nearly enough against a hot Spurs team that can capitalize on mistakes.

What sort of mistakes? The Heat turned over the ball 20 times, leading to 23 of San Antonio’s 111 points. The Spurs had a 17-point edge in points off turnovers, in fact, and won the game by 19, so those things matter.

Popovich made a starting lineup change in the most recent game, using Boris Diaw in place of Tiago Splitter. Diaw’s deft passing skills and vision lubricated the San Antonio attack by, specifically, getting the basketball moving from one side of the floor to the other. That ball movement and the spread in the Spurs’ spacing created maximum room for them to attack, using the Heat players’ aggressive close-out attempts against them by occasionally putting the ball on the floor as a Miami guy rushed by.

Who’s Hot?

Wrong question in Game 3, at least for San Antonio, at least in the first half. Better and simpler to have asked Who’s Not? When a team hits 19 of its first 21 shots, there’s nothing but hot hands in the rotation. Those who have sustained it the best, though, are Duncan (64.5 percent in the series so far), Green (63.6), Splitter (66.7) and Leonard (59.3).

Prior to this spring, James’ most accurate postseason came in 2009, when he sank 51 percent of his shots. But he’s at 57.0 percent in the 2014 postseason and 60.4 through the first three Finals games. He wasn’t wild about his seven turnovers in Game 3, though, or the 15 he’s had so far in this series.

Whatever happened to …

Mario Chalmers’ confidence has been dropping faster than South Beach revelers’ sobriety and standards after midnight. Always a pest, Chalmers has been reduced merely to that through the first three games. He has scored only 10 points, missed several open looks and invariably made the wrong decisions time and again. His backup Norris Cole hasn’t been much better, especially compared to his contributions in the East finals against Indiana. Then there is Shane Battier, who in this new Heat order has logged only 15 minutes through the three games.

Splitter’s contributions might be sliced if Diaw continues to start in his spot for the Spurs. Keep an eye on Marco Belinelli, a deep threat who has hit half of his eight 3-point attempts but is 0-for-3 inside the arc.

Bottom line:

Some of us in the media, while wishing no ill on the Heat and their three-peat ambitions, are awfully curious to see how they would respond to a two-game deficit in a best-of-seven. It’s been so long, y’know? Would their championship pedigree emerge in full and save them? Would the predicament be too dire for a team that might not be as good as the ones that grabbed rings in 2013 and 2012? It’s more of a gawker’s wish, eager for a different sort of drama than we’ve seen out of Erik Spoelstra and his crew lately.

But the truth is, Miami’s championship pedigree is the very thing that has enabled it to avoid two-game deficits in the playoffs since its loss to Dallas, four games to two, in 2011. Not getting burned doesn’t mean you don’t know how to work the stove – it actually means the opposite, and that’s how the Heat have rolled through the past three postseasons. The odds and the experts favor them to keep that going in Game 4.

For Spurs to win, Parker knows he needs to be pass-minded first


VIDEO: Sounds of the Finals from Game 3

MIAMI — After his 29-point performance in Game 3 of The Finals on Tuesday, Kawhi Leonard got several punches to the chest from San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich as he approached the bench.

Pop had actual words for Tony Parker, as we heard near the end of our “Sounds of the Finals” video (above).

“Great leadership,” Popovich told his point guard. “You didn’t get 30. You used great leadership and solid, solid play with the ball and your teammates. Great job.”

“I have to trust my teammates in this series,” Parker responded.

“Exactly,” Popovich said.

Parker was the Finals MVP the last time the Spurs won the championship, having torched poor Daniel Gibson for 24.5 points on 57 percent shooting in the 2007 Finals. If San Antonio gets two more wins before the Miami Heat get three in this series, Parker won’t be winning another MVP.

But he might be the Spurs’ most important player.

Back in October, before his team began its season by upsetting the Heat in its home opener, Philadelphia 76ers coach (and former Spurs assistant) Brett Brown was asked what the key would be for rookie point guard Michael Carter-Williams in his first game against the Miami defense.

“Getting off the ball,” Brown responded.

Parker is no rookie, but the same holds true for him. The Heat defense is attacking him with a second defender when he comes off pick and rolls …

20140612_parker_dbl

… and the best thing he can do is get rid of the ball, so that it can eventually find the open man. And the faster he gets rid of the ball, the better shots his teammates will get.

“You have to move the ball against this team,” Brown said back in October. “The ball cannot stick.”

If that sounds familiar, it’s because Popovich talked about the ball sticking after the Spurs lost Game 2 on Sunday. And Parker was clearly the main culprit, having stopped the ball movement in attempts to go one-on-one too often.

In Game 3, Parker kept the ball moving. He had a couple of big games in last year’s Finals (including 26 points in a Game 5 win), but Parker knows that the offense generally has to come from somewhere else against the Heat, who are looking to get the ball out of his hands, either by doubling him on pick-and-rolls or defending him with LeBron James.

“It’s our key,” James told David Aldridge, “just to try to limit what he does.”

“For me the key is to find a happy middle between being aggressive or being patient,” Parker said Wednesday, “and looking at the advantage that we have. Because if LeBron’s guarding me, that means we have an advantage somewhere match-up-wise with Kawhi [Leonard] or Manu [Ginobili] or Danny [Green], so I have to be patient and make sure I call the right stuff.

“We talked about it with Pop after Game 2 because that’s the kind of series for me I just have to trust my teammates and move the ball. They’re trapping me on the pick-and-rolls, and then in the fourth quarter they’re putting LeBron. So I just have to be patient and look at what’s available for us, and just move the ball because Danny and Kawhi are going to have plenty of opportunities if LeBron’s guarding me.”

The numbers back up the notion that the Spurs are better when Parker is most willing to pass. His usage rate is lower in their five Finals wins against the Heat over the last two years (22.6 percent) than it is in their five Finals losses (26.8 percent).

And as he’s faced more aggressive defenses in this postseason, Parker’s usage rate has dropped every series, while the rate that he passes the ball has increased.

According to SportVU, Parker passed the ball 69 times per 100 touches in the first round against Dallas. That number stayed about the same in the conference semifinals against Portland. But it increased to 74 times per 100 touches in the conference finals against Oklahoma City and is up to 77 per 100 through three games against the Heat.

He still has the ball in his hands quite a bit. The offense still runs through him, but this is a trust-your-teammates series for Parker. The Spurs will have a better chance at another championship if he has little chance to be the Finals MVP.

Tony Parker by series

Round MIN TOP Poss% Touches Passes PP100T USG%
Reg. season 1,997 410.8 20.6% 5,136 3,767 73.3 26.6%
First round 231 48.4 20.9% 566 392 69.3 31.8%
Conf. semis 145 34.3 23.6% 364 251 69.0 30.4%
Conf. finals 167 31.4 18.9% 413 306 74.1 25.0%
Finals 105 21.4 20.4% 265 205 77.4 23.9%

TOP = Minutes with the ball
Poss% = TOP/MIN
PP100T = Passes per 100 touches
USG% = Percentage of team’s possessions used (via shots, assists or turnovers) when on the court.

Chalmers’ crisis of confidence contributes to Heat’s concerns


VIDEO: Mario Chalmers at the Heat’s shootaround the day of Game 3

MIAMI – Oh joy, Mario Chalmers soon might have LeBron James yelling at him again.

Actually, James offered that possibility with the very best of intentions, as a tactic to jar Chalmers – the Miami Heat’s often-irritating, widely criticized point guard – out of a confidence crisis here in The 2014 Finals.

Through three games, Chalmers was averaging 3.3 points, 3.0 assists and 3.0 turnovers in 23.4 minutes. He has been called for 12 fouls, including a flagrant 1 when he jammed his elbow into Tony Parker‘s ribs in Game 2. The sixth-year guard has taken 12 shots and missed nine of them, including four of his five from 3-point range.

Neither he nor backup Norris Cole has risen to the moment, not so much undermining what the Heat have tried to do but not making anything easy, either. Which is what the Miami point guards are expected to do, given their second or third level of responsibility in the team’s pecking order.

That’s why James was talking about going back to an old approach with Chalmers, who traditionally has been more of a kick-in-the-rear than pat-on-the-back guy.

“Obviously, it’s weighing on him,” James said Wednesday on the series off-day at AmericanAirlines Arena. “It’s in his head right now, I think. He hasn’t said much. … But he can’t lose confidence in himself.

“As a leader, I’m going to give him as much confidence as I can, and I’m going to stay on him. Maybe I need to get back on him like I used to do in the past, when you guys used to see me really get on him. I’ve kind of laid off of him. Maybe that wasn’t the right thing to do.”

We’ve all seen that. It was as much a part of Heat culture in the Big 3 era – which Chalmers predated by two seasons, by the way – as LeBron’s headband/hairline watch and breathless updates on Dwyane Wade‘s knees. It was James or Wade or both airing out Chalmers for some on-court mistake, bossy big brothers pointing out their younger sibling’s mistakes.

Chalmers always took it, and the two Heat stars seemed to back off recently, either figuring he’d learned from their lessons or because they got tired of repeating themselves. The bottom line wasn’t bad, by the way: Four straight Eastern Conference titles, two consecutive championships with a shot now for a third.

But now Chalmers has regressed. He averaged 31.6 minutes in the 2013 Finals, along with 10.6 points, 2.7 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 2.6 turnovers while shooting 38.8 percent overall and 40.6 from the arc. During an inconsistent 2013-14 season, his corresponding stats: 29.8 minutes, 9.8 points, 2.9 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 2.2 turnovers, 45.4 percent shooting and 38.5 percent on 3FGs.

San Antonio has noticed, but just to be safe is treating any decline in Chalmers’ play as a fluke. “We know that when he has a big game, usually Miami wins,” Parker said Wednesday. “So he’s a big X-factor, and we talked about it. Coach [Gregg Popovich] challenged me to make sure I have big games defensively, because last year he had a couple of big games and they won those games.”

Chalmers and the Heat would happily take one such performance now.

“Yeah, we have trust in Rio,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “I don’t want him to shoulder the full responsibility.”

Trouble is, Chalmers sounds as if he does. That and more, in fact, based on his impending free agency and the likelihood that his struggles now will hurt his market value more than his two rings boost it.

It doesn’t help that Chalmers is handling this different than his big brothers would. James, when feeling heat or a need to lock in, unplugs from social media and, lately, talks openly about his belief that he is the “easiest target in sports.” Chris Bosh does what he can to ignore criticism and tell himself it doesn’t matter.

But Chalmers goes home after Game 3 and stays up until 5 a.m., going over video of the three games so far in this Finals and parts of all seven of the 2013 edition.

“To figure out attacking points and what I’m doing wrong,” Chalmers told a few wave of reporters who found him during the Heat’s media availability Wednesday, far from the podiums or lecterns. He was seated near some Heat deep reserves in the bench area, obscured from view by the folks standing near him.

So what did Chalmers see that has been lacking? “Just my energy, really, that’s the main thing,” he said. “I need to bring more energy to the game. [Last year] I was disruptive on the defensive end, which led to more breaks on the offensive end, more opportunities.”

This year, Chalmers has mostly just fouled, a pest running into Spurs players in the open court in a bad habit he’s developed though the years. For a guy who has been described as cocky at times in his career, seeing and hearing how rattled he is is a bit disconcerting.

“This is one of the toughest challenges I’ve ever been through,”Chalmers said. “It’s actually very tough right now. But I’ve just got to keep believing. I know my teammates trust in me, the coaching staff trusts in me. I just have to keep believing in myself.”

Chalmer said Bosh, in particular, has tried to lift him out of his funk. “Sent me a text message [before Game 2] since I was on the first bus,” he said. “Y’know, ‘Let everything go. Stop thinking so much on the court and just play the basketball you’ve been playing your whole life.’ ”

Easier quoted than done at this stage. As eager as his Heat cohorts are that Chalmers get going, the Spurs are committed to him sputtering.

James and Spoelstra talked for a while about Miami’s efforts to build up Chalmers, remind him of the good times and get him going within the team concept. Either it’s going to get better for him and his team or, with the series zipping by, it’s going to get worse.

“You can give a guy as much confidence as you want,” James said, “but when a guy loses confidence in himself, it can be all downhill.”