Posts Tagged ‘John Schuhmann’

Blogtable: Game 6, What Happened?




Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


Week 34: Heat take, Spurs give? | Game 7 lookahead | Next year’s Heat lineup


On Game 6: Did the Heat take, or did the Spurs give away?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: San Antonio gave that game away. You can’t be the savvy, mature team that gets praise after Game 1 for its poise and then miss free throws, fail on the defensive glass, neglect opponents on switches, have your Hall of Fame big man on the side twice when just one rebound can seal it or even dismiss the strategy of fouling when up three late. The Spurs won a championship and lost a championship all at once and, unless they win it back in Game 7, might be thinking for decades about the one that got away.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Little bit of both.  I thought it was mostly a case of two championship caliber teams refusing to give in or give up.  The Spurs didn’t roll over when Miami took the lead with two minutes left.  Then when the Spurs took a five-point lead with 28 seconds left in regulation and the Heat wouldn’t quit.  It’s not always a case of somebody “spitting it up.” Sometimes you just battle and somebody wins.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: . I always answer this question by saying both. Was this a Spurs collapse up by five points with 28 seconds to go? Absolutely. But they’re raising the trophy if the Heat don’t get two offensive rebounds and if LeBron James and Ray Allen don’t make those possession-savers count by both nailing critical 3-pointers to force overtime. So while the Spurs missed two crucial free throws and coach Gregg Popovich made a couple of debatable strategic calls to keep the door open, the Heat took advantage of the opportunities afforded them by making winning plays.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: That game has to be more painful for the Spurs than joyful for the Heat, but the fourth quarter and overtime was more about the way Miami played than the way San Antonio played. The Heat got those rebounds, hit those shots, and it was their defense that shut the Spurs down in the extra period.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: A little bit of both, obviously. LeBron James, Ray Allen, Chris Bosh … the Heat players made plays at the end of regulation and overtime to secure this win. The shots made by both James and Allen were clutch. Bosh’s offensive rebounds were critical. The defensive intensity during the rally and finish into overtime was all about the Heat. But the Spurs were extremely generous. Missed free throws by both Kawhi Leonard and Manu Ginobili and the absence of Tim Duncan (and Tony Parker during a crucial stretch in the fourth quarter) to help secure one of those rebounds that could have kept the Heat from staying alive would certainly have helped the Spurs’ cause. Still, the Heat had to cash in on those opportunities. Give them credit for making the plays the Spurs did not to win this game.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogThe Heat won it. Sure the Spurs made mistakes — turnovers, not boxing out — but the story of Game 6 was LeBron losing his headband and the Heat flipping the switch that carried them to the win. Where is that switch and why can’t the Heat keep it in the on position? That’s a bigger question for a different column. The Spurs could have done some things differently, but the Heat played about as well as they could have played down the stretch. That has to count for something.

Pawel Weszka, NBA Africa: Despite Tim Duncan’s loneliness on the offensive end in the first half, the Spurs had looked the better team until the LeBron James show started in the fourth quarter. It looked like the Heat were going to seal it and then Tony Parker woke up with a couple of key and spectacular plays. The Spurs were on the way to their fifth championship again until Ray Allen’s I-can-not-believe-it shot that changed it all. It was the Spurs’ best (last?) chance to clinch the title, but they didn’t take it away. Miami took it. And they are back in the driver’s seat now.

Philipp Dornhegge, NBA Deutschland: I’m not a fan of diminishing a winning team’s accomplishments, but this game was over. With 28 seconds left, fans were streaming toward the doors, the Spurs only needed one more free-throw from Manu or Leonard. And they both missed. Then they failed to foul the Heat before the shot, then they failed to grab a defensive rebound twice. And in the overtime Miami took advantage of two more turnovers by Manu, who played disastrous overall. Allen’s three was epic, though.

Eduardo Schell, NBA Espana: The Opera ain’t over until the fat lady sings, and Miami has too many weapons to close out games (Ray Allen, Wade, LeBron) and potential shot makers like Chalmers, Miller, Bosh or Battier. So you cant say they’re dead at least until two weeks after they’re buried. That being said I do think the Spurs gave it away, and it’s shocking because they’re experienced and well-coached. But you just cant simply let others camp in your paint and grab two crucial rebounds after Diaw enters the game twice in last 28 seconds. Miami showed pride, tons of pride winning this one. And Pops should have gone Euro-style preventing those three’s with fouls. Its the ABC of Eurobasketball.

Blogtable: What To Expect In Game 7




Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


Week 34: Heat take, Spurs give? | Game 7 lookahead | Next year’s Heat lineup


What do you expect out of Game 7 on Thursday?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Call me a pessimist but I expect an anticlimax and possibly a Miami blowout. My best analogies come from baseball, from the Bill Buckner game in the 1986 World Series and the Chicago Cubs/Steve Bartman game in the 2003 NL playoffs. Both of those were Game 6, both of those packed an emotional wallop on the Red Sox and the Cubs, respectively, both of those were followed by relatively breezy victories, short on tension, for the Mets and the Marlins in Game 7. There wasn’t one particular goat for San Antonio, but the hollow look in Manu Ginboli‘s eyes suggested a game worth two defeats rather than one. Hope I’m wrong, of course.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Another very close, very competitive game that comes down to who makes the shots at crunch time.  I picked the Spurs in six.  Now they win in seven.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: I expect one team to win the championship. Excuse me for being, um, trite, but who knows what will happen? The logical answer is to say that the Spurs suffered an insurmountable mental and physical blow in losing Game 6 as they did. But these are the resilient Spurs and no team has won two in a row in this series still, and the Heat haven’t won two straight since closing out Chicago in the second round and squeaking out Game 1 of the East finals against Indiana.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I have no idea, really. The Spurs are too good for us to assume that they’re done after the way they lost Game 6. And the Heat have obviously been a model of inconsistency, particularly on defense, for the last month. Anything can happen.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Complete chaos, pandemonium and a game worthy of the epic nature this series has taken on since Game 4 would be nice. Even though we’ve seen some blowouts, the drama has been at an all-time high in this series. I expect Game 7 to live up to that hype, at least in the sense of these two teams going toe-to-toe one last time to decide this thing. Game 1 was an ideal start, with a big shot from Tony Parker being the difference for the Spurs. An encore of Game 1 and Game 6 is the only fitting way for this series to end. I’ll even take another overtime thriller. The last Game 7 we saw in The Finals (Lakers-Celtics 2010) should serve as the ideal template for two battled-tested championship-caliber teams who dug into their reserves to muster the energy for an epic finish to a great series. We got great drama, a wild finish and the better team outlasting a game challenger. You can’t ask for anything more in the last and most important game of the 2012-13 season. And I suspect we’ll get something along those lines from the Heat and Spurs.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: It’s going to be nearly impossible to top Game 6. I was there in the press box as the game tightened down the stretch, and my ears were ringing afterward. Game 6 had storylines for days, and tension and so many head-shaking moments, that I don’t know how Game 7 will best that.

Adriano Albuquerque, NBA Brasil: After such an emotional and draining Game 6, obviously I expect the Spurs to be tired and showing their age. I expect the Heat to be pumped-up and full of swagger. I expect a game more like Games 2 through 5, when a team broke open the game in the third quarter and held on to win. And I expect to be wrong on every single one of those — again. This series has had so many “Forever is BIG” moments, that the only thing I really expect is one more of those.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: I expect the same mentality from LeBron James: the MVP will decide the game. Either he will lose it, or he will win it, as he tried to do in the last plays of the game, when he took all the shots for Miami. In Game 6 Ray Allen gave him a big help with that three from the corner and now it’s LBJ’s time to shine. I also expect the Spurs to be disappointed by the way the lost the previous game and I strongly believe that if the Heat take the early lead, they will blow them out.

Davide Chinellato, NBA Italia: I expect the Heat to win with a double digit margin. The Spurs were so close that the ring were already forged. But the Heat showed some pride and took Game 6: they have the momentum now and I expect a big game from LeBron (with his headband on).

Blogtable: A Heat Shakeup Next Year?

Heat president Pat Riley

Heat president Pat Riley (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


Week 34: Heat take, Spurs give? | Game 7 lookahead | Next year’s Heat lineup


Should the Heat stand pat next season?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comStanding pat means going backward in the NBA of 2013. Everyone else will be striving to improve, and the Heat have flaws and areas to address. Granted, Miami doesn’t have a lot of roster decision within its control – Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis and James Jones hold options for next year – but Mike Miller should get amnestied to free up what they can for maneuverability and Mario Chalmers clearly is worth the team option of $4 million. Trades? Can’t see the Big Three getting broken up if the Heat wins again. Can’t see rival GMs in any hurry to help Miami out, either.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: With the core, yes.  There will always be tweaks to be made around the edges with the supporting cast.  That’s the way this model was constructed.  I might be in the minority here, but I believe that even if the Heat lose, they should keep LeBron, Wade and Bosh together. They will have been to three Finals in a row and won once.  Has everyone forgotten that the Celtics dynasty of the 1980s never won back-to-back?  And nobody ever dreamed of breaking up Bird, McHale and Parish.  The Lakers won three titles fro 1980 to 1985 and never took two in a row. There was no uproar to dump Magic or Kareem.  All of this rush to break the Heat up is a product of our rush-to-judgment, instant gratification, often foolish times.  If we’re picking the 2014 Finals right now, I’m taking the Heat, as is, out of the East.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Of course not. They have been exposed and must get bigger and stronger inside. Chris Bosh is just never going to be that guy. The issue for Miami is how to find frontline help with limited financial flexibility to tweak the roster.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The collective bargaining agreement and the salaries of their three stars will determine the future of their roster more than the result of Game 7. Putting the money aspect aside (to a point – they’re not adding Dwight  Howard this summer), they’re in as good a shape as any team in the league. It’s hard not to see them back here next season.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Win or lose, the Heat have some serious holes to fill on their roster. The biggest is the presence of a true low-post difference maker, someone who allows Chris Bosh to stray on the perimeter periodically and not hurt this team by doing so. The Indiana Pacers exposed the Heat’s tender side and you better believe there will be plenty of teams that plan on attacking them there in the future. Trading Chris Bosh is something the Heat have to consider if they can acquire a couple of younger pieces, one being a center or power forward capable of being the Heat’s No. 1 option in the post. Pat Riley can’t be emotional about what needs to be done, and his track record tells us that he won’t be. There has to be a roster upgrade in several spots in order for the Heat to fortify themselves for the challenges that await in the 2013-14 season.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I suppose you can make an argument that they will see some improvement from younger players like Norris Cole and … well, he’s about the only young guy in the rotation. Playing smallball solves the problem of trying to find a 5, as they’ve auditioned players the last few seasons in that role. If anything they need consistency from a health standpoint, because guys like Mike Miller and Ray Allen ain’t getting any younger.

Karan Madhok, NBA India: Yes. And they should stand pat with their roster if they lose, too. If there’s anything that Miami should learn from their Finals’ opponent San Antonio, is that familiarity breeds success. The Spurs have been together for over a decade and continue to over-achieve every season. Miami won 66 games this season after all, revolutionized small ball, and went on a 27-game winning streak. So it’s true that they’ve had trouble in the last two series, but this is still a team composed of some of the world’s greatest players. They should make small upgrades to replace aging players, but win or lose, they should strive to keep their core together for as long as possible.

Hanson Guan, NBA China: Regardless of what will happen in Game 7, I think the Heat need tinkering more than overhauling. Compared to two seasons ago when the Big Three began to work together, LeBron James is now more grown-up and versatile, although both Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are on the decline. However, this doesn’t require a major change. The battles in the series exposed the weak parts of Heat, though; they should imrpove their interior, and they need a player like Omer Asik.

Game 6: The Impact Plays

MIAMI – The most important play in a game isn’t always the one you remember most. Sometimes, it’s subtle and doesn’t even make the highlight reel. Sometimes, something as simple as a change in possession can be more important than a shot that does or doesn’t go in.

The NBA has a way to use analytics to figure out just which plays had the biggest impact on a close game. It’s a “leverage” model that was developed to evaluate and instruct referees by pointing out which calls or no-calls had the biggest impact on a game’s result.

Here’s the idea: At every point of a game, each team has a certain probability of winning. Putting the quality of each team to the side, when the game tips off, the home team has a 60 percent probability of winning and the road team has a 40 percent probability of winning. After the first basket, those numbers haven’t changed much. But if the home team is up 10 with the ball and five minutes to go in the fourth quarter, their win probability (WP) is obviously a lot greater than 60 percent.

So, by calculating win probability both before and after a play occurs, it can be determined just how important that play was. Score, possession and location are the factors. And obviously, plays in the last few minutes of the fourth quarter (or overtime) in a close game are more important than any others.

Using the league’s data model, we’ve determined the three most important plays of Game 6 of The Finals — an incredible 103-100 overtime win for the Miami Heat, sending The Finals to a Game 7 for the 18th time.

This was a wild game, with many huge plays. In fact, each of the three plays below had a bigger impact on win probability than any play from Games 2-5.

You know Ray Allen made the biggest play, but which play that was might surprise you.

3. +18.4 percent – Parker drains a 3 to tie it


A 12-4 Heat run had turned a five-point deficit into a three-point lead with two minutes to go. The Spurs seemed to have nothing going on their next possession and Tony Parker was left isolated on LeBron James with less than 10 seconds on the shot clock.

Then, he pulled out a shot we didn’t know he had, stepping back for a game-tying 3 with 1:27 on the clock. He followed that up with a steal and a short turnaround shot in the lane to put the Spurs up two.

The 3 changed the Spurs’ WP from 22.0 percent to 40.4 percent.

2. +25.6 percent – Parker misses the game-winner in regulation


After Allen drained the game-tying, season-saving 3-pointer with 5.2 seconds left in regulation, the Spurs still had a 67.3 win probability because they had possession of the ball.

Note: The NBA model assumes a team has the ability to advance the ball with a timeout here, but San Antonio had none left. Still, the difference in WP wouldn’t have knocked this play out of the No. 2 spot.

Parker was able to go about 80 feet in those 5.2 seconds, but he couldn’t get a good shot off.

With the game going to overtime, the home team (Miami) now had the win probability edge. It was 32.7 percent before the play and 58.3 percent when the regulation buzzer sounded.

1. +30.8 percent – Allen strips Ginobili


The Spurs hadn’t scored since the 2:42 mark of overtime, but still had a chance to win the game after Dwyane Wade missed a shot with 10 seconds left.

Parker was out of the game for defensive purposes and the Spurs didn’t use their final timeout. Instead, Kawhi Leonard got the ball to Manu Ginobili, who raced down the floor and attacked the basket through a crowd. Allen got his hand on the ball (and maybe Ginboli’s wrist) as Ginobili rose for a shot.

“We thought it was a foul going down the middle,” Tim Duncan said afterward. “We get two free throws and we’re talking about something different here, if that happens.”

Instead, it was Ginobili’s eighth turnover of the game and it increased the Heat’s WP from 60.1 percent to 90.9 percent. Allen’s subsequent free throws made it 99.7 percent with the Spurs still having a chance to tie with 1.9 seconds left.

What about Allen’s trey?

Allen’s game-tying 3 didn’t rank in the top three plays, because it only increased the Heat’s WP by 10.8 percent, from 22.0 percent to 32.7 percent. Remember that an average possession is worth a little over one point. So, with the Spurs in possession of the ball after the 3, they still had a strong chance of winning.

Film Study: Spurs Go Iso In Game 5

SAN ANTONIO – From an Xs and Os standpoint, these Finals were billed as the San Antonio Spurs’ pick-and-roll game vs. the Miami Heat’s traps. Then came Game 5, when the Spurs switched things up and put themselves on the brink of their fifth championship with isolation basketball.

More isolations were not necessarily a part of the Spurs’ game plan. In many ways, the opportunities presented themselves, beginning with when Norris Cole checked into the game.

Cole replaced Mario Chalmers with 4:32 to go in the first quarter. And on four of the Spurs’ next five possessions, Tony Parker went right at him, getting two buckets in the paint and drawing two fouls. Parker again blew by Cole on the final possession of the first half, going about 55 feet in 4.1 seconds …

On that first possession, while his teammates were running a play, Parker just went straight at Cole. On two others, he didn’t bother using Tim Duncan‘s screen, instead backing out so he could get Cole one-on-one. And in the middle, he went straight at Cole in transition.

Both Parker and Cole checked out after that and the play before the half was Parker’s next chance to go at him. It was a matchup that Parker obviously wanted to exploit, and he did it for nine points on five possessions in the first half.

Cole played just 2:21 of non-garbage time in the second half, entering the game when Parker was taking a rest. But Parker found other matchups he liked, taking advantage of the Heat’s switches on pick-and-rolls to attack Shane Battier, Mike Miller, Dwyane Wade and Miller again …

On each of those possessions, Parker was initially guarded by LeBron James. But on pick-and-rolls involving two non-bigs, the Heat were switching. (Chris Bosh and Udonis Haslem, conversely, would step out, wait for Parker’s defender to get back to him, and then recover to their own man.)

Switching takes some of the bite out of the Heat’s aggressive defense, keeps that second defender *out of Parker’s vision, and allows him to pick which defender he wants to attack. If the Heat are switching and Miller or Ray Allen is on the floor, it should almost be automatic that their man sets a screen for Parker.

* Go back to the Game 2 Film Study and check the screenshot with Chris Andersen keeping Parker from making a penetrating pass.

Parker led all scorers with 26 points and was a perfect 10-for-10 from within 10 feet of the basket on Sunday (James and Wade were each 5-for-14, by the way). Seven of those buckets came via isolations, another two came when he attacked Miller or Chalmers in transition, and the last came when he went away from the screen against James.

So none of the 10 baskets were a result of Parker going with the screen, which has been the bread and butter of the Spurs’ offense for the last few years. Teams make adjustments in a playoff series, and Parker picked a good time to throw a wrench in the Heat’s defensive game plan.

Manu Ginobili also picked a good time to play his best game of the season, scoring 24 points and dishing out 10 assists. He too did a lot of damage in one-on-one situations …

The Heat will have to rethink their switching scheme for Game 6 on Tuesday (9 p.m. ET, ABC). They may need to trap all screens (small-big or small-small) to get the ball out of Parker’s hands, force his teammates to make plays, and avoid the one-on-one matchups that he exploited on Sunday.

“They just absolutely outplayed us,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said after Game 5. “At times, they were just picking one guy out at a time and going mano-a-mano. That will change.”

Game 5: The Impact Plays

SAN ANTONIO – The most important play in a game isn’t always the one you remember most. Sometimes, it’s subtle and doesn’t even make the highlight reel. Sometimes, something as simple as a change in possession can be more important than a shot that does or doesn’t go in.

The NBA has a way to use analytics to figure out just which plays had the biggest impact on a close game. It’s a “leverage” model that was developed to evaluate and instruct referees by pointing out which calls or no-calls had the biggest impact on a game’s result.

Here’s the idea: At every point of a game, each team has a certain probability of winning. Putting the quality of each team to the side, when the game tips off, the home team has a 60 percent probability of winning and the road team has a 40 percent probability of winning. After the first basket, those numbers haven’t changed much. But if the home team is up 10 with the ball and five minutes to go in the fourth quarter, their win probability (WP) is obviously a lot greater than 60 percent.

So, by calculating win probability both before and after a play occurs, it can be determined just how important that play was. Score, possession and location are the factors. And obviously, plays in the last few minutes of the fourth quarter (or overtime) in a close game are more important than any others.

Using the league’s data model, we’ve determined the three most important plays of Game 5 of The Finals, a 114-104 win for the San Antonio Spurs, which gives them a 3-2 series lead as the series heads back to Miami for Games 6 and 7 (if necessary).

The Heat never led on Sunday, but they got to within three points early in the third quarter and to within one late in the third. Both times, the Spurs answered with a Danny Green 3-pointer, two of Green’s Finals-record 25 threes in the series.

As you might expect, those threes were two of the biggest plays in the game.

3. +7.7 percent – A Green 3 gives the Spurs some breathing room

An 8-0 Miami run, capped by an unconventional 3-point play (+7.6 percent) made it a 75-74 game with three minutes to go in the third quarter.

But on a broken play, Green took a handoff from Boris Diaw, and drained a 3-pointer over both Shane Battier and Dwyane Wade to keep the Heat at bay. That sparked a 12-1 San Antonio run to finish the quarter and the Heat never got a chance to tie or take the lead.

The three changed the Spurs’ WP from 62.1 percent to 69.8 percent.

2. +8.3 percent – James’ steal leads to a Chalmers 3

The Heat were within single digits at the half and James got the third-quarter scoring started with a 3-pointer*. He then poked the ball from behind Green, pushed the ball up the floor, and found Mario Chalmers in the corner. Chalmers had another off night (2-for-10), but made it a one-possession game with a 3.

Before James’ steal, the Heat’s WP was 23.1 percent. The change of possession increased it to 25.7 percent (+2.6) and the three made it 31.4 percent (+5.7).

*James’ shot was originally counted as a two. That’s why the score is off in the video.

1. +9.0 percent – A steal and a record

Chalmers’ 3 was part of an (earlier) 8-0 run for the Heat, cutting the Spurs lead down to three. James then got a hand on Green’s pass, one of three live-ball turnovers in San Antonio’s first five possessions of the third. But Wade dribbled into traffic on the ensuing break and lost the ball. Manu Ginobili picked it up, brought it up the floor, and flipped it back to a trailing Green, who stepped into a three from the top, breaking Ray Allen‘s record of 22 Finals 3-pointers.

Before Wade lost the ball, the Spurs’ WP was 65.4 percent. The change of possession increased it to 68.6 percent (+3.2) and the three made it 74.5 percent (+5.8).

Back-And-Forth Finals Sets Up Game 5

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SAN ANTONIO – The games haven’t been close, but the series has gone back and forth. Now, The Finals and the 2012-13 NBA championship is down to a three-game series. And if you say you know what’s going to happen next, you’re lying.

The basics:
Game 5 tips off Sunday night at 8 ET on ABC.

This is the 11th time that The Finals have been tied 2-2 since going to the 2-3-2 format in 1985 (see table below). The winner of Game 5 has gone on to win the title in seven of the previous 10 instances. The home team has won six of those 10 Game 5s and and gone on to close out the series on the road (in Game 6) three of the six times. Each of the four times the road team has won Game 5, they’ve gone on to win the series back at home.

The narrative:
To win two straight championships, the Heat need to win two straight games. But they haven’t done that since the conference semifinals. Since stepping up in competition, they’ve yet to put two championship-caliber performances together.

The inconsistency starts with starters Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Mario Chalmers, who have averaged 43.0 points on 50 percent shooting in the Heat’s last six wins and just 34.2 points on 36 percent shooting in their last five losses. But there’s also been a lot more defensive energy in the wins. And for the Heat, stops often turn into better shots on the other end of the floor.

Games 6 and 7 (if necessary) will be in Miami, but LeBron James believes the time is now for the Heat to finally back up a win with another.

The subplots:
When things get tight for the Spurs, Manu Ginobili is often the guy who comes up with big plays. But Ginobili has been out of sorts all series and is shooting 11-for-35 (31 percent) over his last five games, including 3-for-19 (16 percent) from 3-point range. He has more turnovers (13) than buckets in that stretch and has the worst plus-minus (minus-36) in The Finals.

Given the likelihood that their role players aren’t going to shoot as well as they did in Game 3, the Spurs need Ginobili as a secondary playmaker when Tony Parker is both on and off the floor. And if the sixth man doesn’t get out of his funk, the Spurs probably aren’t going to win the series.

The Heat’s ability to get into the paint and to the line will always be critical. They’ve averaged 61.0 points in the paint and at the line in their two wins and 42.5 in their two losses. Their jumpers were also falling in the two wins, but they must play inside-out and not settle for the perimeter shots that the Spurs are often begging them to take.

Xs and Os:
Neither team is going to make any serious tactical adjustments after four games. At this point, assuming that both teams will bring the proper energy for such a crucial game, it comes down to execution. The Spurs want to play like they did in Game 3 and the Heat want to play like they did in Game 4. And it’s really as simple as that.

The Spurs, who have totaled 36 turnovers in their two losses, must first take care of the ball. Getting Tim Duncan some low-post touches would be great, but they can’t force things against the Heat’s denial. On pick-and-rolls, their bigs must create passing lanes for Parker to get them the ball.

Defensively, San Antonio must get back in transition, keep James from getting to the basket, and find Mike Miller and Ray Allen before they get near the 3-point line.

Miami obviously needs to be active and aggressive defensively, force turnovers, and get out on the break. But their weak-side defense is just as important as their strong-side denials and traps, because the Spurs have the shooters to make them pay for double-teams. If their rotations aren’t crisp and organized, Game 5 might look a lot like Game 3.

Who’s hot?
Amazingly, the Heat didn’t need threes from Miller (0-for-1) or Allen (1-for-4) in Game 4. But that doesn’t mean that the Spurs can leave them open. Miller is still a scorching 9-for-11 from beyond the arc in the series, while Allen is 7-for-13. James has assisted on half of their 16 total threes.

Danny Green (19-for-28 on threes) and Gary Neal (12-for-22) continued their hot shooting on Thursday. They’ve been assisted by 10 different teammates on the 31 total threes.

Whatever happened to…
Mario Chalmers? The Heat’s point guard came up huge in their Game 2 win, leading all scorers with 19 points on 6-for-12 shooting. Then he went 0-for-5 in Game 3 and missed his first two shots of Game 4. He did hit two big threes in the third quarter on Thursday and big performances from the big three meant that the Heat didn’t need much production from him, but Game 5 could be different.

If Wade or Bosh can’t put two straight All-Star performances together or if James doesn’t shoot well from the outside, Chalmers will need to step up.

Game 5 results with Finals tied 2-2, since 1985 (winner in CAPS)

Year Away Score Home Score Series result
1985 Boston 111 L.A. LAKERS 120 L.A. in 6
1988 L.A. Lakers 94 DETROIT 104 L.A. in 7
1992 CHICAGO 119 Portland 106 Chicago in 6
1994 Houston 84 NEW YORK 91 Houston in 7
1997 CHICAGO 90 Utah 88 Chicago in 6
2003 SAN ANTONIO 93 New Jersey 83 San Antonio in 6
2005* SAN ANTONIO 96 Detroit 95 San Antonio in 7
2006* Dallas 100 MIAMI 101 Miami in 6
2010 L.A. Lakers 86 BOSTON 92 L.A. in 7
2011 Miami 103 DALLAS 112 Dallas in 6

* Game 5 went to overtime

Big Or Small — Does It Matter?

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SAN ANTONIO – Not only did the Miami Heat change their starting lineup in Game 4 of The Finals, but they played small (with only one big man on the floor) for the full 48 minutes. The result was a 16-point victory.

Over the course of the series, the numbers make it clear that the Heat have been better, particularly on offense, when they’ve played small.

Heat pace and efficiency, 2013 Finals

Lineups MIN Pace OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
Big 50 89.0 80.1 101.0 -20.9 -23
Small 131 90.3 119.3 105.5 +13.9 +29
Garbage time 11 89.5 68.9 116.3 -47.4 -11
Total 192 89.9 106.6 104.9 +1.7 -5

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

The Spurs’ big lineups have played better (+2.0 points per 100 possessions) than their small lineups (-13.8), but that discrepancy is less than half that of the Heat’s. So you could say that the series has been determined more by what kind of lineup Miami has played than by what kind San Antonio has played. The Heat’s offensive advantages when playing small are obvious. The extra shooter either makes defenses pay for paying extra attention to LeBron James, or gives James more space to operate.

So, is staying small the key to winning two more games? Not according to Dwyane Wade, who said that the lineup change “had no big impact” on the Heat’s performance in Game 4.

“I don’t think that had anything to do with the reason we played better,” Wade said before the Heat practiced on Saturday. “I think we just played better, for one, because there was some … if we lose that game, it’s trouble. We might not make it back to Miami. So in a sense, we had a little nervousness in us. We played with that nervous energy. And we did what we normally do. We respond where we need to.

“So I think we were going to play a better game, not matter who is on the floor.”

Whether they’re playing big or small, Wade believes it’s about the Heat’s mentality. We saw Thursday how good they can be when the Heat’s Big Three play active and aggressive on both ends of the floor. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Saturday that the team’s last few wins have come when James, Wade and Chris Bosh “had our three highest defensive grades, the way we chart it.”

The problem, of course, is that the Heat have only had that nervous energy – or urgency, if you will – in games following a loss. And to win two straight championships, they’re going to have to win two straight games.

That could happen in Games 6 and 7 back in Miami if the Spurs win Game 5 on Sunday (8 p.m. ET, ABC), but James believes the time is now.

“I think it’s time,” James said. “I think we’re well overdue when it’s time for us to win consecutive games. I think we’re at 11 or 12 straight consecutive win loss, win loss, win loss. I think it’s time. Enough is enough for our team. I’m not saying it’s going to result in us having a win, but we need to play with the same sense of urgency as if we were down 2-1 or whatever the case may be tomorrow night. And we can’t wait around.”

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Film Study: Big Effort From The Big Three

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SAN ANTONIO – Game 4 of The Finals was the Big Three Game. Facing the prospect of going down 3-1, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh combined for 85 points, 30 rebounds, nine assists, 10 steals and five blocks to lead the Miami Heat to a 109-93 victory.

James gave an MVP performance, Wade turned back the clock to 2006, and Bosh played big. Their numbers were huge, but their performance went well beyond the box score.

In the wake of a rough night from the outside on Tuesday, James said that he hadn’t lost confidence in his shot. And he proved it in Game 4, shooting 7-for-10 from mid-range and 1-for-2 on threes. His eight buckets from outside the paint were more than he had in Games 1-3 combined (7-for-30).

But before he made a single jumper, James set the tone for the game by pushing the ball at every opportunity, looking for easy baskets in transition. After a San Antonio miss or turnover, James was usually in a full sprint toward the Heat basket, whether he had the ball or not.

Here, as soon as Manu Ginobili loses the ball, James takes off, and Norris Cole hits him on the break …


Here’s a leak out after Mike Miller blocks a shot in the third quarter … (yes, Mike Miller really blocked a shot.)

The Heat registered 14 fast-break points (seven from James) on Thursday, their high for the series. But pushing the ball up the floor was also good for getting better shots in their half-court offense. The faster they got the ball across the midcourt line, the more time on the shot clock they had to work with.

The following play was the Heat’s sixth possession of the game. After a made basket on the other end, the ball is passed up the floor and James already has it in the low post with 19 seconds still on the shot clock …


That play resulted in an open baseline jumper for Wade, two of his 32 points. That was Wade’s highest scoring output in more than three months, but he really didn’t shoot well from the perimeter. Wade was 4-for-13 from outside the paint on Thursday and is shooting 32 percent from outside the paint in the postseason.

Of his 32 points, 24 came from the paint (where he shot 10-for-12) or at the free throw line (4-for-4). He made better use of the screens his big men set for him at the elbow and didn’t just take the shots the Spurs’ sagging defense gave him. He attacked the defender going under the screen and kept him on his heels.

Below are some of Wade’s highlights. The first two buckets came via the elbow screen and a crossover dribble. The fourth was a result of James pushing the ball up the floor, and the isolation on Tim Duncan came from a switch on another elbow screen.


More than anything schematic, Wade’s breakout was about energy. He had plenty of it on Thursday and it showed up in the points column.

For Bosh, there were more rolls in his pick-and-roll game, and he had as many baskets in the paint (five) as he had in the first three games combined. But Bosh’s energy really came through on defense, where he registered two blocks, two steals and 11 defensive rebounds. He was denying Duncan in the post, but also able to help his teammates at the basket.

On this possession, Bosh contains a Tony Parker pick-and-roll, helps off Duncan to block Boris Diaw, and then helps again to contest a Parker drive…


The other Bosh block, this time on a Parker drive…


And finally, his denial of Duncan to send Game 4 into garbage time…


As important as Bosh’s defense in the paint was the Heat’s defense on the perimeter. The Spurs had 38 points in the paint (they’ve had 38 or 40 in each of the four games) and 23 at the free throw line (almost twice as many as they averaged through the first three games). But they only got up 16 3-point attempts, half as many as they shot on Tuesday.

Here’s Miller running Ginobili off the 3-point line, Bosh rotating off Duncan, and James helping the helper…


The Heat still haven’t lost two straight games since Jan. 10 and Game 4 was proof of how energy and effort can sometimes change a team’s fortunes.

“I was just trying to keep my foot on the gas,” James said afterward, “and just play until the tank was empty.”

Now, we just have to see if the Big Three can do this two games in a row.

Game 4: The Impact Plays

SAN ANTONIO – The most important play in a game isn’t always the one you remember most. Sometimes, it’s subtle and doesn’t even make the highlight reel. Sometimes, something as simple as a change in possession can be more important than a shot that does or doesn’t go in.

The NBA has a way to use analytics to figure out just which plays had the biggest impact on a close game. It’s a “leverage” model that was developed to evaluate and instruct referees by pointing out which calls or no-calls had the biggest impact on a game’s result.

Here’s the idea: At every point of a game, each team has a certain probability of winning. Putting the quality of each team to the side, when the game tips off, the home team has a 60 percent probability of winning and the road team has a 40 percent probability of winning. After the first basket, those numbers haven’t changed much. But if the home team is up 10 with the ball and five minutes to go in the fourth quarter, their win probability (WP) is obviously a lot greater than 60 percent.

So, by calculating win probability both before and after a play occurs, it can be determined just how important that play was. Score, possession and location are the factors. And obviously, plays in the last few minutes of the fourth quarter (or overtime) in a close game are more important than any others.

Using the league’s data model, we’ve determined the three most important plays of Game 4 of The Finals, a comfortable 109-93 win for the Miami Heat that evened the series at two games apiece

The Heat didn’t put the game away until they went on a 16-6 run midway through the fourth quarter, but the biggest plays of the night came before that, with the game still in the balance late in the third and early in the fourth.

3. +8.1 percent – Neal drains a 3

 

 

In the midst of scoring on 11 of their final 12 possessions of the third quarter, the Heat had a six point lead and looked to be taking control. But after a LeBron James miss in the post, the Spurs got the ball quickly up the floor. Ray Allen was able to get to Danny Green in the corner, but Green found a trailing Gary Neal, who (of course) didn’t hesitate to jack up a 3 that pulled San Antonio within three with 1:39 left in the period.

The 3 changed the Spurs’ WP from 31.3 percent to 39.4 percent.

2. +8.8 percent – Wade’s and-one

 

 

On the very next possession, the Heat’s first few options were well covered and Dwyane Wade had the ball in the corner. But when James slipped a corner screen, neither Green nor Manu Ginobili stayed with Wade, who drove, drew a foul on Green, and hit a tough bank shot as he was falling to the ground. He then converted the free throw to put the Heat back up six.

The play increased the Heat’s WP from 60.6 percent to 69.4 percent.

1. +12.6 percent – James’ steal leads to Allen’s trey

 

 

Miami’s lead was five in the first minute of the fourth quarter when Ginobili hit a rolling Tiago Splitter in the lane. As Splitter came down with the ball, he tried to kick it to Kawhi Leonard in the corner. But James, who had helped off Leonard, read Splitter’s mind and took the ball right out of his hands.

(James’ defensive anticipation was rather ridiculous all night.)

James raced up the floor, drew four Spurs defenders into the paint and got the ball to Norris Cole in the left corner. Cole was wide open, but spotted Allen on the wing. Leonard closed out on Allen, but a pump fake got him out of the way. Allen drained the 3 (one of only four the Heat made all night) to increase the lead to eight points.

Before James’ steal, the Heat’s WP was 67.6 percent. The change of possession increased it to 72.6 percent (+5.0) and the three made it 80.2 percent (+7.6).