The Margin: San Antonio Spurs 107, Miami Heat 86
Game 4 was a complete clinic at the highest level of basketball that exists on the planet, and after a 21-point domination of the Heat, the Spurs are back at the precipice as they head back to San Antonio for Game 5. Here we go…
- There was a different feel to Game 4, one that went beyond the thought that a Spurs win would mean almost complete control of the NBA Finals. There was no frenetic point-explosion, no ambush and hardly an ebb or flow indicative of a back-and-forth affair. This felt constant and deliberate. After the offense devolved into isolation sets late in Game 2, and after Gregg Popovich got on his team for allowing the ball to “stick” to players’ hands San Antonio came out borderline psychotic in Game 3, moving the ball so quickly and so often that they teetered on the edge overcompensation. But on Thursday there was a coolness, a straight edge that made it appear as if the Spurs knew they had solved the Heat riddle. San Antonio looked completely comfortable offensively against Miami’s defensive swarms, traps and hedges for the first time in years, and that fast pace Pop typically preaches about as one of the team’s top indicators of successful offense didn’t quite seem to matter. The Spurs got whatever they wanted regardless of how quickly they moved in Game 4, playing at a pace of 84.90 possessions per 48 minutes, a snail’s crawl relative to the peregrine flight that was the NBA’s regular season. San Antonio hit Miami with a haymaker in the first half of Game 3, then used a “defend and counter” approach after the break that Floyd Mayweather, Jr., was no doubt enjoying from his seat in the front row. But in Game 4 it was just a constant string of body blows that left the Heat on the mat. There’s been no knockout yet, but it feels like it’s only a round away.
- Kawhi Leonard is leaving us with memories for the ages. From dunks to soundbites, the 22-year-old is loudly making his impact felt on the league’s biggest stage, and he’s hardly muttering more than a couple of words at a time. But the noise he’s made over the previous two games is impossible to ignore, and it may be what earns him an NBA Finals MVP trophy should the Spurs take care of their business. Through Games 1 and 2, the Spurs were 4.3 points better than the Heat on average per 100 possessions when Leonard was on the floor. During Games 3 and 4, that number has skyrocketed to 31.5 points per 100 possessions.
- LeBron James played a combined 77 minutes during the last two games; Leonard has been on the floor for 76 of them. James is minus-40 in those 76 minutes and has outscored Kawhi by one point.
- That follow slam…
- One of the more tantalizing aspects of Leonard’s game might be what we’ve yet to see. He’s been such an offensive project, hidden under the cover of three future Hall-of-Famers and a system predicated on sharing both time and the ball, that we’ve all been waiting for the breakout. We got a glimpse last June, but this has been a veritable eye-full. His usage percentage during the regular season was 18.3, less than two percentage points more than his sophomore campaign. But that number has jumped to 21.2 percent over the last two games, second only to Tony Parker’s 25.1 percent. Who knows if he’ll ever be a primary pick-and-roll ball-handler in this offense, but he may never actually have to be. Time will tell.
- Leonard’s Game 4 stat line: 20 points, 14 rebounds, three assists, three steals and three blocks. He’s the youngest player in nearly 30 years to put up those numbers in an NBA Finals game. (Basketball-reference only goes back to 1985 with this data.)
- Only two players in NBA history have ever won Finals MVP without being selected to the All-Star Game that season: Chauncey Billups (’04) and Cedric Maxwell (’81). Leonard and Duncan each have a chance to be the third.
- This is a heck of a stat, noticed by Couper Moorhead of NBA.com: The Spurs averaged 4.9 secondary assists (hockey assists) per game during the regular season. In Game 4 they had 14 of them. Remember when Pop said the ball was sticking too much in Game 2? Well, per SportVU, San Antonio only passed the ball 250 times in that one; in Games 3 and 4, the Spurs averaged 371.5 passes.
- The Spurs had more secondary assists (14) than the Heat had normal assists (13) last night.
- The Heat were even with or ahead of the Spurs on the scoreboard for less than five of the 96 minutes played in Miami this week.
- San Antonio had more uncontested field goals last night (36) than contested (34), but it hit a higher percentage of contested shots (64.7) than uncontested (50).
- The Spurs’ ‘Lineup of Death’ (Duncan, Diaw, Leonard, Ginobili, Parker) is wiping the Heat off the floor in the Finals. Through four games, that group is outscoring Miami by 67.1 points per 100 possessions in nearly 11 minutes per night, per NBA.com/stats.
- San Antonio now won a record 11 games by 15 points or more in these playoffs. The rest of the field has 10 such wins. Combined.
- Tim Duncan is now the NBA’s all-time leader in playoff double-doubles, passing Magic Johnson; he also passed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for most NBA Finals minutes played in a career. It was a busy night.
- San Antonio became the first team in NBA history to win consecutive Finals games on the road by a combined 40 points.
- According to everyone’s favorite, Darren Rovell, better than 47 percent of San Antonio watched Game 4; only 28.8 percent of Miami did.
- Boris Diaw went for eight points, nine rebounds and nine assists last night, nearly notching a triple-double in his second straight game as a starter in the Finals. In the four games against the Heat, the Spurs have outscored the Heat by 24.5 points per 100 possessions with Bobo on the floor. The only regular who’s been better: Manu Ginobili, with a net rating of 33 points per 100 possessions.
- Speaking of Manu, he hasn’t been great during the two games in Miami, but he’s arguably been the most efficient Spur in the Finals — a far cry from last year’s championship-round debacle. And he’s already said he’ll be back for another round in 2014-15. C’mon back, El Contusión.
- I’m not sure I’ve ever seen the Spurs play this well in my lifetime. It’s difficult to say, given the differing styles of play from their title-winning years of the mid-aughts, but the way they’re moving, shooting and defending, this group is looking like one of, if not the best team of the last decade-plus. It’s truly awesome to watch.
- It really seemed in Game 4 as if the Heat had run out of gas. They seemed punch-drunk if not flat out exhausted, and I’m not sure they have the depth to keep up with waves of Spurs that keep attacking them. It’s been a really long run to four consecutive Finals for Miami, and they seem spent. There’s a reason why we haven’t seen a team accomplish that feat in nearly 30 years: it just takes so much energy to pull it off, and the Heat haven’t exactly been adding pieces to the puzzle over the last couple of years. I think it’s over on Sunday night, and with it will come the start of a very interesting offseason for Miami. For both teams, really. But we’ll get into what lies ahead for the Spurs when the time comes. For now…
Sunday, 7 p.m.