The Margin: Miami HEAT 98, San Antonio Spurs 96
SAN ANTONIO — As you probably already know by now, The Margin — a blatant rip-off of Rob Mahoney’s ‘The Difference’ — takes the difference in the final scores and flips it into bullet points. For once, I don’t have many to deal with. But that means each will be kind of long, so you’ll have to deal with the big, blocky text. Anyway, I feel like it’s been a weird series thus far, where I’m not sure the team that played better in each game was eventually the one to come out with the win. Momentum shifts, crazy situations and weird sequences have have become deciding factors in key moments, and maybe that’s what’s fun about this series. I honestly don’t know who’s going to win, and that makes every second that much more enjoyable to watch.
- It’s often said that basketball is a game of runs, but it’s just as much a game of prevention. It’s not always about the offensive scoring sprees; if you don’t thwart them on the other end, those runs don’t carry the same sort of impact. Against a team like Miami with the best player in the world, it’s important to handle momentum responsibly, because if you allow the game to get close against LeBron James, you’re subjecting yourself to the possibility of torture. But these things don’t always have to happen late in the game. Seemingly innocuous sequences, like San Antonio’s brutal lapse early in the second quarter, can be subtly game-changing despite the amount of time left on the clock. A Manu Ginobili jumper put the Spurs up 30-19 with 11:01 remaining in the second, but then it got ugly for a stretch of nearly four minutes. They missed seven straight shots before Boris Diaw’s multiple offensive-rebound effort resulted in a layup, and they committed two turnovers in a span of 3:44 while the HEAT railed off nine unanswered points to get back in the game. San Antonio had played really pretty basketball up to that point, then suddenly it just fell apart. The pace slowed down, the ball stuck to hands when it wasn’t being bobbled around, shots they did get up were really bad looks and the flow just seemed to stop in general. Of course, every great team makes a run at some point, and you knew Miami was going to bring one. But by letting them back in the game in that fashion, you’re doing them a favor. You’re minimizing the amount of work they may have to do later that night, and that’s a problem against the defending champs. This isn’t meant to take away from anything the HEAT did during those stretches of time, but the Spurs had time to apply more pressure to the neck, and that Miami run ended it. Neither team led by more than five points the rest of the way. There will be other, more highly scrutinized sections of the game that had more impact in the latter stages, but that’s where San Antonio’s early momentum was cooled. And out of a timeout, no less.
- The Spurs didn’t lose the game on this moment, but the four consecutive missed free throws with 6:43 remaining were absolutely deflating. A Mario Chalmers flagrant foul on Tony Parker put San Antonio in position to go up six points, but two misses from the point guard and another two misses from Tim Duncan popped the proverbial balloon. From that point on, the Spurs hit just three shots the rest of the way, one of which came on a Ginobili 3-pointer at the buzzer that didn’t matter. Again, it was just one moment in a handful of many that decided Game 2, but basketball is as much a game of momentum as anything else, and the Spurs found too many ways to shoot themselves in the foot. Maybe not with a rifle, but with a pellet gun, over and over again. Everything just bogged down. This isn’t to say San Antonio was great before that free-throw debacle, though. It wasn’t. But it wasn’t able to take advantage of all the defensive stops it made down the stretch — the Spurs held the HEAT to just 7-of-16 shooting in the fourth — by burying Miami with enough big shots. The offense broke down into uncharacteristic isolations, and when you play that game against James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, you’ll almost always lose.
- One bonus point: The officiating was annoying in this game. Not from a Spurs or Heat perspective, but from a pace perspective. The Spurs did get in foul trouble, which had to be frustrating, especially with Green getting his first two within 90 seconds of the start of the game and Kawhi Leonard eventually fouling out. But this was more about the flow of the game. Too often it came to a screeching halt with bad or unnecessary calls. I dunno, just an observation. When the whistle blows too often you start seeing make-up calls and the like, trying to even things out. It’s an obnoxious domino effect. There’s no question this series has already been testier than last year’s, so perhaps they came in an effort to keep things settled. Unfortunately, I think a lot of these calls and no-calls had the opposite effect. Not one technical or flagrant foul was called during the Finals last season, and there have already been several through the first two games in this series. Both teams are very professional in what they do (except for the floppers on both sides, but maybe that is considered “professional”), and I don’t think things need to be policed as tightly or as inconsistently as we saw on Sunday. The officials didn’t lose the game for the Spurs — they never do, so you people screaming about preferential treatment need to stop — but the way they called the game left a lot to be desired. These two teams are too fun and aesthetically pleasing to watch.
This loss felt worse than it was, likely because the Spurs had their chances to win and failed miserably to capitalize. San Antonio gave itself the opportunity to knock the HEAT back on their asses in a 2-0 hole, but that’s where one too many f***-ups will leave you against LeBron. This is going to be a long series, as Parker said afterward, and you can be sure Gregg Popovich and the Big Three will have tightened the ship by Game 3. If they don’t, there are too many ghosts lingering around to haunt them as they head to Miami.