Spurs get stuck while LeBron gets going

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SAN ANTONIO–For all the fuss and entertainment drummed up seemingly every time Gregg Popovich speaks publicly, the man has a gift for being able to describe basketball rather poetically.

After his San Antonio Spurs dropped Game 2 of the NBA Finals to the Miami Heat 98-96 on Sunday night, Popovich wrapped up his postgame press conference with a comment about his team’s ball movement that resonates like nothing you typically hear in the dull lectures that characterizes most of media availability.

“You move it or you die,” he said.

You move it or you die. It’s not a rally cry that revolutions are built on, but it’s the type of comment that leaves an lingering aftertaste.

For the Spurs, it’s a bitter taste. Up by as many as 11 points, San Antonio produced several stretches of subpar offensive play. The Spurs shot 44 percent from the floor in Game 2 and struggled to convert baskets down the stretch. The Heat got a big 3-point bucket from Chris Bosh that ultimately proved to be the game-winner.

“The ball stuck to us,” Popovich said after the game. “We tried to do it individually and we’re not good enough to do that.

“We can’t put it in somebody’s hands and have them create everything for us. It’s got to be a group effort and we didn’t do that. That puts a lot of pressure on everything else.”

Also putting pressure on what the Spurs do: LeBron James. After leaving in the fourth quarter of Game 1 with muscle cramps, James was superhuman on Sunday night. He scored 35 points on 14-of-22 shooting and grabbed 10 rebounds in the Game 2 victory, and there was little the Spurs could do to stop him.

Kawhi Leonard battled foul problems for the large portions of the second half and fouled out with 47 seconds remaining. Leonard, and Boris Diaw, did reasonably well defending James despite the foul trouble, keeping LeBron in front of him, contesting the majority of his shots and keeping James on an island. Through two games in these Finals James has just six total assists, though the sixth was the one that found Bosh in the corner for the go-ahead 3-pointer. LeBron had one of those nights where the shots were falling, but I don’t think the defense was particularly at fault.

After two games of this series, it feels like the Spurs are the better team. As a unit they generally create better shots on offense and are more cohesive on the defensive end. That being said, Miami boasts not only the best player in this series but in the world. All things being equal, that can tip the balance of power in the Heat’s direction and it surely did in Game 2. San Antonio will be disappointed it’s not going to Miami with a 2-0 series lead because it was surely there for the taking.

The attribute these two teams share in common more than anything is an ability to punish you for your mistakes. Leading by two points about midway through the fourth quarter, Tony Parker drew a flagrant foul on Mario Chalmers. Chalmers swung an elbow into Parker’s midsection as he drove baseline on the Spurs point guard.

After a few moments on the ground getting checked by Spurs trainer Will Sevening, Parker went to the free throw line and clanged both attempts. Following the free throws, Tim Duncan drew a shooting foul and bricked both of his attempts. One possession, four missed free throws. On the following possession, LeBron drained a 3-pointers that gave Miami a one-point lead. That’s what we call a seven-point swing.

In the NBA Finals, the Spurs can ill afford turn arounds that drastic. Windows of opportunity can’t be left open for the Heat to climb through and four missed free throws on one possession is anything but slamming it shut.

“We got an opportunity to score four points in a play and we get to the line and miss all four. That hurts,” Manu Ginobili said later. “We were pretty poor from the line, 12‑for‑20, and, again, that is so close that that always helps.

“But it was a tough one.”

Maintaining his elite ability to make a major impact on the game despite single-digit scoring (seven points, 10 rebounds, five assists), San Antonio continued to lean heavily on Boris Diaw. Tiago Splitter again started for San Antonio, but Diaw logged over 32 minutes.

The Diaw-Duncan-Parker-Ginobili-Leonard lineup was extremely successful in its eight minutes together in Game 1, posting a 133.2 net efficiency (133.2 points per 100 possessions better than the Heat) in extremely limited time. In Game 2, Popovich got that lineup a little more time together with continued success. In 11 minutes in Game 2, it had a 127 offensive efficiency and a 101.2 defensive.

Looking ahead to Game 3, keep in mind how much floor time Popovich is able to give this lineup. It looks to be San Antonio’s best unit against these Heat. No one would confuse Pop with a sabermetrician, but he understands player groupings and how lineups work together. He’s well aware the Spurs are playing better with Ginobili and Diaw on the floor in place of Danny Green and Tiago Splitter. And while Pop is unlikely to make that his starting group, moving forward we could see him tweak his rotations to get that unit on the floor together more and capitalize on the shooting and ball movement that group provides.

As Pop said, you move it or you die. There’s a maximum of just five games left in this season and the Spurs are running out of lives. San Antonio wasn’t able to capitalize on a great opportunity to grab a 2-0 Finals lead, but the series is theirs for the taking. All that’s needed from the Spurs is to be close to perfect. They were far from it in Game 2, but when they get moving they’re as good as it gets.

  • alspurs21

    Great analysis of last night’s game. Tired of hearing all the over reactions from the national media. Spurs had plenty of chances last night and just weren’t able to take advantage. That’s how the finals go all games will be close and games will be won on the road. I feel if the Spurs can win 2 out of the next 3 they will be in great shape.

  • Jimbo

    The Spurs have themselves to blame for the loss, but the reffing was quite poor last night, I thought. The refs really let them play for long stretches, but then would call ticky tac fouls. I thought Green and Leonard were both tagged with two BS calls. That was pretty important, because Leonard had to move off James as a result and Diaw can’t contest James’ shots quite as well as Leonard. To be fair, Miami had a couple of ghost fouls called against them. Wade should be fined for pretending that Manu hit him. And Chalmers…what a dirty play. Here’s hoping karma gets him.

  • Dapimp Ofdayear

    Last night was a disappointing loss, simply because Miami is such a good team and when you have an opportunity to win a game against them, you HAVE to take it. The Spurs are only going to win so many games at Miami, so they really can’t afford to be dropping winnable games at home. This is an awesome opponent with both the best player in the NBA and a quality bench (unlike OKC).

    Kawhi looks lost out there. He’s closing out too hard when he cheats off LeBron to help elsewhere, then scramble back. LeBron is using his momentum against him to drive right past. Like the broadcast crew and the Countdown guys said, he has got to get his head in the game and contribute more (besides the couple threes) if the Spurs want a chance. Isn’t what we were all banking on in hoping for this rematch? That Kawhi, who was awesome in last year’s Finals, would be even better this year and push us over the hump?

    Well, here’s hoping they can get Game 3, because the pressure to get Game 4 down 2-1 would be enormous. The Spurs asked, begged for this rematch thinking that they were/are the better team, and if they don’t get it done this time, they can’t lament bad luck or anything like that. They’ll just have to tip their cap and congratulate Miami (a depressing thought).

  • Joseph Dooley

    Pop’s sideline schtick is wearing thin. Total disrespect and rudeness to Doris Burke. I don’t care if the questions are same quality as those asked by a 2nd grader.

  • Tyler

    I thought Miami was pretty good defensively the last 3-4 minutes of the 4th. It looked like they took a page out of Dallas and OKC’s playbook – switching all screens and ball handoffs, a pretty effective strategy with Lebron is a the 4 spot. I thought that led to pretty poor ball and player movement and forced SA to play a lot of 1 vs 1. If Miami is going to play that way, I think you need to go at a vulnerable matchups in the post to force rotations. I’d like to see SA post up Diaw when he gets matched up with a smaller defender (I think this would force an extra help defender to come over) and maybe even go to TD against Bosh on the left block.

    Having said that, I’ve been impressed with Miami’s defensive rotations (with the exception of the 4th in game 1). For the most part, they’ve been on a string. If SA is going to win another 3 games, the perimeter players need to be more decisive and either shoot 3′s when the ball is rotated to them or attack the basket when the defense is scrambling. I thought Kawhi, Belinelli and Diaw all passed up shots last night. And against the most aggressive defense in the NBA, any hesitation plays right into Miami’s hands.

  • Troy

    Deal with it. He says things a lot of us are thinking. The media crews of networks usually get a kick out of it. I’m sure Doris didn’t lose any sleep over it. Nothing is wearing thin. You are just a little bored and felt the need to complain about something completely insignificant. Saddle up and get on with it.

  • abe

    Didn’t Danny Green have one of the best Defensive Efficiency ratings against Lebron last year in the finals? Just wondering if maybe a switch is in order to switch things up a bit…Pop is obviously going to have to make one or two adjustments and throw some different looks at them. And maybe it’s time to start Diaw or Bonner like we did in OKC.

  • Graham

    Isolated incidents like fast break defense or broken plays, and not LeBron facing him constantly. Green will get worked in the post EVERY time if he’s on LeBron. LeBron’s not KD, he absolutely can hammer you on the block if he wants, and throwing a double at him is asking for him to kick it to a 3 point shooter. Best bet is still to keep him perimeter oriented, and both Leonard and Diaw are our best chances to do that.

  • Graham

    Nothing to worry about. Winning 2 in a row against this team is a challenge, and I’d rather go into Miami hungry to get a W than confident we have it in the bag up 2-0 in a strange way. Break down some tape, get back to what makes us great and grab one in Miami.

    This is going to be one hell of a series, and let’s make sure we learn from our inevitable losses and bounce back with a win.

  • Chris S

    Anyone else notice Parker’s curious case of paint-itis most of the night – like he was allergic to it? When Parker’s at full strength, there’s always several plays where he just puts on the roadrunner afterburners, and blows by people for layups (he should particularly be leaving Chalmers in his dust). Never saw that last night, a lot of jumpers (some of which were corner 3′s, which he canned thankfully). Something to watch, and be VERY concerned about over the next few games. We need all-star Tony to beat this team in a 7-game series.

    OH, and are we taking bets if Wade is fined by the league for flopping on the Ginobili swipe? Pretty sure that’s the definition of the flop-fine rule this year. The League’s never had a problem with complete hypocrisy when it comes to its stars, however, so I’m willing to bet there will be no fine.

  • jezav

    Thanks, Andrew (and Matthew and Trevor for the other great posts). Every time I see the Spurs (mostly Tony) holding on to the ball this series I’m expecting a tough shot or a turnover. Fortunately, they’ve done a great job overall I think. It’s probably too much to ask any team – even the Spurs – to maintain incredible ball movement and incredible defensive intensity throughout an entire game against an opponent as smart and skilled as the Heat. There are going to be lapses from time to time given the enormity of the task. If they limit those stretches in any given game they’ll be fine, but if not, they’ll have trouble. It’s a fine line between victory and defeat.

    Also, I wanted to point out an interesting stat from Ball Don’t Lie – if you take away the four or so minutes that James was out at the end of game 1, the Spurs and Heat have played a minute, 190-190 tie. Incredible. It goes to show how close this match-up is, even if I think the Spurs are the (slightly) better team.

  • Joseph Dooley

    Oh, ok

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  • idahospur

    Somehow the Spurs have to take advantage when LeBron is out. We can pretty much keep pace when he on the court.
    We also need to spend a lot of in the half court. Pass the ball and kill time. The Heat defense runs around a lot and will get tired over 7 games.

  • Dapimp Ofdayear

    I agree sometimes he feels like has to live up his reputation. Sometimes he can just answer the question.

  • abe

    Just a suggestion, but the NBA should really consider this for the flopping problem:

    At the end of the first 3 quarters, any questionable calls are reviewed and a technical foul can be assessed if the foul was deemed a flop after review. If it happens in the 4th quarter, anything outside of the last 2 minutes can be reviewed during timeouts and in the last 2 minutes it would be a standard review with the same penalty – a technical foul assessed. Add the fines to this and it could make a huge difference.

  • ManureTurnobili

    Heat are undefeated this series in games played under fair conditions.

  • Latecomer

    Did you notice in the post-game interview when the guy who didn’t speak English very well asked a question that had already been asked? Popovich was above and beyond in his patient and lengthy response. So I think the brusqueness is an act — he can be entirely different when he wants.

  • Tyler

    I think the worst thing the NBA can do is authorize more instant replay…..especially in the 4th qty, the last thing you want is to have a super intense game…..and then have it stopped half a dozen times in the last two minutes…..kills the atmosphere.

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  • Alburro Garcia

    Wow this is the best site I have found that has grammar and no hate; well there is, but it is at least analyzed. It should be a great game tonight!

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