Spurs get stuck while LeBron gets going
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.