Miami’s Big 3 sets record against San Antonio in fourth-quarter runaway

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SAN ANTONIO — In the aftermath of Game 3, it began to feel like the script had been flipped. Not one Heat player had eclipsed 20 points in a game all series, Dwyane Wade seemed to be a shell of himself and LeBron James appeared to be getting caught up in the mind games the media likes to manifest for purposes of a storyline. But instead, Miami kept with its running theme, once again responding to a loss with a resounding explosion in a 109-93 victory over San Antonio.

Of course, that’s what happens when the Heat Big 3 combine to score 85 points, the most they’ve ever scored together in a playoff game. It would have taken a miracle to survive an outburst like that.

Miami has been an interesting case study throughout the playoffs, and especially in the last two rounds. The defending champs have neither lost nor won two consecutive games since they faced the Bulls in the conference semifinals, and it’s been a sort of up-and-down roller-coaster the entire time. When the Heat play the kind of defense we saw tonight, they’re a machine that impossible to break down. For whatever reason, Miami appears to find it difficult to sustain the same type of effort from one game to the next. But when it’s there, it’s amazing to watch.

James was on the attack from the tip, crashing toward the rim instead of slowly dribbling into the same open space the Spurs afforded him in Game 3. This time he was relentless early and often, and while San Antonio jumped out to an early lead, the tone had been set The Heat would not allow passivity be their undoing. LeBron had 33 points and 11 rebounds, and he looked much more like the best player in the world by the end of Thursday night.

And it seems like it’s a battle of wills between the Spurs’ offense and the Heat defense. Whichever entity has been able to sustain the energy advantage through the second half has emerged victorious. Miami’s defense swarmed tonight, and 19 Spurs giveaways — resulting in a 23-8 advantage in points off turnovers — were the difference. Their offense feeds off the chaos created by their defense, and Game 4 was the perfect example of that.

I may be beating a dead horse here, but when you give the ball away that many times to the Heat defense you’re begging to be blown out. Though, that has a lot to do with the way Miami was pressuring the ball.

Tony Parker entered the game with questions surrounding the condition of his strained right hamstring, but despite Tuesday’s setback, he was spectacular in the first half on Thursday. And it took a whole lot of effort from the Spurs’ point guard to make sure the game was at least even at the break. He was visibly fatigued in the latter stages of the third quarter, and when his legs wouldn’t allow him to to beat the attacking Heat defense, his teammates were unable to help.

Namely Tiago Splitter and Manu Ginobili.

If these two Spurs have combined for a worse game this season, I’m not sure I remember it. In a game where Miami opted to start small — removing Udonis Haslem and inserting Mike Miller into the stating lineup — Splitter had a chance to take advantage of offensive mismatches. But after only 47 seconds and a painfully unfortunate defensive assignment on Dwyane Wade, the big man was removed from the game in favor of Gary Neal.

Dwyane Wade went for 32 points in Game 4 in by far his best game of the playoffs, and seeing Splitter intentionally line up against him at the top of the key — Gregg Popovich’s orders — seemed to be sparked.

“When (Splitter) was guarding me, I’m glad I had the ball in my hands,” Wade would go on to say.

And the nightmare didn’t end there for Tiago. It seemed like any time he rolled to the rim, every time he caught the ball, Miami had a smaller player waiting at the rim for him. But instead of taking advantage of the situation, Splitter was dominated at the rim by anyone who helped. And when he wasn’t getting blocked, he was getting stripped or throwing the ball away.

Splitter had just four points and three rebounds in 13 minutes, going 0-for-3 from the floor and turning it over three times. With the Heat switching to the small-ball attack that worked so well for them throughout the year — Chris Andersen didn’t even play — it’s going to be interesting to watch what Popovich does to adjust come Sunday.

And where Splitter was bad, his pick-and-roll partner wasn’t much better. Ginobili went 1-for-5 from the floor and had just two rebounds and two assists. And what was worse, the Spurs were outscored by 22 points while he was on the floor. When Parker was out of the game, he was ineffective running the offense out of the pick and roll, and the Heat defense made it next to impossible for him to break through the perimeter wall to get in to the paint.

When Miami’s hyper-aggressive defense has been fully operational, Manu’s inability to beat defenders off the dribble has paved the way for the sometimes brutally desperate step-back 3-pointers that used to be so effective when the threat of the drive was at its highest level. Couple that with Wade’s 32-point, 6-steal assault that felt like it came straight out of Germany, and Ginobili is not maintaing his end of the Big 3 bargain.

He has to be better, because he has to spend a lot of time on the floor. Ginobili’s the only other Spur not named Tony Parker capable of dealing with the kind of pressure the Heat put on the ball-handler over prolonged stretches of the game. His vision, intellect and creativity are all necessary to combatting the Miami defensive swarm.

Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and Gary Neal have stepped in a major way as crucial role players in this series, but the Spurs need a better Manu over the next three games if they hope to win two of the next three games. If they can’t count on his ability to create havoc as a secondary playmaker behind Parker, surviving the Heat barrage over the next two or three games will be a very tall order.

Of course, it doesn’t just stop there. In the two Spurs losses they’ve been exploited off of turnovers and have lost the rebounding battle to a team that is last in the NBA in that category (Miami outrebounded San Antonio 41-36). If there’s one thing you can’t give the Heat, it’s extra opportunities. It’s more easily said than done, but that doesn’t allow for excuses. The sloppy ball-handling and passing, the second chances given up to Miami — they all spell disaster against a team that’s difficult enough to deal with when you play nearly flawless basketball.

But the thing is, the Heat — not to mention Wade — haven’t shown the ability to replicate the same level of effort in back-to-back games in some time. On these kind of nights, they play with a high-intensity motor that’s exhausting just to watch, let alone play with. Whether or not they’re able to attack like that consistently at this point remains to be seen, but the possibility is always there. Miami has the best trio of players on any team in the league, and when that Big 3 combines for 85 points, the opposition has next to no shot.

And keep in mind, the Heat were in desperation mode on Thursday night. A loss would’ve nearly guaranteed the end of the series, and the Heat are lethal with their backs against the wall. Miami has taken back home-court advantage, but the Spurs still have one more game in San Antonio. We know the defending champs haven’t lost back to back games since mid-January, but when the Spurs’ Big 3 have been on the court together, they haven’t lost consecutive games since December.

Whether something gives remains to be seen, but San Antonio also has confidence in the fact that it, too, responds very well to losses. You have to believe the execution will be better, and with two full days off in between Game 4 and Game 5, the Spurs will have a chance to regroup and freshen up.

In the mean time, Pop and Co. will hole up in the practice facility and identify ways they can be better prior to Sunday’s tip. But as the series winds down and the importance of each game begins to weigh as heavy as any weight San Antonio has felt this season, the Spurs must have more than the great performances they’ve gotten from their young supporting cast. While the output of Green, Leonard and Neal are certainly crucial, now is the time for a near-vintage performance from San Antonio’s Hall-of-Fame trio.

What’s left of its current state, anyway.


  • merkin

    I’ll take this “every other” cuz it’ll mean Spurs in 7.

  • STIJL

    Ginobili (and Duncan to some degree) need intravenous dosings of B-12 as well as a couple of shots of adrenaline. They can’t seem to put a run of consistently good games all series.

    Remembering Duncan’s comment on how much he wants this title more so than ever to only see him not play as spry as in the Memphis series has got me worried. We can live without Manu not performing well and realize he’s pretty much done as a player. But when only one of the big three gives good performances in a game…the writing is on the wall for this series.

    They better hope to find the fountain of youth these next (hopefully) two games. If the series goes to 7 in Miami…I don’t know.

  • JT

    Ginobili is done, the guy is not only not helping, he’s actually a detriment, his slow jump lob passes are horrible and very predictable, his ridiculous 3 pointers that have no chance at going in, his missed layups time and time again. At this point, I’m not even sure we should resign Manu at all. The guy had played 13 minutes in the entire game and was the only one of the Big 3 playing during gargabe time, that should tell you something. At this point he really is the sixth man.

    Timmy is playing bad, getting shots blocked, missing jumpers, getting the ball stolen. I don’t know, I’m not seeing the intensity I expected from a player “not letting this chance go”.

    Tiago is soft, why do we have the only 7 footers in the league that can only jump 6 inches. he had more blocked shots than Lebron had free-throws.

    Neal/Danny are playing amazing, if it weren’t for them, we would have been fishing already.
    Advice to Danny though: STOP DRIBBLING THE BALL, IT ALWAYS RESULTS IN A TURNOVER, YOU ARE NOT A POINT GUARD.

    I still think that if we keep down our turnovers, we can win, 19 turnovers isn’t going to cut it, also can we man up Lebron and Wade a little, I mean, wide open shots is a bit much, at least contest them. They are given so much room, they get a head start full of steam towards the basket, that’s too hard to stop.

    Pop’s lineups were bizarre tonight, I know he wants to rest, but what the heck, this is the finals, they can rest after 3 more games.

    We’ll see what happens but I find it very hard for the Spurs to win another at Miami, it will be tough.

  • Len

    I don’t understand why Pop didn’t call for more post touches when the Heat went extra small. Or when Wade got his 4th fairly early in the 3rd why the Spurs didn’t attack him more. Not a good game for the coach either.

  • bob mcgraw

    . i like what green and neal are doing but if miamis big 3 are going then the spurs big 3 need to show up. its not looking good for san antonio parkers hurt, duncan looks old and tired every passing game and ginobili looks like he is getting ready for retirement. it looked like the spurs have given up to a younger team. i still believe they cant win with ginobili playing like this on the last 3 championships he was always the x-factor and he has failed to get even 10 points in this series a game. i dont know whats wrong with him he is either hurt or in some kinda funk. i dont get how you blow them out by 36 then show up and display this effort terrible.

  • Len

    Manu is playing the worst I’ve ever seen him play. I just want to scream when he invariably holds the ball at the top of the key and only gives himself enough time to thread a perfect pass to Tiago or shoot a step back 3.

    Manu needs to MOVE THE BALL. He has become very predictable on the court and that goes against everything he has been his entire career. I know the Spurs philosophy goes against mid range jumpers, but Manu needs to take a page out of Tony’s game and move in 5 feet for his shots. His 3 point shot, especially his step back, is just abysmal right now.

  • Graham

    Oddly enough, looking at the margins in this game, I’m strangely calm. Our Big 3 had a ho hum night, Miami’s Big 3 went supernova, and the only reason they pulled out the W is our overabundance of turnovers. I saw a team that could keep pace easily with Miami clicking on all cylinders, but we were sunk by Parker’s diminished effectiveness as the game wore on (the hammy start acting up?) and the CONSTANT stream of turnovers.

    Get Parker some rest to hopefully fully heal, and STOP THE TURNOVERS. That is our one main adjustment. STOP. TURNING. THE. BALL. OVER. I’m sure finding some ways to keep LeBron or Wade from gaining momentum will help as well, but I think the problem is solvable on our end. Keep the turnovers under 12 and we can win. Under 8 and we WILL win.

  • Cheyenne Harty

    I think TD played okay– 20 points on 60 percent shooting ain’t that bad. Positionally he was solid and must have been exhausted defending the paint from the infinitely penetrating Heat– not to mention the respect he has to give Bosh’s outside jumpers. Tony was brilliant in the first but useless in the second half. And Manu was ineffective the entire game. Watching Manu hurt me the most. It’s painful to watch one of my favorite players decline into a parody of himself. So much of his once electric and elusive game depended on rapid changes of speed and direction. Now it’s as if Manu’s transmission is slipping and stalling in second gear and his CV joint is on the fritz. This slower step is too easy for defenders to read and leads to terrible shooting, numerous turnovers, and an inability to get to the rim. Maybe it’s time to put Manu in the garage and try the de Colo out for a spin.

  • bob mcgraw

    im sorry but if the spurs had won this game it would of crushed all hope for miami but they blew it. it was a very uninspired game by san antonio i dont care about adjustments they just didnt really show up. i mean letting all of miamis big 3 go off on you on your home court was disheartening id be embarressed if i was the spurs for that effort. now they have to win the next game and one on the road it doesnt look good. none of the spurs big 3 have played well except for the first game of the series. manu is non- existent what they heck is going on its like the spurs forgot to play basketball when they got in the finals. they better show more desire next game that was pathetic.

  • merkin

    You’re right, Manu has turned into a hoopty.

  • JT

    I’ll add one more thing about the Spurs, why the heck do we allow time and time again Wade and Lebron to get to the basket for a layup without a hard foul. Did they learn nothing from Miami’s last series. Foul them hard at the basket, so annoying to see the parting of seas when Lebron gets to the rim. We really are missing Steve Jackson right now.

  • chromao

    It has been a weird Finals so far. The only typical Finals game was game 1, fortunately a Spurs victory, the other three games resembling more regular season games, particularly in the secon half. Contrary to @Graham, I am not confident going foward to the next two games. My reasoning is that as the series progresses, the tendency is that the teams get the feel for each other, who is hot and confident, who is struggling and tentative, who is playing through injury, etc. Therefore, the occasional bursts of confidence and scoring like we have seen from Mario Chalmers, Mike Miller, Danny Green and Gary Neal will tend to regress to the mean in the next couple of games, and teams will rely more heavily on its stars. Chalmers and Miller have already been regressing, as have been Green to some degree. The problem for us being 2-2 and going forward regarding star play is that while Wade and Bosh had regained their confidence, Duncan’s play has been erratic most of the time, Parker faded considerabily in the second half of game four and Ginobili has been MIA (no pun intended ;-) ). I really do not know if we have some brilliant adjustments left to make beyond trying to reduce turnovers. Daring them to shoot mid range shots clearly did not work in game 4.

  • chromao

    One aditional comment: in the summer of 2012, I watched the south american leg of the FIBA olympic qualifying tournament. Throghout the tournament Ginobili was playing so poorly, by his standards (Scola being the one carrying an aging Argentina team), that I thought “that’s it, Ginobili is washed up , and our chances at a fifth title really ended with OKC in the WCF”. Then he played magnificently in the deciding game against Brazil.

  • Graham

    Tim did get plenty, and Tiago was just AWFUL that game. We have no consitent post threats outside of those two.

    Attacking Wade wasn’t going to happen either. He was guarding Danny Green, who frankly doesn’t have the skillset to draw fouls on Wade. Forcing yourself out of your comfort zone to attack a perceived ‘weakness’ isn’t a sound strategy. See Memphis and their perimeter shooting last round.

  • Len

    Nope, sorry. Tim did not get “plenty”. The Heat went extra small to start the game and the Spurs ran dozens of high PnR’s and hardly ever went to Timmy in the block. He was usually the screener. Not to mention, Tony was completely worn out in the 2nd half. They could have tried to save him for later in the game.

    And the Spurs can run PnR’s and get switches so that Wade is on Tony or Manu. I’ve seen the Spurs do it many times before and attack a certain defender. It’s not out of their “comfort zone” at all. In fact, with all the switching the Spurs force, it’s right in their wheelhouse.

  • NYC

    What I don’t understand is why is his passing gone to shite? In the last couple of games I’ve seen him just throw the ball away, make ill-advised and even more poorly executed passes, and resort to desperate stepback 3s that are way off the mark.

    I understand if the transmission is slipping, but why the steering??