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