3-on-3: The NBA Finals shift to Miami
Two games in and we look set for another long, classic NBA Finals featuring the Heat and Spurs. As the series pivots to Miami for Games 3 and 4, ESPN.com’s Ethan Sherwood Strauss joined Matt and myself to discuss the series so far in today’s 3-on-3.
1. Which team should be more disappointed about being tied 1-1 in the series, the Spurs or Heat?
Ethan Sherwood Strauss, ESPN.com: I like the idea of a disappointment-off. I’d say the Spurs, because the home team’s objective is to hold serve. Also, the Spurs began a half with the score tied, hit an insane nine 3-pointers in that half… and lost.
Matthew Tynan, 48 Minutes of Hell: The Spurs were outplayed in the second half of Game 1 before LeBron left, but then continued to go on a crazy-hot 14-of-16 stretch in the fourth. In Game 2 it felt like San Antonio outplayed Miami for most of the game, yet the Heat were right there all night and capitalized on a stagnant fourth for the Spurs and one of those amazing LeBron nights. I’ll say the Spurs should be more disappointed. They had the better opportunity but didn’t take advantage at home.
Andrew McNeill, 48 Minutes of Hell: The Spurs. Call me crazy, but I think San Antonio has shown itself to be the better team through two games, though the series split doesn’t quite reflect that. I wasn’t as down on the 23 turnovers in Game 1 as much as some were and the Spurs really should’ve taken Game 2. LeBron is the best player on Earth, though, and he’ll make the Spurs pay for their mistakes, which he did in Game 2.
2. True or false, the Spurs should continue to start Tiago Splitter alongside Tim Duncan?
Strauss: False, and I say it with the obvious caveat that Popovich knows more than I do. I’m just not a big fan of the combination when they’re facing versatile teams. It’s good for protecting the rim, but it leaves San Antonio vulnerable in transition, and the lack of spacing gums up their offense.
Tynan: True. In the nine minutes the two spent on the court together in Game 2, the Spurs scored 144.8 points per 100 possessions. Bad news is they gave up 150-plus. It’s not the offense that hurts most when they’re on the floor against the Heat, it’s the defense. Miami’s floor-spacing forces both big men to uncomfortably plod around the perimeter chasing 3-point shooters. But there’s a tangible hesitation when it comes to Popovich slipping Boris Diaw into the starting lineup. He loves him coming off the bench with that second unit, and for good reason. I think the Spurs continue to start Tiago because it’s best for their rotation situation. For better or worse.
McNeill: True. I think Pop’s quick hook of Matt Bonner in Game 2 showed that he doesn’t trust the Red Rocket enough in this series and it’s important that Diaw continues coming off the bench for San Antonio. Through the first two games, Splitter has performed better against the Heat than he did last season, but I think you’ll continue to see Diaw play heavier minutes (no pun intended) each game. Diaw simply matches up better with Miami defensively and spaces the Spurs offense to an adequate level.
3. What’s going on with Kawhi Leonard?
Strauss: He’s expending a lot of effort on defense, I think. For the most part, I believe he did a great job defensively on Sunday. LeBron just hit a bunch of difficult shots. I’m not so worried about Leonard’s offensive slump, but he does seem to be a bit out of sorts when handling the ball against Miami’s scrambling defense.
Tynan: He’s getting more attention this time around, and I also think the Spurs’ defensive scheme is playing a part in it. The biggest difference I’ve seen is that he’s just not attacking the glass with the same energy he did during the 2013 Finals, but I believe there’s a reason for that. This time, San Antonio isn’t employing that “totally sag off LeBron and pack the paint” strategy they so boldly introduced last year. Kawhi has more man-to-man responsibility all the way outside of the 3-point line. His efforts are now more concentrated within a game plan, which means he’s not able to freelance as much. He’s been worse in the rematch, but I doubt we’ve seen his best quite yet.
McNeill: During last year’s Finals, Leonard played a lot more smallball 4 than he has so far this season. Sunday night’s Game 2 was the first stretch where we really saw the Spurs go with four perimeter players surrounding Duncan. In 2013, those small ball lineups were a big reason Leonard was such a force on the glass. Offensively, though, I’m a little worried about Kawhi. He’s not as aggressive putting the ball on the floor and pulling up for those long 2s that, thought they may not be the most efficient shot, he’s so comfortable taking.