‘Pace’ will play a big part for Spurs and Heat

During the NBA Finals, Philip Rossman-Reich of Orlando Magic Daily will be contributing to Project Spurs during the San Antonio Spurs' chase for title number five.

There was not a whole lot to glean from the San Antonio Spurs’ two regular season matchups with the Miami Heat.

After all, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili sat out the first game in Miami and then LeBron James and Dwyane Wade returned the favor in March in San Antonio. Quite honestly, the regular season means a whole lot less than it usually does when it comes to these two teams and the NBA Finals, which start tonight if you have not heard.

There are several patterns though that should give the Spurs pause in this series. It has everything to do with that series against the Warriors which gave the Spurs so much trouble – you know, the one where San Antonio suffered its only two losses of the postseason.

Through the postseason, San Antonio is playing at a pace of 89.7. That is well below San Antonio’s regular season average of 94.2 possessions per game, good for sixth in the league. The Spurs have changed into a fast-breaking team in the last three years, but it has become clear this postseason that the Spurs success comes down to simple execution.

Before the Grizzlies series (in which every game was played at a pace slower than 90), the Spurs were playing at a 91.1 pace. And, two of the four games played at a pace slower than 90 were the losses to the Warriors. So while San Antonio can be effective at a slower pace and are a fantastic half-court execution team, San Antonio also has to be able to get out in the open floor. The Spurs are not the half-court team they are sometimes stereotyped as.

Capability to play slow is different than preferring to do so. That leads to the biggest problem in this series.

The Heat are a team that likes to play fast. Miami was 23rd in the league in pace according to Basketball-Reference, but were deadly efficient on offense scoring 112.3 points per 100 possessions. Miami is a team that turns turnovers into points at an alarmingly efficient rate. Giving Miami more possessions is a death trap then. More possessions just means they are likely to score more points because they are so reliable at scoring. When looking at the Heat’s losses, the common thread is the Heat score less than 95 points and have an average pace of 83.3. Allowing the Heat to speed up the game only benefits them.

So San Antonio has to find a balance.

It is not so much about the number of possessions per game for the Spurs. It is about the kind of possessions the Spurs get and, more importantly, the kind of possessions they give up. Fast break possessions for Miami will lead to a painful series for San Antonio.

If the Spurs pick their spots, run when it is smart to do so and then grind the game out in the half court when it is not, their offense can find success. Throughout this postseason, San Antonio has shown it can play either quick or slow. It prefers to play fast.

That could be playing with fire against Miami unless the team does it right.

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