The NBA Finals match is finally set between the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat. Much has already been hyped for the matchup: The Spurs returning to the finals in six years, the Heat playing in their third straight finals.
Pushing out all the dramatic storylines, it’s time to see what the numbers tell us about these two teams and how things could play out on the basketball floor both from a quantitative and qualitative perspective.
Without further ado, here is your Spurs vs. Heat mega NBA Finals preview. All stats used courtesy of NBA.com/Stats.
Offense and Defense
Points Per Game – Spurs 101.6, Heat 97.2
Points allowed – Spurs 91.5, Heat 87.6
Offensive rating – Spurs 106.5, Heat 108.4
Defensive rating – Spurs 95.4, Heat 97
Scoring wise, the Heat are about to face a “Western Conference” offense. Teams like the Spurs, Denver Nuggets (103 points), and Golden State Warriors (102.7 points) are built as high scoring machines. The Heat have only faced low scoring teams like the Milwaukee Bucks (85.3), Chicago Bulls (91.9), and Indiana Pacers (91.8 points) thus far. Qualitatively, watching the speed of the game between the Heat and Pacers and then comparing it to the Spurs and Warriors series, you might think one series is a full marathon while the other is a 100 meter dash.
Defensively, the Heat must be given credit for holding their foes to less than 89 points per game, though none of the teams they defeated were offensive juggernauts like the teams of the West.
Field Goal Percentage – Spurs 47%, Heat 47%
Opponent field goal percentage – Spurs 42%, Heat 43%
3-Point shooting – Spurs 36%, Heat 36%
Opponent 3-point percentage – Spurs 34%, Heat 33%
3-point attempts – Spurs 20.5, Heat 19.8
3-Pointers allowed – Spurs 18.5, Heat 18.1
Free throw shooting – Spurs 76%, Heat 76%
From a numbers perspective on offense and defense, you could make the Heat and Spurs swap jerseys, play a game, and their numbers would be eerily similar. Both teams like to run 3-point shooters off of the 3-point line but both teams do allow ball movement as each team allows around 18 three pointers per game. That said, which team can knock down the open three’s will be telling of who has the advantage in the series.
Rebounds – Spurs 42.9, Heat 37.4
Offensive rebounding – Spurs 9.3, Heat 9.6
2nd Chance points – Spurs 11.6 points, Heat 13.5 points
Assists – Spurs 23.6, Heat 20.3
Opponent assists – Spurs 19.1, Heat 17.3
Down the line, the numbers continue to show little separation. One key figure is the opponent assists by the Heat. You could look at this low 17.3 opponent assists from two mind frames. A.) The Heat limit ball movement with James and Wade almost playing the safety positions in the backcourt, or B.) The Heat haven’t played a team with such a dynamic offense like the Spurs that enjoys moving the ball around without the ball even touching the floor at times.
Either way, the Heat’s defense is going to have a major task on its hand preventing the Spurs from moving the ball and finding the shots that they want. The Grizzlies too had low opponent assists per game numbers, but it didn’t matter against this Spurs offense as by Game 1, they had already shred the Grizzlies defense with their passing and would do so for the remainder of the series.
Turnovers per game Spurs 12, Heat 13.5
Opponent turnovers – Spurs 14.2, Heat 16.6
Points off turnovers – Spurs 16.6, Heat 19.1
Speaking of moving the basketball, this is one area the Spurs must be cautious of, taking care of the ball. The Heat force almost 17 turnovers per game and when you turn the ball over against them, you’ll probably see James or Wade in the air to finish a highlight dunk on the other end. When the guards penetrate, the ball gets swung around the perimeter, or the big men pass from inside the paint to the outside, the Spurs must make sure every pass is crisp and on spot. Any lazy passes will be intercepted by James and the Heat and turned into almost automatic points.
Steals – Spurs 8.3, Heat 8.1
Blocks – Spurs 5.4, Heat 5.6
Fouls – Spurs 20.2, Heat 22.8
Personal Fouls Drawn – Spurs 21.4, Heat 22.8
The data below is taken on a per game average in the last three minutes of a game so long as either team is ahead or behind by 5 points.
Spurs – 7.1 points, 0.4 turnovers, shooting 50%, 3-point shooting 56%, Free Throw Shooting 69%, Rebounds 2.3, Blocks 1, Fouls 1.3, Personal Fouls Drawn 1.9
Heat – 5.3 points, 1.2 turnovers, shooting 38%, 3-point shooting 20%, Free Throw shooting 70%, Rebounds 1.3, Blocks 0, Fouls 2.3, Personal Fouls Drawn 1.5
As was evidenced by some of their close overtime games against the Grizzlies, the Spurs were able to score in crunch time when it mattered, namely overtime.
Where each team likes to shoot from
Tony Parker – 23 points (18.8 FGA, 48%), 5.6 free throw attempts, 7.2 assists, 2.7 turnovers, 4.6 personal fouls drawn, Spurs were a +5.9 with Parker on the floor.
The Heat have faced some skillful point guards in these playoffs in Brandon Jennings (Bucks), Nate Robinson (Bulls), and George Hill (Pacers), but none of these point guards are on the level of Parker. Parker is going to be a totally different animal Miami hasn’t seen.
First, Robinson, Hill, and Jennings all didn’t shoot close to 20 shots per game and shoot almost 50%, which describes Parker getting the shots he wants off of screens in the perimeter or in the paint. Also, all of those guards where 3-point shooters who wanted to take three’s. Parker on the other hand, wants to attack your defense and keep it guessing. None of those point guards didn’t have the passing ability that Parker has in the way he can make passes almost without seeing where his shooters and cutters will be at all times.
Parker will see multiple defensive looks throughout the series. James said Mario Chalmers will first start off defending him as will Norris Cole. Both guards have the speed to match Parker, but not the individual defensive abilities. Then, the other answer is to put James on Parker since he’s had trouble with larger players in the past. As Geoff Sheen of Ticket 760 pointed out on his radio show, this will put Miami’s offense at a liability if James has to use his energy on defense chasing Parker and not having as much gas left in the tank on offense.
Against the Warriors, in games one and two, it seemed like Golden State had found the recipe for defending Parker by putting the bigger Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes on him. However, by game three, the Spurs made the adjustments and made Parker play off the ball and exploit mismatches with screens that he eventually figured out their defense and had his way with the Warriors for the rest of the series. Even a top-5 defense in the Grizzlies who had the speedy Mike Conley and All-defensive first team guard Tony Allen could never find an answer for stopping Parker, yet Chalmers, Cole, James, and a not-100% Dwayne Wade are supposed to stop him?
Tim Duncan – 17.8 points (15.6 FGA, 46%), 9.2 rebounds, 0.9 steals, 1.7 blocks, 1.9 turnovers, 4.8 personal fouls drawn, Spurs were a +4.9 when Duncan was on the floor.
The Heat may have a slight break in dismissing the Pacers’ frontline in Roy Hibbert and David West in the paint, but their now about to face a dangerous Duncan who can score and make plays without just posting in the paint.
Duncan can use his passing ability to find teammates in the open court or off screens, he can make himself a cutter, a shooter, and of course when the Spurs need to run “4-Down”, they can always go to him in the paint. Chris Bosh, Chris Andersen, Udonis Haslem, and company are going to have to be on their feet to defend the variety of weapons in Duncan’s arsenal.
Kawhi Leonard – 13 points (9.4 FGA, 57%), 8 rebounds, 1.6 steals, 1.1 turnovers, Spurs were a +8.4 when Leonard was on the floor.
Since most of Leonard’s energy will be used on defense, the Spurs will mainly need him to do the little things he already does so well. Rebound and create extra possessions to score, cut to the basket and finish, hit the open 3-pointer, or if the mismatch is there, take one of the smaller Heat guards down into the post.
Manu Ginobili – 11.5 points (9.5 FGA, 38%), 4.9 three pointers (32%), 5.4 assists, 2.4 turnovers, 1.4 steals, 3.5 personal fouls drawn, Spurs were a +9.1 when Ginobili was on the floor.
Looking at his numbers, Ginobili hasn’t had his best playoff run. However, he’s still a key part in making the Spurs’ system run at an efficient pace. Ginobili is needed off the bench and in crunch time to execute the pick-and-roll when Parker needs a break, and though he’s been a roller coaster shooting from the outside, the one part of his game you can count on is his passing and ability to get his teammates involved. The one area Ginobili must watch is his turnovers where he sometimes changes the direction of the Spurs’ offense.
Danny Green – 9.6 points (8.1 FGA, 45%), 4.6 three pointers (43%), 4.1 rebounds, Spurs were a +1.6 when Green was on the floor.
Green too will need to use all of his energy on defense, but offensively he must do the little things needed of him. Green must make the defense respect him by knocking down his outside 3-pointers and keeping his individual defender on their toes by cutting to the basket on occasion.
Tiago Splitter – 6.8 points (4.6 FGA, 58%), 3.7 rebounds, 1.3 turnovers, Spurs were a +1.6 when Splitter was on the floor.
Splitter’s role may be interesting. The Spurs are at their best defensively when the lineup of Duncan, Splitter, Leonard, Green/Ginobili, and Parker are on the floor. The problem with Miami is they like to play small ball if there’s no threat with big players to their defense. Small ball could limit Splitter’s minutes, so when he’s on the floor with Duncan, he must be as efficient as possible to make himself a factor in the pick-and-roll and make sure he’s not a liability who can’t contribute in defending Miami’s small ball lineups.
Gary Neal – 5.5 points (5.5 FGA, 36%), 2.6 three pointers (25%), Spurs were a +4 when Neal was on the floor.
Matt Bonner – 5 points (3.5 FGA, 49%), 2 three pointers (50%), Spurs were a +4.2 when Bonner was on the floor.
Unlike the Lakers and Grizzlies series, who had two more traditional slower paced big men, the Heat will be like the Warriors with more mobile big men and small lineups, which will probably keep Bonner on the bench. As well as the Red Rocket is shooting and performing in the playoffs, don’t be surprised if he finds himself on the bench for extensive time in the series.
Boris Diaw – 4.1 points (3.8 FGA, 42%), Spurs were a +4.5 when Diaw was on the floor.
If you go back and watch the Heat and Spurs regular season game from back in November, without Leonard, Diaw actually played a decent amount of minutes defending James. Don’t be surprised if Leonard picks up quick fouls to see Diaw defend James. If Diaw can force James into jumper while Leonard is on the bench, that’s a stable substitute.
Cory Joseph – 3.9 points (3.4 FGA, 47%), Spurs were a +2.5 when Joseph was on the floor.
LeBron James – 26.2 points (17.6 FGA, 51% FG), 3.9 three’s (39%), 7.3 rebounds, 6.4 assists, 1.6 steals, 3.3 turnovers, 8.5 Free throw attempts (77%), 6.9 personal fouls drawn, Heat are +8.3 when he’s on the floor.
The last small forward in the playoffs who could consistently score on the Spurs in the was Barnes of the Warriors. The only problem with that was Barnes was the Warriors’ third option since the Spurs were so concerned with Stephen Curry and Thompson. Unlike the Warriors, James is truly the Spurs’ only concern. Wade and Bosh, who both have nagging minor injuries, are still concerns, just not on the level of a whole team defense.
Leonard and James have never seen each other this season and as Project Spurs' contributor John Karalis wrote Tuesday, the Spurs’ best defense for James will be to leave Leonard on him one-on-one. James is regarded as the best player on the planet, and no one will lock him down by themselves, but if the Spurs can contain James as much as possible and take away his scoring buddies in Wade, Bosh, and all the shooters, then James alone won’t be able to defeat in the Spurs four times in the series.
Dwayne Wade – 14.1 points (12.5 FGA, 45%), 4.9 rebounds, 2.9 turnovers, 1.6 steals, 3.9 Free throw attempts (74%), 3.4 personal fouls drawn, Heat are +6.1 when he’s on the floor.
As Karalis also wrote, Green will be responsible for making Wade’s progress as inefficient as possible. Green did what he could against Curry and Thompson and those guys were faster and more mobile than Wade, who is battling a knee injury. If Green can limit Wade as much as possible, that’ll put even more of the work load on James’ shoulders.
Chris Bosh – 12.3 points (10.1 FGA, 46%), 1.9 three pointers (48%), 6.6 rebounds, 1.3 turnovers, 1.6 blocks, 3 personal fouls, 2.3 personal fouls drawn, Heat are +5.3 when he’s on the floor.
There are two ways to look at defending Bosh. A.) He wants to go on the outside to get his comfortable 18-23 foot jumper, but B.) Bosh receiving the ball in those areas he likes will be predicated on whether or not James penetrates and kicks the ball out.
Ray Allen – 10 points (7.9 FGA, 39%), 1.1 turnovers, Heat are +8.1 when he’s on the floor.
If Quincy Pondexter could light up the outside on the Spurs’ defense, then they should know Allen has the ability to do just as much or more of that damage. The team must do its best to limit penetration and the ball being thrown to players like Allen on the outside.
Mario Chalmers – 8.9 points (7.3 FGA, 43%), 2.3 three pointers (31%), 3.5 assists, 1.3 turnovers, 1 steal, Heat are a +4.7 when he’s on the floor.
The team must do its best to limit penetration and the ball being thrown to players like Chalmers as well.
Chris “Birdman” Andersen – 7.1 points (3.1 FGA, 83%), 4.1 rebounds, 1.3 blocks, Heat are a +6 when he’s on the floor.
The one area the Spurs must watch “Birdman” on is the offensive boards and movement in pick-and-rolls. Andersen is a rugged energy type player who does the dirty work to create his production in a game. Boxing out must be adamant when Andersen is on the floor.
Norris Cole – 7.1 points (5 FGA, 54%), 1.1 turnovers, Heat are a +5.3 when he’s on the floor.
Udonis Haslem – 6.3 points (4.8 FGA, 61%), Heat are a +2.4 when he’s on the floor.
Like Bosh, the Spurs must defend the pick-and-pop jumpers as best as possible.
Shane Battier – 4.3 points (4.4 FGA, 23%), 4.1 three’s (23%), Heat are a +4.1 when he’s on the floor.
Mike Miller – 2.1 points, (2.3 FGA, 35%), 1.8 three’s (28%), Heat are a +0.6 when he’s on the floor.
Miller, Battier, and Cole are all in the same boat as Chalmers and Allen. In order for all of these players to be key contributors, James has to penetrate the defense and kick out to the shooters who are still wide open. The Spurs’ perimeter defenders will have to do their job in not allowing Miami’s shooters any easy looks.
Though the numbers are almost a mirror of each other it’s hard to not look at this series as a whole team vs. the best player in the world. Regardless of how good James is and will be in the series, if he doesn’t get the help, the Spurs’ offense just has too many weapons while their defense is once again their backbone as it had been in the past.
The new saying goes, “the Spurs go as Tony Parker goes.” Looking at this Heat team, it seems like they’re going to have a ton of work ahead of them in limiting Parker. If Parker has his way in the series, then the Spurs could be holding their 5th championship in a few weeks.
The Heat don’t just need James to be spectacular, but they need Wade and Bosh as well. If those players play like their numbers are projecting them to play, the series will clearly be in San Antonio’s favor.
My official pick is the Spurs in five games. I see San Antonio splitting one of the two in Miami, and then closing out the series with the final three in town. The Spurs’ defense is once again Top-5 material and I just don’t see the Heat having as many weapons as San Antonio does, even though James could be a monster.
I see Parker being able to penetrate, score, and kick out to his open shooters, and after five or six games, possibly holding his second Finals MVP trophy and settling the debate of who the best point guard is today.