The San Antonio Spurs fell to the Miami Heat in a 98-96 loss in Game 2 of the NBA Finals. Many have predicted this series to be a long series and hard fought between the two clubs, and they didn’t disappoint in the second game of the series. With San Antonio losing, the question of adjustments for the series can be made. The Heat looked more determined and more aggressive throughout the game, and showed they were going to try to expose the Spurs in what ever way they could.
With the series moving to Miami, here’s a few adjustments the Spurs can make and learn from their first loss in the NBA Finals.
Off The Ball Movement: The Spurs had little to no off the ball movement with the exception of who was going to get the ball as it was dictated by that play. Every play was predictable and didn’t make the defense think twice about coverage. The announcers were giving massive praise to the Heat for their defense, but what exactly did they do besides the minimum of what was asked of them?
They all funneled the ball handler on the pick-and-roll, but no one moved to make the pass easier and expose their rotations. The pick and roll offense was similar to a 2003-2009 San Antonio team and this personnel aren’t structured for that type of play with an aging Big 3. The Heat don’t have an abundance of quick players, but their rotations look quick when they don’t have to move far.
Know Your Limits: Tim Duncan had a great game (18 points, 15 rebounds), but his decision making was a problem for the Spurs late in the game. His slow rotations are to be expected, but to not rotate when he’s able to?
That Chris Bosh shot from beyond the arc that killed any momentum San Antonio had was mainly because of Duncan’s reluctance to try to pressure a shooter once he’s a step too late. Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy were quick to point out that it was Tony Parker’s pin down on the pick-and-roll that left Bosh open, but can the two former coaches explain how a point guard was supposed to contest a shot by a center?
Duncan later made a worse decision by pressuring Bosh at mid-court and the Miami big man just blew past him. There was no logical reason to do that and gave the Spurs defense a disadvantage to try to make up for it. Duncan played great early on, but it seems as his smarts wore down late in the game along with his legs. If Duncan stays back, it’s a harder offensive possession for the Heat. Duncan knew his limitations early on in the game and that’s why he had a huge impact early on, but he was clearly winding down later in the game with his lack of smarts.
Go Small, But Not Slow: One of the areas the Heat took advantage of the Spurs was when they went small. The problem when San Antonio goes small is that they can’t do it against a shooting lineup. Let’s make this clear: when a team goes “small”, doesn’t necessarily mean they go quick. The Heat are going with a small forward at power forward for a shooting lineup and that’s one that causes problems for San Antonio.
Every player on the floor is likely to make a quick rotation unless Duncan is on the floor. When he’s on the floor against a shooting lineup (ex. LeBron James at power forward and Bosh at center), the advantages the Spurs have are now liabilities. The Heat move off the ball with screens and go with a pick-and-roll at the top of the key with LeBron. Does Duncan protect the rim or stay on his man?
While it’s extremely hard for anyone to do that in any sense, it’s harder with Duncan. If you insert any remaining big (Tiago Splitter, Boris Diaw, or even Aron Baynes), they still chase the ball after the ball unlike Duncan. it’s either hit or miss on the play and the Spurs missed on it more than they wished late in the game.
Go With Your Gut: This adjustment is to Gregg Popovich. The Spurs were in a groove in the second quarter with ball movement and then Parker went down after a flagrant foul by Mario Chalmers. Parker seemed shaken and missed two free throws. Popovich went with his gut and substituted Patty Mills in the game. Mills is an energy player that moves off the ball to look for his shot and makes the defense scramble when he’s in action. We saw Parker and Pop talk close to the scorer’s table with what seemed to be Parker convincing Pop to put him back in the game. Once Parker returned to the game, the flow died down.
No one was moving off the ball anymore and Parker was holding onto the rock for too long. As far as also “knowing your limitations”, the Spurs’ starting point guard tried to take James off the dribble to what seemed to be a disastrous play as the ball as slapped away from him. The aging Big 3 of San Antonio, they can’t take the Heat’s aggressive players one on one.
Duncan couldn’t post up Chris Anderson late in the game, Manu Ginobili couldn’t get open running around without a screen, and Parker couldn’t shake off his defenders. Pop was right with his gut decision of taking Parker out and probably knows he was wrong to bring him back in with Parker’s pride playing a part in returning to the game.
Force James To Drive Early, Shoot Late: The Spurs were forcing James to become a mid-range jump shooter. You saw a defensive sequence by Kawhi Leonard which gave LeBron a 3-pointer with what was called “great” defense. You then saw another sequence that forced Miami into a shot clock violation with Leonard now pressuring James and passing it to Ray Allen for the turnover.
Both of them can’t be great plays because they’re so vastly different. The “great” defensive play was the man defense that was forgotten about in the second example. The first defense sequence was good if James can’t make that shot. He’s proven he can, so the Spurs have to adjust. They have to make LeBron use his legs on offense, that’ll tire him out for late in the game. San Antonio has to force him to become a slasher for the early parts in the game and then force him to use his legs on defense against the deep San Antonio bench.
The problem with forcing James to become a jump shooter (like that make from beyond the arc) is that there’s no pressure. LeBron knows where he’s at on the court and there’s no pressure. Some may argue that Leonard did pressure the shot, but where’s the “pressure” if he’s already elevating for the shot? The Spurs must pressure LeBron early because he knows he has the upper hand on that. Where will he get rest if he has to drive every drive and then guard Ginobili, Leonard, or Parker if there’s ball movement?
He’s a great player, but he’s shown to not be superhuman. James using his energy too early in the game will force him to miss jump shots later on in the game and that was a huge problem for the Spurs last Finals also.
The Spurs have plenty of room to adjust even if it was a close game. There are arguments of the referees of being unfair and also of missed free throws, but those aren’t adjustments you can make and are just missed opportunities. The Spurs need to play their level of basketball and stay aggressive on both ends of the floor with the squad that’s giving them the best opportunity to win the game. They also have to take advantage of the Heat’s weaknesses over their strengths since they’re going against a shorter rotation with their stars logging in heavy minutes.