Did Spoelstra overplay his hand?

When the NBA Finals were scheduled to begin this past Thursday night, I couldn’t help but think of the matchups between the starters since the first few minutes might determine the outcome of the game. Some matchups were obvious (Kawhi Leonard vs. LeBron James for example), but there were others that interested me just as much.

One of those least talked about matchups was between Chris “Birdman” Anderson or maybe Udonis Haslem against San Antonio’s Tiago Splitter.

One of the few reasons this matchup interested me was my curiosity of how Tiago was going to help out in the paint while trying to neutralize Birdman’s energy off the glass or Haslem’s mid-range jumper. This wouldn’t be one of Miami’s “best” lineups available, but they certainly would be more balanced by each position’s offensive and defensive abilities against the San Antonio Spurs.

If you watched the game or paid any attention to the statistics after the game, you saw we didn’t get those matchups at all. Instead we got Rashard Lewis starting at the center position. I know he’s done well in the playoffs during the last two deciding games against the Indiana Pacers and there’s plenty of reasons to defend his starting position in the NBA Finals, but the Heat became a more vulnerable team on defense because of it.

What some are failing to recognize with this is that this is an adjustment lineup. Lewis entered the starting lineup to expose the slow front court of the Indiana Pacers. David West is a slow undersized power forward and Roy Hibbert is a tall rim protector who was forced to leave the paint to protect jump shooters. This adjustment worked against them with their short rotation and slow personnel. On the other side of the court, the Spurs went with their traditional lineup before it was adjusted for the Oklahoma City Thunder.

While it was clear the traditional Spurs lineup wasn’t working for the team, they had enough offensive fire power to stay in the game and take the lead after the first quarter where they clearly looked uncomfortable with Miami’s lineup. Coach Popovich opted to keep cornerstone Tim Duncan and his front court partner Tiago Splitter off the floor at the same time and rotate the two big men with smaller quicker lineups.

That proved to be significant as the Spurs clearly tired the Heat out going into the final quarter. The Heat’s starting lineup is a good adjustment to any team, but where do they go from here? They have a few options, but they could be fatal going into Game 2 and beyond.

These are some options they have to their starting lineup by switching to these options.

Chris Anderson: They can try a traditional lineup against the Spurs, but this now makes them slower and their offense suffers greatly. San Antonio could now freely start their two big men in this lineup with Duncan likely protecting the paint with his length and Splitter guarding Chris Bosh out around mid-range territory or from beyond the arc. Both teams would essentially have the same type of offense on both ends with the exception of Duncan posting up opposing while the Heat don’t have that luxury on their end. With Boris Diaw coming off the bench for the Spurs, he’d likely be more aggressive against a bench without a defensive mindset if Birdman starts.

Shane Battier: He started the majority of games for the Miami Heat in the power forward slot and while he was their frequent starter, the Heat’s lineup was not very “traditional” as the definition would go. Battier stretches the floor and would possibly bring a more calmer environment to the team. He has the same role as Lewis offensively as a spot up shooter, but he’s certainly a better overall defender than him. The problem with Battier at this point of his career is his slow footwork. He’s best guarding a spot up shooter like himself, but the Spurs don’t have anyone to meet that criteria. San Antonio has players who play off the ball and look for their shot, but their frequent moving on offense would bother Battier to say the least. The one upper hand Lewis has on him is his wingspan which can change a shot while he recovers, but that’s about it. It’d be the same offense we saw in Game 1.

Ray Allen: This is the unlikely option, but would be a realistic one depending on Erik Spoelstra’s desperation. This would undoubtedly be Miami’s best offensive lineup with possibly seeing Chris Bosh at the center position and LeBron James at power forward. This lineup would cause huge problems for the Spurs, even if they adjust to it during the game. The downside to this lineup is not only the defensive side of the ball, but the depth of the bench for the Heat would possibly be nothing. Allen is their primary option off the bench and his movement off the ball with helps from screens helps their stars rest a few minutes on the offensive end. The Spurs would stay in the game with this lineup’s defensive liabilities, but they’d quickly counter with a bench unit of Patty Mills, Manu Ginobili, Boris Diaw, and Marco Belinelli. Pop would most likely counter this lineup with possibly starting one of the bench guards, but the second unit would still be trouble for the fatigued starters who’d be in the game to face them or the lackluster talent coming off the bench.

Did Erik Spoelstra show his best possible lineup in Game 1? That’s debatable but I would say so. They’ll likely stick to the lineup that we saw in the first game with him stressing they “have to make their shots”. The problem is the Spurs move too much on offense for this team and the use of their legs on the defensive end likely wears them out for jump shooting duties.

If Spoelstra started a more traditional lineup, they may have had an advantage going into Game 2 with possible lineup changes and knowing what San Antonio would do from Thursday’s video. Now the Heat are left having their best shooting versatile lineup as a liability and exposed. Any other adjustment would be exposed by the Spurs’ ball movement and speed. Don’t get me wrong, this lineup is a good adjustment against the Pacers, but the Spurs played terrible in the first game and still torched this lineup.

Where does the Heat coach go from here?

What ever it might be, the Spurs will be ready for it because they’ve already taken advantage of their best adjustment.