Jun 5, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward Tim Duncan (21) talks with head coach Gregg Popovich during the first half against the Miami Heat in game one of the 2014 NBA Finals at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
In what will be remembered as one of the ultimate “what if” games in recent memory, the Spurs (eventually) took care of what they could control and dominated the Heat in LeBron James’s absence.
Reminder: Miami has won 12 consecutive playoff games following a loss. The last time they lost back-to-back games was in 2012 ECF vs. BOS.
— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) June 6, 2014
Although the absence of LeBron did play a part in the Spurs’ fourth quarter run, it didn’t tell the whole story—and the Spurs should be given credit where credit is due.
While the media has already blown up that part of the game out of proportion, San Antonio has diligently prepared for what looks to be a heated (too soon?) Game 2.
If the Spurs hope to buck this trend and head into Miami with a 2-0 series lead, they will have to make to the following adjustments.
Will The Spurs Be The 2013-2014 NBA Champions?
1. Limit the turnovers
Jun 5, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker (9) passes the ball against Miami Heat guard Norris Cole (30) in game one of the 2014 NBA Finals at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
Turnovers were essentially the story of the game.
The Spurs uncharacteristically morphed into the “bad” Spurs, a persona of the team that rears its ugly head every once in a while and showcases its ugliest brand of turnover-prone basketball.
This is what happens when you pass the ball a lot—you leave yourself open to turning it over, as well. Often we see that isolation-prone players (Carmelo Anthony, Al Jefferson, etc.) have low turnover rates, mostly because they don’t run the risk of turning the ball over with an errant pass.
San Antonio turned the ball over a whopping 23 times, with nine of them coming in third quarter. 23 times. San Antonio’s starters accounted for a large majority of the turnovers with 18, though Manu Ginobili did a terrific job of handling the ball and keeping it away from the Heat with only two turnovers.
According to NBA.com, the Spurs only managed to turn the ball over 14.4 times a game in the regular season, good for 11th best in the league.
In the postseason, the Spurs have actually decreased their turnovers per game to 12.8. The last time the Spurs had 20+ turnovers was when they got embarrassed on their home floor by the Dallas Mavericks 113-92.
In the end, it was incredible that Tim Duncan and company managed to stay close to the Heat in the midst of all their gaffes and unfathomable play—and even more incredible that they ended up winning the game.
Spurs won Game 1 despite 23 turnovers — most by a team in a Finals win since the Lakers had 23 in Game 1 of the 1982 Finals — ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 6, 2014
This ought to be a welcoming sign for head coach Gregg Popovich going into Game 2.
In spite of the fact that Miami is a very good and athletic defensive team, most of the Spurs turnovers in Game 1 were due to careless, lazy, mishandled passes and sloppy play.
Because most of the Spurs turnovers were self-inflicted, it is definitely something that they can fix going into Game 2 in an effort to play the Spurs brand of basketball throughout the entire game.
When San Antonio wasn’t turning the ball over, they were scoring at a very efficient rate by dishing out 30 assists, the most assists they’ve had this entire playoffs: 30 of their 40 made baskets were assisted.
Imagine if the Spurs had only turned the ball over 13 times, their playoff average. If the Spurs were given ten more opportunities to score, according to the stats their margin of victory would easily have surpassed 15.
For the Spurs to play their brand of basketball, they must limit their turnovers. If they can (and still hit their shots), then Miami may be in trouble.
2. Control the pace
Jun 5, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Manu Ginobili (20) passes the ball against Miami Heat center Chris Andersen (11) and guard Norris Cole (30) during the first quarter in game one of the 2014 NBA Finals at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
Playing the game at a different pace than you are used to can often lead to turnovers, which explains a lot of what we saw last game.
For the most part, the Heat played the majority of the game at their pace, with the major exception being the deciding minutes of the fourth quarter. Parker notes how the Spurs pushed the pace once LeBron went out, but the Spurs have to do that the entire game.
Parker mentioned how LeBron was asking to come out before his leg stiffened up, & TP said #Spurs wanted to increase the pace when they saw.
— Paul Garcia PS (@PaulGarciaPS) June 6, 2014
As the San Antonio Spurs figured out against the Oklahoma City Thunder, they are not an athletic team and that lesson can be applied to this series, as well. Because of this, the Spurs have to execute at a near perfect rate for them have success.
The Spurs execution is predicated on pace, so the Spurs must make a concerted effort to control the pace of the game throughout Game 2, not just when it’s needed most.
According to NBA.com, throughout these playoffs the Heat have actually been the slowest team in regards to pace (number of possessions per 48 minutes) at 87.81, while the Spurs have been one of the fastest at 96.08.
Something’s gotta give. Throughout the majority of Game 1, Miami controlled the pace of the game until the Spurs decided to flip the switch.
For the Spurs to control Game 2, they must effectively impose their will on the Heat. If they can, then they’ll be in good shape. If not, then the Spurs may be in for a wild one.
3. Somebody guard Ray Allen
June 5, 2014, San Antonio, TX, USA; Miami Heat guard Ray Allen (34) shoots the ball against San Antonio Spurs forward Tim Duncan (21) and guard Danny Green (4) in game one of the 2014 NBA Finals at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Eric Gay/Pool Photo via USA TODAY Sports
Ray Allen did his thing in Game 1, and his only pitfall was the fact that he just started to miss shots he would normally make. The Spurs were playing with fire the way they let Allen get free throughout most of the game.
Allen finished the night with 16 points, all of which came in the first three quarters, on six-of-12 shooting (three-for-eight from three), three rebounds, three assists and five steals. He even went throwback Jesus Shuttlesworth with this sick dunk.
Just looking at the box score doesn’t do justice to how badly the Spurs defended Allen on a night where he easily could have done more damage.
At one point in the game, Allen drilled three consecutive threes, much to the agony of Spurs fans. As always, Allen was curling around screens, often multiple screens, in an attempt to get the shots he wanted.
There was more than one occasion where the Spurs just completely miscommunicated and didn’t switch on ball screens, which led to wide-open threes by Allen. With Allen being the only real offensive threat off the bench, San Antonio has to execute better defensively when he’s on the floor.
Granted, Allen is able to get so many good looks because most of San Antonio’s attention is on LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, but it’s still unacceptable to see the best shooter in NBA history getting so many uncontested looks.
The Spurs won’t be able to completely eliminate Allen as a scoring threat —unless he does it himself and misses—but they at least have to understand what they need to do as a team and individually when he’s on the floor and zipping around like a fly.
Look for Coach Pop and the old guys to adjust accordingly.
4. Keep Wade out of the paint
Jun 5, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade (3) drives to the basket against San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard (2) and center Tiago Splitter (22) during the third quarter in game one of the 2014 NBA Finals at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
Dwyane Wade was a thorn in the Spurs side in Game 1.
While Wade didn’t have an overwhelming game line—19 points on eight-for-18 shooting, two-of-two from the free-throw line, three rebounds, two assists, and one steal—he was still able to get his buckets in the most frustrating of ways: in the paint.
As seen in this shot chart, out of Wade’s eight made field-goal attempts, six of them were in the paint. He was two-of-eight from the perimeter. Most of Wade’s points came in the first half, but his ability to get to the rim should be of some concern for San Antonio.
Danny Green drew the defensive assignment of Wade, which is the same matchup as last season’s Finals. Percentage wise, Green held Wade to a below average game. However, the baskets that Wade did get were mostly layups.
Green is reputed as one of the Spurs best defenders due to his athleticism and length, but one of his flaws is his habit of falling for ball fakes.
After attending Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, I noted how many times Green bit on Thabo Sefolosha’s ball fakes. Naturally, Sefolosha only shot the ball four times in the game, and all four shot attempts were uncontested after Green had flown out of the picture in an effort to contest Sefolosha’s shots.
While that is certainly a small sample size, his habit is more apparent in some games than others, especially when he’s tasked with guarding Wade.
Again, it is much easier said than done to stay at home when Wade progresses through his pump fakes, but Green must be more disciplined going into Game 2. He has to make Wade a jump shooter and keep him out of the lane in an attempt to stifle the Heat’s drive and kick action.
Wade’s paint presence had an effect on the rest of the Heat offense as Miami was able to shoot 12-for-29 from behind the arc, many of those being uncontested. The Spurs managed to dodge several bullets with the Heat missing the majority of their threes, but the looks that the Heat’s shooters did get due to Wade’s play should concern the Spurs.
It’s not only up to Green to limit Wade, but much of the responsibility lies on him. If Green can keep Wade out of the lane, then the Spurs defense will be much better situated for the rest of Miami’s attack.