Game 1 is done, a 92-88 San Antonio win that several of the Spurs characterized as “lucky.” Now come the adjustments for the Miami Heat, and they need to come on defense.
Forcing a ton of turnovers and getting easy buckets as a reward is how Miami mowed down the Indiana Pacers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals.
It’s how the Heat got the AmericanAirlines Arena crowd hopping in the first 20 seconds of Thursday’s NBA Finals opener, too, with Chris Bosh stealing a pass and Dwyane Wade getting a fast-break dunk on the other end.
“Pressure defense is what they do,” said Tim Duncan, the guilty party on that deflating turnover. “I think it was a bit of a nightmare, the very first play and they run it back and dunk it right down the middle. That’s what we want to stay away from obviously.
“That’s where they’re at their best.”
Fans sometimes miss that. LeBron’s’ locomotive moves down the lane, Dwyane Wade’s twisting challenges to the best shot-blockers, Chris Andersen’s flight-of-the-vulture put-back specials, those are the plays that rock the house.
Miami profits even more, however, when there’s chaos on the other end of the court. Thursday was the opposite. It was torture, as a matter of fact, with a measly four turnovers by the Spurs, tying the record for a single NBA Finals game. The fewest turnovers any Heat opponent had previously totaled in this postseason was 11.
Credit Tony Parker for most of that, and the Spurs’ trademark offensive efficiency, as taught and demanded by coach Gregg Popovich for the last 17 seasons, for whatever remains. This is more than LeBron James alone can fix.
That was demonstrated Thursday night when the four-time league MVP switched onto Parker in the closing minutes, pushing LeBron’s “1 through 5” reputation to the limit, and failed to prevent the scrambling improvisation of a bank shot that gave San Antonio the win.
So Parker got his 21 points and Duncan his 20. No great shock or embarrassment there. The problems come when Miami is forced to score too often in the half-court set. That led to just 36 second-half points for the Heat, and 5-of-18 shooting with four Miami turnovers in the fourth quarter. Chris Bosh took too many jump shots down the stretch. Wade didn’t score at all.
And LeBron? He was asked to do it all, as usual, when the Spurs eventually took and began to stretch the lead in the final period. Ask a man, even the strongest of men, to do that every night, as LeBron did in the previous round against the Pacers, and sooner or later he’s going to run out of gas, especially with a defensive specialist like San Antonio’s 6-foot-7 Kawhi Leonard hounding him every step of the way.
Whenever Miami ran into this sort of clog against Indiana or Chicago, the answer was always a steady diet of attacking, trapping defense. Doing that to Parker invites deft passes to open teammates, but Miami has to take the risk, fronting Duncan in the lane and daring San Antonio’s 3-point shooters to stay hot. As a group, they were nothing special in Game 1, hitting just 7-of-23 from long range.
There’s another facet of team defense that Miami needs to shore up. The Spurs lost the overall rebounding category but picked up half a dozen offensive rebounds. Two of those led to put-backs , including one by Leonard just as the Spurs were beginning to take control midway through the fourth.
“They take care of the basketball well,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We defended them actually OK. They shot 42 percent. It wasn’t for lack of effort. Some teams just move the ball better.”
San Antonio is one of those teams, and it’s the one team standing between Miami and a second straight NBA title. Better find a way to stir up the Spurs’ offense, then, with switches and blitzes and a cavalry charge of fresh players off the bench.
Miami let San Antonio get away with one Thursday. If the Heat defense played throughout Thursday’s game with the intensity it showed on that final Parker prayer, if every Spurs basket came as tough as that one, Game 1 would have been a different story.
“The fact that we didn’t turn the ball over really helped us,” said San Antonio’s Manu Ginobili. “We played most of the game five-on-five, and that’s what we want.”
What the Spurs can’t have is a rushing river of Miami fast breaks, 2-on-1 and worse.
Spoelstra will see that in his videotape review and pound it into his players at practice the next few days. Turning the Spurs over is the key to pushing Miami over 100 points, and the only way to put pressure on Parker and Duncan, two of the most unflappable foes that LeBron and company will ever meet.