After three encounters, two of them blowout wins, the San Antonio Spurs hold a 2-1 lead over the defending NBA champions, the Miami Heat. Where to from here? Game 4 offers another must-win for the Heat, and especially for LeBron James, while the Spurs seem quite comfortable with the way they’re playing so far in the NBA finals.
Adjustments is always the name of the game in a series, and the Heat are the ones forced to make more of them. As the history of finals blowouts can tell, every game is a standalone story, and it doesn’t say anything about the rest of the series and the direction in which it’s heading. The Heat ran over the Spurs in game 2, but it didn’t stop them from getting hit with a barrage of three pointers (16, Finals record) and go down beaten by 36 points in a rather humiliating experience.
They say great players have short memories, and the same goes for great teams. It’s the Heat’s turn to respond to two things: Their defense being picked apart by the ball movement the Spurs had going on, even without Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili on the floor, and the Spurs’ own defense, which has been able to keep James away from the basket and force him to let others try and win the game.
Role players are more than that, as we saw from Mario Chalmers in game 2 and from Danny Green and Gary Neal (combining for 51 points on 13 three-pointers). But the Miami Heat won’t be able to win without LeBron James, and with him the rest of the team, getting over their stagnant offense in two of the first three games. It’s more than just players not making open shots. It’s about James holding on to the ball for too long, and the lack of movement and an attempt to make anything happens when the Spurs defense seems initially to organized and strong to breakdown.
On defense, Miami need to turn up the pressure once again. Without a solid transition game and attack, their greatest advantages are taken away. That means better rebounding, after allowing San Antonio to have a Pacer-esque kind of game with 19 offensive boards, and to be a lot more aggressive when attacking the pick & rolls, especially from the big men. It worked very well in game 2, especially in the second half, and going about their business like they did in game 3 means once again leaving excellent three point shooters alone to tear them apart.
San Antonio are more concerned about the well being of Tony Parker at the moment. They did well without him on the floor in game 3, but a more serious absence is a completely different thing. Once Gary Neal stops hitting magical shots, the lack of intelligent ball handling and decision making will be noticeable. Manu Ginobili is usually a good guy to fill in that void, but his ability in this series when he doesn’t have a clear path to the basket has been like most of this season – disappointing, and giving the feeling that he’s far from his usual 100%.
Prediction – If the Miami Heat don’t find an answer to the clogging and stacking of bodies in the way to the basket, their defense alone, even at its best, won’t be enough. This is yet another moment of truth for LeBron James to show he is the stuff legends are made of. Especially with Parker not 100% and Duncan/Ginobili starting to slow down before a needed 3-day break, it’s now or never for the Heat, who I think will come out with a win to tie the series.