It wouldn’t be true to say that Tony Parker didn’t show up. After all he had a huge first half, but he simply disappeared after the break. Manu Ginobili is another, sadder matter, of someone whose age might have caught up with his ability. Tim Duncan was the only one of the trio that the San Antonio Spurs had to count on, but he too wasn’t enough to avoid a second loss in the NBA finals.
Once the shots of Danny Green and Gary Neal stopped falling at an alarming rate (if you’re the Miami Heat), the Spurs’ offense stagnated once again to a point where it completely collapsed in the fourth quarter. They turned the ball over 19 times in the game, and gave up 23 points for it. They scored only 17 points in the fourth quarter, eventually losing by 16 points, and lost the momentum they held going into game 4.
The defense that did so well in stopping LeBron James and the rest of the Heat suddenly found itself facing something Gregg Popovich either didn’t prepare for or simply couldn’t find an answer to. The Heat used only 10 minutes of Udonis Haslem and none of Chris Andersen. Tiago Splitter suddenly became redundant on the floor, as the Heat stretched the Spurs’ defense, and while their shot making on isolation jumpers was much better this time, most of their success came from the open lanes created by the Spurs being forced to attack shooters on every possession.
The Heat shot 52.5% from the field, but didn’t need any special day from beyond the arc to overcome their previous problem. The big three combined to score 85 points, and there’s not much to do against them when they’re hitting 57.8% of their shots together. The three combined to score 44 points in the paint, finally attacking the basket in a way the Spurs simply couldn’t handle, even if San Antonio got the line 14 more times than Miami did.
Tony Parker was the big question before the game, but Popovich said he looked fine to him. In the first half he was much more than fine, scoring 15 points in his usual, special way of weaving between two and three players to the basket. But the Spurs scored points in ways they’re not used to. The ball movement wasn’t there, despite the 49-49 score at half time. A lot had to do with Manu Ginobili making the wrong decision almost every time he touched the ball, scoring 5 points on 1-of-5 from the field.
In the second half, Parker said he felt tired. Maybe it was the injury, but the Spurs are possibly trying to conceal that fact in order to keep the Heat from attacking him more than they have so far. He missed all of his four field goal attempts and found the Heat’s traps and pick & roll defense too much to overcome. Once the two players in-charge of making the smart decisions in the backcourt for the Spurs were incapacitated, San Antonio couldn’t have kept up, even with Tim Duncan scoring 20 points.
Suddenly, Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard didn’t look like the greatest defenders in the world. There are only so much insane three pointers Green has in his arsenal, and he was “only” 3-of-5 from beyond the arc this time, without making a single 2-point-shot. Kawhi Leonard did score 12 points, but it seems that guarding LeBron James without the aerial cover of Splitter and Duncan isn’t as easy as it looked earlier in the playoffs, not to mention fatigue getting in the way, something Paul George experienced as well.
That’s something not mentioned enough. In this series, with two days of rest between games, the third game of the week is going to be especially hard on the Spurs, specifically with Parker slightly (or more) banged up. The Heat might be the older team on paper, but their key players have a bit less of problem facing the intensity of the playoffs, and the Spurs had an easy road up until now. In game 5, they’ll have three days of rest behind them, but with a lot of question marks about their ability to handle the latest adjustments by the Miami Heat.