Only Tim Duncan, Boris Diaw and Manu Ginobili played well for the San Antonio Spurs until everything changed in the final minutes of the fourth quarter in game 1. The rest of the team – from Danny Green to Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard, were one big disappointment, finding it very difficult to make their game plan work against an excellent defense. Sometimes lady luck shines on those who deserve it.
The Spurs don’t deserve the NBA title more than the Heat do, unless you’re a Spurs fan who feel that they were robbed of a fifth NBA title by one Chris Bosh rebound and another corner three from Ray Allen. They play pleasing basketball – smarter basketball than most of the teams in the NBA, but that doesn’t make them a team that should win the title just because they pass the eye test with flying colors.
The Spurs play a certain way – which is fast, relentless offensive basketball that keeps the ball moving to find open three-point shooters because that is their advantage. They don’t have a superstar player that is like LeBron James or even Dwyane Wade that can dominate the game on his own with isolation. Tony Parker has his moments and so does Manu Ginobili, but if the Spurs would be playing that kind of basketball all the time, like their rivals the Oklahoma City Thunder, things wouldn’t have worked out so well.
So the ball moves, and the pace is relentless. Popovich knew what he was saying in the conference finals when he spoke about the good and bad of his team’s moments. The Spurs are great when the ball movement is fast. When they can’t find open players and are forced to slow down the play, they’re suddenly not such a great team. For most of game 1 in the Finals, the Heat’s swarming defense that found new life with Rashard Lewis on the floor made them look less than impressive.
Boris Diaw is a special player because of how Popovich described it: He’s a big man who plays like a perimeter player when necessary. He isn’t an exceptional shooter but a good enough one, and he can play, dominate in the post while passing like a point guard with amazing vision. In short – he makes them play big and small at the same time, even if he doesn’t have the blocking ability of Tiago Splitter.
So are we going to see something different from the Spurs? Probably not. Maybe some changes on defense and matchups from time to time, but although the Spurs’ system makes it look like they have more than one way of scoring and winning, it’s simply a more free-style version of other, boring and predictable things we see from the rest of the NBA, which is about taking individual talent and riding it out, hoping it works.
The Spurs know they caught something of a lucky break with James’ injury in the first game. They might need to hope those cramps keep bothering him or the A/C stops working again, as it seemed to hurt the Heat a lot more than it did San Antonio, actually playing better when things got hotter and sweatier. Slowing down simply isn’t an option, because it gives the advantage back to the Heat defense, which for a while there looked like it had all the answers to slowing down the Spurs.