The default option is praising the San Antonio Spurs; their head coach Gregg Popovich, along with Tony Parker and Tim Duncan, for their intelligence, and how they’re so much different from the rest of the NBA. But in game 1 of the 2013 NBA finals they didn’t win because they played brilliant basketball, they won because Tony Parker got a little bit lucky.
Yes, it had to do with his skill, but eventually, the Heat played him just the way they should have on that play, and Parker found no way to the basket. The moment his one-on-one option was taken from him, Parker struggled to find his way to the basket throughout the game, yet still led the team in scoring with 21 points. He went to the floor, kept possession, his dribble, and somehow pushed through LeBron James’ soft block and made a shot with less than 0.1 seconds left on the shot clock.
Yet the Spurs didn’t execute the offensive plan they wanted to for most of the game. Tim Duncan found his way in the post, finishing with 20 points, adding 14 rebounds. But the Heat, after initially struggling to comprehend the passing game off pick & roll and switches that left shooters open again and again, before the Heat caught a grip of making quicker and better switches on those possessions.
Tony Parker still had his way in one on one situations, especially against Mario Chalmers, who it feels is getting bet time after time by very tough to stop point guards for a second consecutive series. But just like for most of this postseason, the Spurs’ offense hasn’t been about a game plan that was impossible to stop for opposing defenses.
The Spurs won with a few small plays, including some big defensive possessions by Kawhi Leonard, forcing turnovers on LeBron James with the help of Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker making the most of openings he saw. Just like in the series against the Warriors and the Memphis Grizzlies, it was more about the defensive execution than being extremely efficient on offense. Instead of running unstoppable plays, it fell to the level of execution on open shots.
While Spoelstra is great at adjusting between games, Popovich and his staff, and maybe even more than that, his leading trio of players, know what to do to make the right kind of fixes inside the game. That fourth quarter run (23-16) that turned the game around was about putting on the right kind of defensive scheme – partially traps on James away from the basket (leading to a couple of turnovers) and Tim Duncan not budding from the top of the key.
On defense, the strategy is simple: Let other players, not James, beat them in this series. The Heat won’t shoot this badly two nights in a row, and they’ll figure out a way to get things moving a little bit quicker and more aggressively, something the Spurs will have to adjust and prepare for. On offense, another game of finding it hard to do more than individual plays that have nothing to do with what’s planned and drawn on the board might not be enough this time.