The NBA Finals began in a stellar fashion with a very brisk pace and frenetic scoring despite stifling heat due to the loss of the air conditioning system in the arena. The San Antonio Spurs won their 11th Game 1 in a playoff series in the history of their franchise which ties the NBA record, and will look to take a two game series lead after Game 2 on Sunday night (8 PM, EST – ABC).
Both teams played very well in the series opener, and they are clearly the best two teams in the NBA this season, so as a fan, I am thrilled that they get to square off for the championship. My preseason prediction was that the Miami Heat would meet the Oklahoma City Thunder, and I had the Thunder winning in 6 games.
I am glad to see the rematch here between Miami and San Antonio, and I think that the Spurs will win the series in 6 games. The big question now is: Can Miami bounce back and win Game 2? In order for that to happen they need to make some adjustments, which is obvious coming off a loss, and they need LeBron James back to 100% after the leg cramps that kept him off the court in the closing minutes of Game 1.
However, the other situation that would have me concerned if I were the Miami Heat or in their fan base (which I am not) is that they played very well in the first half and they were still trailing, they played great basketball in the 3rd quarter to go up by 8 points, and they battled in the 4th and still lost the game. That would be concerning to me if I were the Heat because that means this is going to be a difficult series for them to win.
The pace of Game 1 was blistering with the action going back and forth at points at break-neck speed. That type of pace definitely favors the Spurs and how they like to play and they dictated the tone of that whole game, which was their strategy. Miami got behind early in the game and had to try to move the ball fast to get the game back to level terms.
In Game 2, if the Heat have any hope of tying up the series with a victory, they will need to slow that pace down and set the tone of the game early. The easiest way to achieve that for Miami is to force the Spurs into a half-court defense. The Heat thrive in a slower paced, half-court game, where they can move the ball around the perimeter and find a defensive mismatch or an open shooter.
In the half-court setting the Spurs will have to play defense closer to the basket, which will make it more difficult for them to run the fast break down the other end for easy baskets. The Heat can also utilize Chris Bosh more effectively in that type of pace, which they did on only a few possessions in Game 1, by having Bosh positioned out by the 3 point line. Since he is a threat to knock down that shot, it will force the Spurs defense to adjust which will consequently open a lane for LeBron James to drive the ball to the hoop.
In that scenario, if James drives to the hoop and draws two Spurs defenders and San Antonio has another defender out on the perimeter defending Bosh, it leaves open Miami shooters for James to pass the ball out to with clean looks at the basket. Miami got away from that mentality in Game 1 at several stretches and it cost them the game.
Drive and Attack
The Heat have to drive and attack the basket in Game 2, they were successful in the opener when Dwayne Wade and James drove to the rim against the Spurs interior defense. I understand that James stopped driving to the hoop when the cramps kicked up in his legs. The difference was noticeable in his approach while I watched on television, it reminded me of the “passive LeBron” during the Finals loss to the Dallas Mavericks where he just hung around the perimeter and either passed the ball or launched some low percentage shot attempt.
I expect James to be in full attack mode in Game 2 because Miami cannot afford to go down two games in this series. The Heat will need his top performance for them to even this series up before heading to South Florida for Games 3 and 4. The Heat will also need their role players to step up and take the Spurs off the three point line.
San Antonio knocked down some critical 3 pointers in Game 1, and the Heat have to make defensive adjustments to limit that scoring element from the Spurs arsenal. That is always easier to state than to actually accomplish, especially if they run the smaller lineup out there with Tim Duncan creating havoc in the low post area.
The San Antonio Spurs could go up two games to none in The Finals with a very similar approach to their strategy in Game 1 as far as setting a quick tempo and knocking down open three point shots. The Spurs have to expect Miami to make adjustments going into this game on Sunday, so they could play their small lineup against the Heat more often than they did in the opening game.
In fact, I was surprised how much the Spurs coaching staff used their bigger lineup with Tiago Splitter and Duncan on the floor at the same time, rather than rotating those two in for one another. The Heat characteristically do not rebound the ball very well, so I thought it was not necessary to run two big men at them.
However, the big lineup seemed to work pretty well against the Heat, so it was not a failed experiment by San Antonio. The benefit of the small lineup that the Spurs utilize is that it forces the opponent to cover such large areas of the floor. The Thunder had a difficult time trying to defensively guard that small lineup in the Western Conference Finals. When the Spurs get the production from Manu Ginobili like they did in Game 1, they are a tough team to defeat.
The last point is the turnovers, the Spurs lost possession so many times on sloppy mistakes and bad bounce passes, but give the Heat credit for capitalizing on those mistakes and converting many of those turnovers into baskets. The Spurs made all those miscues and Miami still lost in Game 1, if the Spurs cut down on the turnovers and set the pace again early, the Heat could be in a big hole in this series.
Can LeBron James and the Miami Heat bounce back? We will get the answer to that question on Sunday night.