Following their resounding Game 3 victory, the San Antonio Spurs find themselves leading the NBA Finals by a 2 games to 1 count going into a pivotal Game 4 (Thursday, 9 PM EST – TV: ABC) where they will face an aggressive Miami Heat team who will desperately try to even the series.
The Spurs put on an amazing offensive display in the first half of Game 3, scoring 71 points in two quarters, and doing everything correctly on the offensive side of their strategy. San Antonio moved the ball quickly and often, making the Heat players chase them all over the floor before hitting open shot attempts.
Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard were outstanding for the Spurs, hitting clutch shots from the perimeter and driving to the rim as well. Green displayed some offensive skills which I did not know he was capable of doing in Game 3, and dispelled his previous performance record of being a better shooter on his home court than on the road.
The Heat trailed by as many as 25 points, but they trimmed that lead to the single digits with stellar play in the 3rd Quarter, only to have the Spurs get hot again in the 4th and close out the game for the victory. It is no secret that Miami will come out very aggressively to open Game 4 tonight, but they have to be mindful that playing that determined an attacking style will create numbers for the Spurs resulting from missed shot attempts or turnovers.
Both teams need to make some changes to their approach for Game 4 tonight but in vastly different ways. Miami has to make several changes, where the Spurs have to make some tweaks and also prepare for the potential strategy shifts that Miami may utilize in this pivotal game in the series.
Go Big or Go Home
I maintain the opinion that Miami has to look at using the bigger lineup tonight and a more defensive oriented lineup with using Shane Battier and Norris Cole more frequently in their player rotation than in previous games. The Heat could pair Battier and Chris Bosh and have some size in the lineup to handle the Spurs bigger lineup when they play Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter at the same time.
Unfortunately, the downside to that switch is that Battier provides no offense and Cole provides very mediocre offensive play, so without the right mix of the other three players on the floor, the Heat will be in a better defensive alignment but could risk losing significant offensive production.
This issue is compounded by Mario Chalmers basically disappearing in this series, he has missed so many wide open field goal opportunities it is unbelievable. Rashard Lewis has filled the void with hitting some 3 point shots at critical situations in the series, but his defense has been a liability. Ray Allen continues to struggle at points too, I have never seen him miss uncontested looks from 3 point range like he has on more than a few occasions in this championship series.
The big lineup could really benefit this Heat team which struggles to get rebounds because they are going to need extra touches and extra possessions to keep pace with the Spurs, especially if San Antonio continues to shoot the ball with the precision they displayed in Game 3.
LeBron on the Attack
The Heat need to get LeBron James back into attack mode, he did not push the basketball to the rim much at all, inexplicably, in Game 3. He also missed other shots from the floor that were either too long or too short which is unusual for him. He needs to get back into attack mode because the Spurs do not have an answer for LeBron when he gets into the painted area and penetrates all the way to the rim. This Heat team lacks the depth of the other teams that LeBron has won championships with in the past, he needs to carry more of the load. He needs to play like he did for the last three quarters of Game 2.
If the Heat make that change tonight and have LeBron attack the basket more frequently, then San Antonio has to determine a way to limit the damage that will cause to their defense. The change I had mentioned in my preview of Game 3 was that the Spurs should consider putting Boris Diaw in the lineup to defend Chris Bosh, and Diaw started his first game and played stellar defensively against Bosh. I think they can defensively deal with LeBron too if they make the right decisions on when to double team him, or when to switch off to a different defender depending on the situation in the game.
Leonard has played very well defensively against LeBron and I think that will be the Spurs initial game plan tonight as far as defending him without committing to a double team, which would leave an open shooter on the floor for Miami.
Build the Lead
San Antonio could build the lead in this game and in this series if they set the offensive pace early and as blisteringly as they did in Game 3. The Spurs let Manu Ginobili be the facilitator at many points in the last game, and Tony Parker was able to get very deep dribble penetration into the Heat’s interior defense through some adjustments they made to the pick and roll.
Parker was able to score on high percentage shot attempts or pass the ball out to an open shooter when the Heat defense collapsed around him in the paint. Either way, Parker was able to really cause some problems for the Heat.
However, the Spurs have to be mindful that they give Parker some rest, they had a situation late in Game 3 where Parker drove to the basket twice on very long paths to the hoop, and he was very tired. The way that Patty Mills hustled and played off the bench, I would consider rotating him in more frequently for Parker in this game.
I would also expect to see Leonard play and shoot as aggressively as he did in Game 3 again tonight, and his performance is going to be integral in whether San Antonio wins tonight, or whether this series will be tied at two games each going into Game 5 in Texas on Sunday night.
Miami defensively has to run the Spurs off the three point line, they have to prevent Parker from having open driving lanes to the basket, and they have to find an answer for the Spurs ball movement. The Heat could go with the big lineup to try and lock down on the low post aspects of the Spurs offensive strategy, but they may give up speed in chasing the Spurs smaller players on the perimeter.
The Spurs have to make some adjustments to the amount of switching they do defensively against Miami, they switch players especially on the backline much too often. They could get caught in several defensive mismatches if they continue with that approach, which they were confronted with when Miami mounted their comeback in the 3rd Quarter of Game 3.
The Spurs did do an excellent job of limiting Bosh and Dwayne Wade’s impact on the game in Game 3, and they made some excellent adjustments on the pin down play to Bosh that Miami has utilized frequently in the past.
Miami has an excellent record for bouncing back and winning in the postseason following a loss. San Antonio obviously wants to end that streak tonight and take a commanding lead in the series back home to Texas for Game 5 on Sunday. The Spurs outplayed the Heat in Game 3, now it is time for Miami to respond and show the basketball world if they have what it takes to win a third straight NBA title.