AT&T CENTER--During All-Star weekend, San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich called it "serendipity" that the Spurs crossed paths with LeBron James in the 2007 NBA Finals before the reigning MVP reached the height of his powers.
With the Spurs testing their playoff legs through a brutal stretch of their season, Popovich hardly considered avoiding the reigning MVP on Easter Sunday to be the Spurs good fortune.
"It happens all the time in the NBA, we've all seen it before. No matter how good a team is, no matter what the team's record is, there will be to some degree a letdown mentally," Popovich admitted before the game. "It's hard to define it, all coaches try to fight it, so I won't know a damn thing until we get out there on the court and see if we respond the way we should respond."
Without LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Mario Chalmers on the court the San Antonio Spurs failed to produce the competitive response required to beat the defending championns. And though there was little new to take away from the game itself, the Heat's victory sans James and Wade provided three important reminders:
1.) Chris Bosh might be a quasi-franchise player, but he's still a formidable cornerstone largely overqualified as a team's third option.
2.) The San Antonio Spurs are hardly the only team with a well-implemented system capable of sustaining in the short term without key players.
3.) Manu Ginobili, struggling or not, is still an important component of this team.
Because Chris Bosh failed to lead a poorly constructed Toronto Raptors team to the playoffs, it's easy to forget he carried better iterations of his team to the NBA's second season with his underrated defense, sweet shooting stroke, and slippery drives.
Throughout the first quarter Bosh riddled the Spurs defense with long jumpers, both in pick and pop and face-up scenarios. Bosh's jumpers are of the variety the Spurs defense generally conceded to big men, but when he began consistently knocking them down--even hitting two of three three-pointers in the first quarter--it spread the Spurs defense thin and opened up other scoring avenues for his teammates.
It was Bosh who hit the game-winning jumper, a three-pointer off the secondary break from the top of the key that was mildly contested by a recovering Duncan.
"He's a heck of a player, number one, but he's also a hell of a shooter," Popovich said. "He knocked down a big shot, Timmy contested it and he hit a big shot to win the game. Give him credit."
The play was made possible by a questionable call two possessions earlier. With Kawhi Leonard running step-for-step with the Heat's Norris Cole, Cole appeared to trip over his own feet as he attempted a spin move and was rewarded with two free throws to bring the Heat within one in the closing minute.
Given an opportunity to setup a play, the Spurs opted to run a pin down to get Duncan the ball on the elbow. A quick decision by Udonis Haslem to switch onto Duncan forced the Spurs center into a difficult shot.
As the Heat rebounded, rather than allowing the Spurs defense to set itself with a timeout, the Heat pushed the ball. As Ray Allen came off a screen, Splitter left Bosh to double, leaving Duncan caught between Haslem and Bosh.
"I saw Haslem rolling to the basket and got sucked in a little too far," Duncan said. "Chris got time to get his feet set, he shot the ball well early--obviously from three--and made another one. It was a hell of a play on his part."
The Spurs have survived a string of games going down to the final possessions, and basic probabilities dictated that eventually one of those shots, calls, or loose balls would eventually go against them.
The Spurs lost simply because they failed to do their work early. Just as fans have praised the Spurs' system for carrying the team without its superstars, the Heat's system is both well-crafted and executed. LeBron James was absolutely right in noting how both teams feature a plethora of shooters that also double as intelligent passers.
Even without James or Wade, the ball moved swiftly around the perimeter, upgrading from good shots to great ones. Especially in the corner. The Heat found open three-pointer after open-three pointer, connecting on 12-of-28 (42.9 percent). The low point total (88 points) doesn't reflect the work done, merely the relatively slow pace the game was played at and their inability to rebound.
It was the Spurs inability to create pace that ultimately did them in. In half court settings the Heat managed to bottle up the Spurs basic pick and roll attacks with traps and hard hedges that cutoff Parker from his most desired options. Even without James, a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, the Heat managed to stick to their schemes and string out the Spurs pick and rolls, forcing long cross-court passes that allowed the defense to recover.
When the Spurs found success, it was getting the ball to Duncan in the middle of the court (17 points, 12 rebounds, and four assists), allowing one or two short passing or driving lanes to open up before the defense could recover; or finding Kawhi Leonard (17 points, 11 rebounds) with a quick ball reversal, allowing him to work the baseline for a series of dunks, reverse lay-ups, and three-pointers.
It was something the Spurs didn't execute often enough as shooters missed open three-pointers and Parker struggled to turn the corner and find the middle of the defense. This is where Ginobili's creativity and playmaking, even in light of his recent struggles, would come in handy.
"They did a great job on pick-and-rolls all night long. Without Manu, Tony is the guy who has to generate things for us and they pretty much took him out with all their double teams and hard hedges," Popovich said. "We didn't generate offense anywhere else except through Timmy. They did a real good job of it."
Close game that shouldn't have been close. Officiating was poor. Spurs defensive rotations were poor. Lineup changes were terrible. The decision to pass up an open 3 and drive the lane by Bonner was just plain stupid.
I just don't care anymore. The regular season is almost up, I'm tired of these games. Just fucking get to the playoffs healthy and that's fine with me. Playoffs are all that matter to me now. I usually don't even watch spurs games during the last few weeks of the regular season, and I'm going to keep that tradition. I know we'll be either the 1 seed or 2 seed in the West when it's all done, I could care less right now. I just want all our guys ready to go. Whoever we play in the playoffs, we play, no point of debating. Home court advantage is not THAT big of a deal, because the last two years, we've been ousted by seeds lower than us. So whatever, get to the postseason, where it really matters, and then I will watch.
We didn't play well, but that was the worst call at the end of the game on Leonard when Cole trip on his own feet. NBATV didn't even show that in the replies. It this was reversed and Parker tripped and got a phantom call to help beat the heat, it would have been all they would have talked about. #sternhatesthespursconpiricytheory
My blame is on Coach on this one... Stephen Jackson was playing great and in the final minutes he decided to sit him and play Bonner.
@LiveSpurs My thoughts in the first half were that Bonner might be able to loosen things up in the second. So in theory it wasn't the worst idea in the world. They needed to be able to stretch the floor and open things up. However, the moment Bonner passed up a completely wide open shot, I'd have liked to seen him taken out immediately.
@blanchard48moh @LiveSpurs Everyone was cold execpt Duncan and Leonard.. we needed someone tgat was going to make his own shot and Stephen Jackson was doing that I don't putting Bonner in was the answer. The trend was for Heat to get on the 3 point shooters. Since they were executing that defense well Bonner would have not done anything regardless.
@LiveSpurs @blanchard48moh @LiveSpurs With Bonner, the benefit isn't necessarily him hitting three-pointers. It's that bigs tend to stay with him in fear of giving up a three-pointer, which would've opened up driving lanes for Parker and slowed the hard hedges in theory. That being said, the Heat simply ignored Bonner and he failed to take the open shots afforded him.
To me, this loss fell almost entirely on Tony Parker. He looked sluggish and distracted on the court. Tony made Norris Cole look like the second coming of Devin Harris circa 2006 with how terribly he defended him tonight.
Our defensive rotations in the 3rd quarter were bullshit. We would let Cole blow by us and suck our defense in only to kick out the ball to one of the Heat's 15,678 three point shooters. It was unacceptable and way beneath our team's potential.
Our offense was just as out -of-whack. This again falls on TP's shoulders as director of our offensive sets. While the Heat's rotations were crisp and quick, we didn't exploit their main weakness which is also their main strength on defense: over-rotating. The reason the Heat have such a good defense is because they close out so hard and quickly. We had to use that against them to beat them. Ball fakes, solid passes, cuts should effectively turn the Heat's unbelievable defense into an exercise in futility as they scramble around, trying to get back into help position. Instead, we decided to play afraid; running all the way back to half-court just to avoid traps, throwing errant passes while trying to get rid of the ball, and rarely using triple threat position (i.e jab steps, ball fakes, rip throughs, etc.) to nullify the hard close outs. Kawhi seemed to be one of the few Spurs to get it.
Overall, just a really awful game to watch. One of the most disappointing Spur losses I've seen this season. Hopefully Pop gets our ass in gear because if we play that type of basketball come late April, we will be watching the Finals on our butts in June.
@CraigThomas Perhaps Parker missed a few passing lanes and allowed the ball to stick a second too long. But despite being a freak of nature and healing well ahead of projected timetables, he's still working back from a severely sprained ankle. He also found people early, and quite a few corner threes were available and missed. Still, he will have to do better in solving for this next time these two teams meet.
@blanchard48moh @CraigThomas I really hope this is the case. It wasn't just Tony's sluggishness that worried me, it was the fact that he refused to turn the corner on those super-aggressive traps the Heat would throw at him on the pick and roll. I know TP can fly right past Haslem or Bosh especially if they are trying to trap him at halfcourt. Instead, it was like Tony became afraid to deviate from the play and HAD to pass out of the trap even if it meant dribbling 15-ft away from the 3 point line.
Also, I think Pop should have switched Tiago/Boris on to Bosh on defense when the Heat played with a traditional PF/C lineup. This would have allowed Duncan to roam the paint like he's been doing this entire year, protecting our basket. That could have helped our slow defense last night.
Finally, switching on all screens last night (even post to guard!), what's your opinion on why Pop did this Jesse?
@blanchard48moh I guess so. I get nightmares of our 2010 series against the Suns whenever we start switching on all screens. With the level of individual talent NBA guards have, it seems counterproductive to allow one on one isolation plays with posts covering guards.
@CraigThomas my opinion is the Heat lacked dribble penetration and finishers without James and Wade. They were also hitting a lot of long two-pointers (generally inefficient shots). Might've been a calculated risk trying to dare Heat shooters to make a play instead of coming off for a look at a jumper.