Critical Keys for Miami Heat in Game 2 of 2013 NBA Finals
Now, this was basketball.
After slogging through the first three series of the 2013 postseason, first against an overmatched and altogether uninteresting opponent (the Milwaukee Bucks) and then against two bruising but offensively-limited adversaries (the Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers), the Miami Heat finally got to play a free-flowing and appealing style.
They just didn't win.
They didn't win because the San Antonio Spurs made even fewer mistakes down the stretch, and because Tony Parker, whom they had largely controlled on pick-and-rolls, made a circus shot when it mattered most.
But they didn't leave the game all that discouraged.
After all, since LeBron James and Chris Bosh signed with the Heat, Miami has fallen behind in six other series. It has not only won five of those series, but has only lost one game (out of 18) after facing a deficit, whether that deficit was 0-1, 1-2 or 2-3.
Let Dwyane Wade tell you:
"It's very urgent. Obviously you don't want to go down 0-2 going to San Antonio for three straight games. Odds are not that good. They are not in our favor. We're not a team that really says too much, this is a must-win game. But this is a must-win game."
So how do they win it?
Here are five ways...
(All quotes for this piece were collected through the course of the author's coverage of the Miami Heat for the Palm Beach Post.)
5. Keeping Tim Duncan from Getting Comfortable
Tim Duncan is known by many as "Old Man Riverwalk," a reference to his age (37) as well as the signature feature of the city of San Antonio.
In Game 1, he was the Sultan of South Beach.
The future Hall of Famer is arguably the premier player of his era, undefeated in four previous NBA Finals and rejuvenated this season due to a little less weight and much healthier knees.
Still, with that said, after a sluggish start, he had things a bit too easy.
Duncan missed his first five shots, mostly while guarded by Udonis Haslem, but went 8-of-14 the rest of the way, encountering too little resistance from Chris Bosh or Chris Andersen.
Erik Spoelstra also tried Joel Anthony on him for three minutes, and Duncan was 1-of-2 with two rebounds and a block during that stretch. Anthony has the length and activity to give Duncan the most trouble, but he's too much of an offensive liability to play major minutes.
"I would imagine they are going to use just about everybody they have there," Duncan said. "I know enough about them and I've prepared enough for them. Nothing really changes on how I attack. I just kind of play it as it comes."
Duncan finished with 20 points, 14 rebounds, four assists and three blocks.
Compare that to what the Heat got from Bosh, who had actually outscored Duncan in the teams' five most recent meetings:
Thirteen points, five rebounds, one assist, one block.
If that continues, Old Man Riverwalk will be walking out with the trophy.
4. Pressure at the Point of Attack
Gregg Popovich has no patience for reporters' probing.
After his San Antonio Spurs committed just four turnovers in Game 1, the fewest against the Miami Heat since LeBron James joined that franchise, Popovich refused to offer an elaborate explanation:
I have no idea. Sometimes you have turnovers, sometimes you don't. We don't do no-turnover drills. I don't know what those are. The guys did do a good job of taking care of the ball.
Too good of a job for the Heat's tastes.
The Heat, at their best, are attacking, aggressive defenders who force mistakes and then turn those mistakes into transition opportunities. But the Heat had only nine fast-break points in Game 1, even while the Spurs shot a low percentage (41.7 percent).
Yes, the Spurs are more poised and precise with the ball than the Indiana Pacers. But they did average 14.7 turnovers during the season, in the middle of the NBA pack, only 0.4 fewer than Indiana and 0.8 more than than fourth-best Miami.
Simply put, Miami didn't play with the same activity and force as it did in a swarming performance against the Pacers, especially late in the game, when fatigue appeared to set in and the Spurs had little difficulty getting into their sets.
As Spurs forward Tim Duncan noted:
It was a key coming in here that we need to take care of the ball. Their pressure defense is what they do, their ability to get in the open court. I think it was a bit of a nightmare, the very first play they come and make a turnover, they run it back and they dunk it right down the middle. That's what we want to stay away from. That's where they are at their best.
They need to be there more often in Game 2.
3. Better Crunch-Time Execution
So what can we expect over the next week or two after the San Antonio Spurs took Game 1 of the 2013 NBA Finals by the slim count of 92-88?
"I think it's a possession series," Miami Heat forward Shane Battier said.
By that, Battier meant the outcome will come down to one play at the right time.
That seems likely since little appears to separate the two squads.
Contrary to most of the narratives about the Spurs' savvy and experience, a possession series would actually favor Miami.
According to the NBA's official stats site, the Heat were first in the NBA this season in plus-minus (plus-3.3) during clutch situations, as defined by a game that has a margin of five points or fewer with five minutes or less left on the fourth-quarter clock.
The Spurs weren't bad either.
The Heat were first, by far, in offensive efficiency in those situations.
The Spurs were 15th.
In Game 1, though, the teams tied 9-9 in the final five minutes.
And the Spurs won.
"We had some poor possessions," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "There were a couple of uncharacteristic turnovers."
Two too many, as it turned out.
2. Chris Bosh Finally Finding His Form
Chris Bosh has undertaken the assignment.
He spent the offseason extending his range at the Miami Heat's request, trying to step out a bit more so his long two-point attempts would start counting for three.
But while he ranked among the league leaders from 16 to 23 feet, and while he did make some memorable three-pointers, including a game-winner as Dwyane Wade and LeBron James watched on March 29 in San Antonio, his overall percentage behind the arc did not improve.
He was at 28.4 percent, two ticks down from last season (28.6 percent), when he shot far fewer.
This new emphasis has also had the adverse effect of reducing his rim opportunities, whether that's a product of the offensive design or his own lack of aggression.
In Game 1, he did make six of his 12 two-point attempts, posting 13 points after totaling 21 in the previous three games combined.
But he made only one free throw and missed all four of his three-point tries, including one with 1:02 remaining and the Heat trailing by four
In that case, Bosh couldn't be blamed for shooting, not after LeBron James had drawn two defenders and left him so wide open. But he needs to start making more in order to justify his presence out there.
Furthermore, he needs to, as his teammates have said, "mix it up." That means putting the ball on the floor more. That even means the occasional post-up; James said if Bosh asks for the ball there, he'll get it.
"I have confidence in myself and my teammates have confidence in me, and every shot that I shoot I expect it to go in," Bosh said. "Some do and some don't."
Bosh hasn't made at least half of his shots since Game 3 against the Indiana Pacers.
It would make a big difference if he did it again, which means that maybe he needs to take a big step closer to the basket.
1. More Attacks from LeBron James
There's only one active athlete with whom anyone could find fault after a stat line like this:
And yet, after the Game 1 loss to the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals, LeBron James spent three days of press conferences defending his approach and being asked what he would change for Game 2.
The charge is that he was passive, which isn't really true. The Miami Heat forward attempted 16 shots, no fewer than three in any quarter, and fewer than two under his regular season and playoff averages. And he had six of his points in the closing minutes, four of them on layups, and the other two on free throws.
More accurately, he was premature.
Facing a defense that was packing the paint, he sometimes passed or shot a tick too early, before absolutely necessary, when he and the Heat might have benefited from another step.
As even he acknowledged:
"I had some more opportunities where I could have maybe been a little more aggressive or look for my shot. But I don't want to take away from any plays I made last night. I was able to still find my guys for some shots. We missed some shots."
They did, and so did he, missing six of seven attempts from outside the paint.
He's rarely struggled like that in two straight games this season, so expect him to make more of those attempts in Game 2.
Further, expect him to make more of the openings, however slim, that he has to attack.