The fall back to Earth for Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and their feared pick-and-roll was a hard one.
After a Game 1 where the Miami Heat were terrorized and bombarded with relentless pick-and-rolls that featured Parker and Duncan getting whatever kinds of looks they wanted, they proved, once again, that they are led by a coach who has a great deal of talent that can perform such a task—one who can make the adjustments that win championships.
The hero in Game 1 for San Antonio was grounded to 13 points on 14 shots, shot only four free throws and had as many assists as he had turnovers. A stunning turnaround from the 21 points on 18 shots, six assists and zero turnovers in 39 minutes he had in the opener.
Parker, who had scored 64 points in his past three contests dating back to Game 3 against the Memphis Grizzlies, scored 10 of his 14 points in the first half and scored his last point with 1:16 remaining in the third.
The Heat would rip off the next 16 points, and Parker would end up spending the final 7:43 on the bench, replaced by the guys who only appear in blowouts. No heroics. No miracle bank shots that cheat time itself. Just being stopped by the league's top team when it comes to defending the pick-and-roll, according to SynergySports.
His pick-and-roll partners Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter also proved to be mortal, combining for 13 points on 5-of-18 shooting. San Antonio was able to score 36 points in the paint, 42 percent of its scoring output. Surprisingly, however, they had similar percentages for Game 1.
And yet, the Heat seemed to dominate the paint all night, on the offensive end included. They had an edge to them in Game 2 that was lacking in Game 1, evidenced by six blocks in the latest contest after having only two the previous night.
Or perhaps that edge is simply a basketball fan writing a story of a team having one of the most dominant stretches you'll see in an NBA Finals.
Miami made it a purpose to not get beaten by the Spurs' inside game a second consecutive time. They allowed the Spurs to shoot 10 three-pointers in the first half, keeping them comfortable, and then having them rely on that as their primary offense.
San Antonio would convert 50 percent of its 20 three-point attempts, but shoot 38 percent from within the arc. Miami was not going to get beaten by the floaters and drives of Parker, nor the post-up games of Duncan and Splitter.
Heat players depended on two key characteristics of their defense and making their opponent work: cutting the head off the snake and packing the paint.
The Heat are at their best when they are corralling the point guard and forcing them into turnovers, and they are at their best when their opponent is having to rely on low-percentage shots for their offense.
They allow their opponent to become comfortable with taking those types of shots early, especially if they're making them, and it eventually results in those low-percentage looks becoming an even lower percentage. Miami eventually finds time to adjust, as it showed after halftime in Game 2, and the Heat cut plays off before they start at the perimeter.
San Antonio shot 3-of-10 from beyond the arc in the second half. The Spurs weren't getting the looks they were getting in Game 1 from the paint, either.
Take a look at the Spurs' shot selection during Miami's game-breaking 16-0 run: missed jump shot by Parker, missed three-pointer by Manu Ginobili, missed jump shot by Parker, missed three-pointer by Manu Ginobili, missed three-pointer by Gary Neal.
And I didn't even mention the three turnovers, including this block by LeBron James that will go down in the history books. It was Miami Heat defense at its best: forcing their opponent into jumpers, turning the ball over and scoring easy buckets on offense as a result.
Obviously, turnovers played a large factor as they did in Game 1, but on the opposite end of the spectrum. The Spurs turned the ball over on 16 occasions and had only 16 assists. This, only a game after having the same number of assists, but turning the ball over four times.
Parker was completely thrown out of his rhythm as a result of Miami's improved pick-and-roll defense. Although he was able to get his in the first half, with Tim Duncan continuing to set picks that can only be achieved through a decade of playing together, he was completely shut off from the paint in the second half.
While it helped that Parker's jumper wasn't falling as it did the previous game, Miami was forcing its greatest opponent into difficult shots throughout a second half that featured a 30-5 run. The five turnovers Heat players forced him to commit, after having no blemishes in Game 1, were clear of an adjustment being made to keep the Spurs' dreaded pick-and-roll out of service.
The finely tuned machine that is the Spurs' offense, ranking second in Hollinger's offensive efficiency among playoff teams, was put into maintenance with the Heat eliminating the main component of their offense.
Miami could only learn from an offense that runs the pick-and-roll as frequently as the Spurs do. In time, the Heat are prone to figure such plays out. It's not as consistently deadly as having a 7'2" center that can shoot hook shots until his arm falls off.
It took 24 minutes, but the Heat eventually got a bead on where the success was coming from out of the pick-and-roll. They started off by not playing as aggressive on the picks, not buying into a double-team that could spell disaster with how well San Antonio moves the ball, and packing the paint to cut off any possibility of Duncan or Splitter getting an easy look inside.
Duncan and Splitter combined for 27 points on 11-of-25 shooting in Game 1. The looks they received in Game 2 were far different and far more constricting, as the Heat proved that their interior defense is not the equivalent of a piece of cardboard that has been left out in the rain.
Duncan was held to the worst shooting percentage of his NBA Finals career. He missed a few bank shots that he'll usually make, but the damage he was able to do inside was put at a minimum with only one of his shots coming near the rim, mostly due in part to a brilliant pass.
It was stopping Parker, however, that kept Duncan's offensive influence low. It was stopping him that forced the Spurs into 41 percent shooting and four points through the halfway mark of the fourth quarter.
James and Chris Bosh combined for six steals, making it extremely difficult Parker to get an entry pass as their mobility and length denied a lot of the easy looks the Spurs were getting in Game 1 off of the same plays.
Parker is able to constantly get into the paint because he's able to get around the pick with precision perfection, and then needs only a few inches of air space before he unleashes an unblockable floater that always skies above the outstretched hands of the tallest defenders.
In order to stop that, Miami has to keep Parker out on the perimeter and force him into either taking jumpers or having his teammates rely on jumpers.
It's at the top of the perimeter where the Heat execute their defense to perfection, though. Miami may have an interior defense that's easy to expose with size, but it happens so infrequently because the Heat do not allow their opponent to get that close to the rim.
This team doesn't have the best pick-and-roll defense in the league because it wants to. Miami is the best team at defending that type of play because it has to be. If the Heat can't force point guards into turnovers, their opponent ends up driving in on Bosh, who has improved his defense but is still not top-tier, and a 6'8" Udonis Haslem—or feeding it to a big man for a layup.
Parker wasn't able to get into the lane as he has become accustomed to because he continually got cut off either by a reluctance to shoot long-range jumpers or being shielded off a drive by the roll defender, who commits more to defending their original assignment and not Tony.
So, does this mean the Heat have it all figured out? They have the blueprint and we can call this a gentlemen's sweep, right? Well, no, because San Antonio's adjustment will come and they'll end up killing the Heat with pick-and-rolls again.
Limiting Parker and Duncan's pick-and-roll isn't easy for any team. As much as they use it, opponents have yet to find a consistent way to control it, and it's extremely likely that San Antonio ends up using it primarily again in Game 3 and finding success out of it.
But Miami can sleep easy tonight, as the pick-and-roll nightmares cease for now.
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