On Sunday night the Miami Heat delivered the San Antonio Spurs a beatdown that looked like it had no place in the NBA Finals. Victories by 19 points are generally reserved for the regular season, not for a pivotal Game 2 of the NBA Finals.
However, the Heat found a way to kick into another gear when they needed it most, and the Spurs felt the full wrath of it.
After Game 2, there were a lot of reasons thrown around for the Heat's success.
People said It was LeBron James coming on strong in the fourth quarter. Then someone would add that maybe it was Mike Miller and Ray Allen combining for 22 points. Or maybe it was due to another amazing, clutch performance from Mario Chalmers.
Undoubtedly, those all helped contribute to the Heat victory. But why is it so rare that Erik Spoelstra gets credit for a great win?
When your team loses Game 1 of the NBA Finals, isn't it generally a coach's responsibility to figure out a way to win that ever important next game? Spoelstra made some major adjustments, yet few people seemed to notice or give him credit for them.
On defense the Heat essentially threw everything they had at Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, and dared the other Spurs players to beat them. Even with Danny Green and Gary Neal hitting almost all of their three-point shots, they were a combined 7-of-8, it wasn't enough for the Spurs offensively.
Additionally, this wasn't a scenario where LeBron put the team on his back and carried them to the finish line. In fact, the team put LeBron on their backs and carried him to the finish line.
In general, detractors of Spoelstra argue that he doesn't deserve credit because he coaches the best players in the world. So what do you say about Miami's coach when the best players in the world aren't playing like the best players in the world, yet the Heat still manage to win by 19?
Instead of looking at all the anomalies on the score sheet, look at what, or who, created them.
Shane Battier was an integral part of the Miami Heat all year long. Right up into the Eastern Conference Finals he was playing key minutes every game. At the same time, Mike Miller was doing his best to keep his sanity on the bench.
Despite not using Miller regularly almost at all this year, Spoelstra made the call to give him Battier's minutes. Low and behold, there was Miller in Game 2 going a perfect 3-of-3 from the field for nine points. Miller also provided several hustle plays and played more than satisfactory defense through Games 1 and 2.
Barring injury, you almost never see a bench-warmer replacing a regular guy in the rotation strictly for the NBA Finals. Then again, Miller isn't your typical bench warmer, and Spoelstra isn't your typical coach.
If you want go back even further, you can question if the Heat would have got past the Indiana Pacers with Chris "Birdman" Andersen. Spoelstra was the Heat's main driving force behind signing Birdman after he pestered Pat Riley to give him a chance. So far Birdman is 6-of-8 from the field in the Finals with seven rebounds over two games.
Imagine a scenario where everything was reversed. The series began in San Antonio with a Heat victory, then the Spurs rebounded back in Game 2 to absolutely dominate and demoralize the Heat. Just for fun, let's even imagine that Popovich benched one of his key players to play a guy that had hardly got any minutes this year. If you really want to stretch it, imagine that Popovich had also gone out of his way to sign a player with a checkered criminal past who was now contributing to the team.
In that scenario, how much credit would Gregg Popovich get compared to what Spoelstra has?
Yeah, Game 2 was just one game. Everyone knows that Popovich is regarded as a better coach than Spoelstra. However, now is the time to start giving Spoelstra a little more respect.
The Spurs have already shown that the Heat can't win this series if they simply rely on LeBron to score 30 points every night. In Game 2, Spoelstra and the Heat showed the Spurs that they can beat them by 19 points without a single Heat player eclipsing 20 points.
Spoelstra doesn't ask for the limelight, and he'll never have it as long as he is coaching LeBron, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh. Never was that more evident than in a year where Spoelstra failed to win Coach of the Year when his team had the best record in the NBA and recorded the second-best winning streak in NBA history.
Earlier I said that it was rare for anyone to give Spoelstra credit for what he does as a coach, but that was a white lie. There's a group of guys, also known as the Miami Heat, who give Spoelstra credit after every win, and LeBron and Wade are two of his loudest vocal supporters. Instead of just admiring the Heat's players, maybe it's time to take a lesson from the respect they give their coach.
If Spoelstra can continue to outmaneuver Popovich in this series then that will be a huge boost to Spoelstra's resume and the honors will come flowing. Unfortunately, if the Heat do lose this series, the blame will likely find its way to Spoelstra. It may be too late for Spoelstra to win Coach of the Year in 2013, but winning another NBA championship would be a much bigger statement indeed.
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