The Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs each have adjustments to make as the series moves to a Game 3 tied at 1-1.
Seven-game series always require an array of seesaw coaching adjustments.
The 2013 NBA Finals have already offered a glimpse at this chess match, as the Miami Heat’s coaching staff reacted swiftly to the San Antonio Spurs’ Game 1 plan to incredible results.
With the series knotted at 1-1 after the Heat’s Game 2 blowout win, the onus now turns to Gregg Popovich and the Spurs’ coaching staff to make adjustments as the series moves to San Antonio. Of course, Erik Spoelstra also has to make further adjustments of his own.
The Miami Heat were able to stifle the San Antonio Spurs in Game 2 by taking away their ability to move the basketball. When the long and quick defenders of Miami asserted themselves, San Antonio buckled.
As the Heat’s defensive pressure tighten up, the Spurs could not set up their offense like they're accustomed to.
San Antonio relies on its ability to fly up the floor and immediately begin running through options, but when the Heat slowed down ball-handlers and overplayed typically vacant passing lanes, this flustered the Spurs and prevented movement.
The Spurs can regain their balance by continuing to push the ball. Generally, San Antonio gets the ball up the court with the speed of Tony Parker, who initiates the offense by hitting a wing before cycling through for spacing.
However, the more Parker dribbles, the more he plays into Miami’s hands. The Spurs can adjust by creating more backdoor looks and utilizing weak-side screen-and-cuts. Misdirection can also play a role if San Antonio gets into its offense quickly enough.
Parker’s ability to take the ball coast to coast is a simple response to the Heat’s overplay. But the quickest way to move the ball up the floor is by the pass, meaning the Spurs must fire the ball up the court to create transition opportunities and push the Heat back on their heels.
By routinely getting the ball up the floor faster, the Spurs will give themselves more time offensively, which will ultimately open up Parker for more efficient looks.
The Miami Heat did a better job of creating opportunities to drive late in Game 2.
Their greatest success came after the initial screen and secondary pass. In other words, when someone passed the ball out of the screen, the player who received that pass quickly located the next option, which led to driving lanes.
San Antonio has done a good job of removing these openings when Miami sets its offense with stagnant movement. But when the Heat have created movement off the screen, it has led to openings that sparked the offense.
The screens don't need to be made high, as the goal is not for a drive-and-roll. Instead, the Heat are better served to set those screens near the elbow or even closer to the block.
In particular, LeBron James’ ability to set screens opened up both his teammates and himself.
Because San Antonio wants to sag underneath screens and sit in help, this movement loosens up the middle, and it also creates opportunities to find perimeter shooters Ray Allen and Mike Miller.
The Spurs are also leaving the baseline open to Heat drives as a result of spread offense. Miami can continue to drive the ball aggressively to the cup, as the positioning of Heat post players out of the paint drags interior defenders too far away to help.
In Game 3, this will likely be utilized more as an offensive strategy throughout the game.
The Heat’s pressure stunted the Spurs’ ability to effectively run the pick-and-roll.
Miami ran an aggressive, bigger defender on a quick switch to force tempo and to dare the Spurs to make the pass through the arms of Heat defenders and into the post.
An example of this came in the final seconds of the third quarter, when Tim Duncan approached the top of the key to set a high screen for Tony Parker. Chris Andersen switched immediately, using his length to take away Parker’s vision on a rolling Duncan.
Duncan actually slipped the screen and went straight to the block, where LeBron James' defense waited. James had properly shaded into help on the ball side of the floor.
But because James was coming from help, there exists a moment when Duncan is open to receive the pass. This creates the opportunity for a pick-and-pop to the reliable Duncan.
San Antonio can also respond to this overplay style of switching by setting multiple screen patterns that take away from the predictability.
The other option is for Parker to drive hard into the switch and pull the bigger defender back out to recreate the offense with mismatches. The Heat are flying back to original matchups though, and when that happens, it creates an opportunity for the Spurs to attack while Heat defenders are in dead space.
Additionally, when the help drops to the rolling Spurs player, it leaves a perimeter threat wide open. This player will generally be on the weak side, but Parker has the skill to make that pass or at least a quick swing.
If the perimeter shooter doesn't settle, it creates an opportunity for a secondary attack of the rim.
The Spurs have plenty of options in aggressively pushing back with the pick-and-roll.
LeBron James can take over offensively, and he’s going to need to in San Antonio.
While the Heat role players went off in Game 2—the bench scored 40 points—it’s harder to rely on that on the road.
This isn’t to say that James should transition to hero ball for Game 3, but he will need to score more. If his teammates aren't hitting perimeter shots, James should begin taking his opportunities to score in the paint rather than passing from there.
James should remain faithful in his teammates’ abilities, but he will need to adjust and take more shots if his teammates are not.
The Heat need to continue to share the ball by spreading the floor and making secondary passes. The Heat are 9-0 this postseason when they get more than 20 assists in a game, according to Mike Wilbon on the ABC postgame broadcast (also per Basketball-Reference).
James can't do it alone, and though his passing and defense is extraordinary and will need to remain present in Game 3, his offense will need to be more paramount in San Antonio.
The Spurs defense can adjust in Game 3 by attempting to take away the three-point shooting of Miami, but that ultimately would leave them vulnerable to isolation drives by James and Wade.
Instead, the Spurs need to continue to play conservative defensively and protect the interior, even if it leaves them susceptible to outside shooting.
It’s a pick-your-poison scenario, and the better pick is to allow Mario Chalmers and Mike Miller to beat you on the road rather than giving in to James’ driving talents. The Heat shot 10-of-19 (52.6 percent) from three-point range in Game 2, but they've shot just 36.3 percent from there for the playoffs as a whole.
It’s better to deal with Miami’s outside shooting than let James run loose.
However, it hasn’t really been an issue of San Antonio’s defense in Games 1 and 2. Offensively, the Spurs shot just 41.7 percent in Game 1 and 41 percent in Game 2. San Antonio seems to be going through a shooting slump at the wrong time, but that wasn’t the distinction in winning and losing.
The difference between a Game 1 win and a Game 2 loss was turnovers. The Spurs committed just four in Game 1; however, they turned the ball over 16 times in Game 2, leading to 19 points off turnovers.
So how do you adjust to take care of the basketball?
The Spurs weren't a low-turnover team in the regular season, averaging 14.1 per game. So this isn’t a matter of Gregg Popovich adding, “Hey guys, don’t do that turnover thing anymore,” in his pregame speech.
No, San Antonio needs to play with a greater level of caution.
The Spurs like to share the ball—evidenced by a league-best 25.1 assists per game in the regular season—and passing creates risk, especially against a ball-tipping team like the Heat.
The adjustment starts at the point guard position, where Parker and Gary Neal combined for eight turnovers in Game 2. The way Miami is trapping and overplaying ball-handlers, the Spurs need to initiate the offense quicker and limit overdribbling.
This means taking care of the basketball by passing it early in the offense and allowing crisp execution to outweigh individual decision-making. Getting into the offense takes away from the chaos that Miami hopes to instill.
By limiting turnovers from the guard position, the Spurs can limit the Heat’s transition offense and help maintain a less frantic pace that will help San Antonio defensively.