The 2013 NBA Finals shift to San Antonio on Tuesday night, where the Spurs and the Miami Heat will enter Game 3 deadlocked at 1-1 in a best-of-seven series.
San Antonio's Game 1 win proved yet again that Miami can be tamed on any given night, while the Heat's commanding Game 2 victory proved that beating the South Beach stars two games in a row has been impossible for the last five months.
The Spurs now have home-court advantage in this 2-3-2 series format, but a Miami win on Tuesday would shift that title back to the defending champs who are trying to get their dynasty moving in the right direction with another finals win.
As noted by ESPN's John Buccigross, Game 3 winners (with the series tied 1-1) since 1985 (inception of the 2-3-2 format) have gone on to win the finals nearly every year. The exception? The 2011 Dallas Mavericks:
Heat at Spurs, 9 ET ABC Teams that win Game 3 of NBA Finals series tied 1-1 in 2-3-2 format has gone on to win series 92.3% of time (12-1)— John Buccigross (@Buccigross) June 11, 2013
In this kind of series, it's the little things that will favor the victor when it's all said and done.
That includes free throws, fundamental basketball and taking advantage of the opponent's mistakes—things both teams did in each of their wins so far in the series.
Matchups will also have a huge impact on the way we look at this series, and as we focus our attention on the Alamo City for what should be a pivotal Game 3 on Tuesday night, here's a look at five matchups that will decide the series the rest of the way.
Tony Parker vs....Tony Parker
With all due respect to the individuals (Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole and LeBron James) who guarded Tony Parker in Game 2, the only person who seems to slow TP down these days is himself.
Parker's game is built on understanding the nuances of the pick-and-roll, when to attack the paint when the floor is spread and knowing when to step up and hit an open jump shot. He did those things to perfection in Game 1, including the basket that has been circulating as greatness since SA took a 1-0 lead.
In Game 2, he struggled with those aspects of the game.
Parker had just 13 points on 5-of-14 shooting in Game 2, contributing as many assists (five) as he did turnovers. That contributed to San Antonio's total of 17 turnovers, which the Heat turned into 19 points in what ended up being a 19-point game.
In Game 1, Parker had zero turnovers and the Spurs had just four.
Miami's team defense was outstanding in Game 2, and this in no way takes away from the fact that Erik Spoelstra's team turned up the intensity to curb some of the success San Antonio had in Game 1 from the field.
But Parker, and San Antonio's offense for that matter, is built around efficient, smart basketball that is determined by what the defense is giving them (to steal a term from the NFL). San Antonio has success taking advantage of matchups and doing well at the opposite of what opponents try to take away.
That starts with the floor general, who was masterful in Game 1 but came back down to earth in Game 2. Expect the Heat to switch all screens and continue to employ James on Parker during certain trips down the floor, but Parker must continue to be aggressive and make smart, controlled decisions to avoid another catastrophe in the form of a big Heat run.
Chris Bosh vs....Chris Bosh
Another self-mental battle to watch the rest of the way is how Chris Bosh decides to allow his role in the Heat offense to affect the way his team plays the game.
After struggling in Game 1, Bosh shot 60 percent from the floor in Game 2, and decided that his game was better served in the mid-range area of the court—not on the three-point line, where he shot 0-for-4 in Game 1 and missed a crucial three that would have given Miami the lead late.
Shandel Richardson had his Game 2 line from deep:
Chris Bosh finished a perfect 0 for 0 from the 3-point line in Game 2. Efficiency.— Shandel Richardson(@ShandelRich) June 10, 2013
It's no coincidence that a Bosh absence from deep allowed the team's other shooters (Chalmers, Cole, Mike Miller, Ray Allen) to do what they are paid to do—stretch the floor from the three-point line after James and Dwyane Wade attack the paint and draw multiple defenders.
With all due respect, Chris, you're just not a three-point shooter.
Ignoring the five seasons that he did shoot over 30 percent from the outside in the regular season and a shot chart in the playoffs that would suggest Bosh is good for the occasional corner three, I would point to his career 28.8 percent average and weak start from there in Game 1 as reasons enough for the third member of the Big Three to avoid drifting outside.
Bosh is one of the best in the game from 15-20 feet away from the basket. He doesn't have to slide out to the perimeter to make the offense better—that's what Miller, Allen and Battier are on the roster for. Bosh needs to play within himself and avoid trying to be the hero the rest of the way.
He can instead be the hero by realizing that of the six players that make up both teams' Big Threes, he is by far the one that can turn this series in one way or the other depending on his play. Fight the demons, CB—they don't pay you to shoot the three.
Tim Duncan vs. Udonis Haslem
"Stopper" is a term you'll hear a lot in the NBA, as the art of slowing down stars has given certain players that mantra over the years in big games.
Udonis Haslem has been that guy for the Heat through the first two games, taking on arguably the best power forward to ever play the game and limiting him to just three makes in 16 shots during the time period they've been on the floor together (via Hardwood Paroxysm):
CORRECTION: With Udonis Haslem on the floor in this series, Duncan is 3-of-16 from the field, 1-of-8 tonight.— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) June 10, 2013
Haslem admitted that guarding the skillful Duncan is no easy task prior to Game 3 (via CBS Sports' Matt Moore), but Haslem and the Heat together have done a nice job of denying him the ball down low and avoiding a situation where post-ups are a given in the San Antonio offense.
The two-time finals champ must continue to shine during the rest of the postseason so the Heat don't get in the same position they did with David West and Roy Hibbert during the Eastern Conference Finals and so the Spurs must adjust their offense to another area.
Duncan will also see a heavy dose of Chris Andersen and Bosh at times, but Haslem can help keep the Spurs frustrated in the early going by not allowing Duncan to get going early.
Heat Bench vs. Spurs' Team Defense
Bench versus bench is kind of a cliche in this series, with both teams relying on their "Big Three" more than the role players who are coming off the bench.
There was nothing in San Antonio's Game 1 win that suggested that its bench would have a big role in this series—Manu Ginobili had 13 points but shot less than 50 percent from the field in the process. Miami's bench actually outscored San Antonio's (30-22) in that defeat.
No matter who is on the floor for the Spurs, the defense is going to have to contend with a suddenly-hot Heat team from both the perimeter and in general in a team defense approach.
This Heat bench can have a huge impact on the series, because James is going to draw multiple defenders and has the pure basketball skill to use one hand to launch a rocket pass to the corner or the wing to an open shooter.
Miller and Allen (10-for-14 so far from deep in the series) must continue to shoot the ball well for the Heat to avoid become an isolation-heavy offense, which just doesn't suit this group in the finals anymore.
Threes give Miami a chance to spread the floor for James to attack the basket late in close games and are huge swings in momentum, which leads right into the last matchup to watch.
Miami Big Plays vs. San Antonio Consistency
Maybe more than any other team in the NBA, the Miami Heat feed off of positive (or negative) emotion.
That's not to say the reigning champs haven't been thwarted in games either way, but there's just something about a LeBron James block, steal or dunk that gives Miami players, coaches and fans the kind of advantage that's like the wind—you can't see it, but you know it's there when you watch the game.
It helped spike the 33-5 run in the third and fourth quarters that put the game away on Sunday, and it's going to be on posters everywhere forever after LBJ's block on Tiago Splitter at the rim helped completely deflate the San Antonio roster.
It's also exactly the opposite of the outcome in Game 1.
Playing with poise and execution down the stretch, the Spurs outscored the Heat in the fourth quarter of the opening game (23-16, the only quarter SA has outscored MIA, via ESPN's Stats & Info) to capture the victory and remind us all how consistent San Antonio usually is.
Game 2 was a different story.
Who wins Game 3 Tuesday night?
The Heat used the emotion of turnovers, fast-break points and big plays to take the wind from San Antonio's sails, forcing the Spurs' Big Three into mistakes and making them a non-factor by the time Gregg Popovich emptied his bench midway through the fourth quarter.
Looking at the series landscape and how this NBA Finals might play out, this matchup intrigues me more than any other. Which team can control tempo, use emotion in the way we've seen them use it and make the other side uncomfortable during the course of a 48-minute game?
Tune in Tuesday to find out, and the rest of the series to see if this matchup proves to be a strong indicator of who brings home the Larry O'Brien trophy in the next week or so.
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