Say what you will about the first two games of the 2013 NBA Finals, but they've been anything but predictable.
Game 1 saw Tony Parker flailing about for 23 seconds of the San Antonio Spurs' most critical possession. In that last second, he faked out LeBron James and rose up for a difficult, rushed floater with literally 0.1 seconds remaining on the shot clock. It somehow went in, giving San Antonio a 92-88 win over the defending champion Miami Heat on their own floor.
Not even the most strident Jamesian defender could have imagined how the King and his minions would respond. Thanks to a suffocating 33-5 run between the third and fourth quarters, the Heat pulverized the Spurs in Game 2 and walked away with a 103-84 beatdown.
The narrative would go that Miami goes into Game 3 with "all the momentum." Does Miami have any more "momentum" than San Antonio did after Parker's crushing shot last Thursday? Of course not.
The only thing we "know" coming into this game is that it won't be the same as the one 48 hours ago. These teams are too good, too well-coached to come out with Del Negroian stratagems and expect the same result.
What should we be watching for in both teams' strategy tonight? Here's a quick, last-minute breakdown of a couple things worth noting.
Game 3 Information
When: Tuesday, June 11 at 9 p.m. ET
Where: AT&T Center in San Antonio
Storylines to Watch Tuesday Night
Spurs: Can They Knock Down Mid-Range Jumpers? And What Happens in PNR?
For much of Game 1, we got what we expected in the matchup between the Spurs' vaunted pick-and-roll attack and the Heat's equally devastating trap-heavy, aggressive defense. Miami bit hard toward Tony Parker on a great deal of San Antonio's pick-and-roll initial sets (though not as many as normal), and the Spurs did a great job of working the ball out and finding good looks.
Parker especially was brilliant. There has been much talk of his dagger to clinch Game 1 for San Antonio, but his work merely handling the ball would have been praise-worthy. Parker threw a multitude of pocket passes through Heat traps and consistently ran back and forth through more than one pick on a possession.
Tim Duncan crushed Mario Chalmers multiple times on first and second screens. I counted at least two instances where he was so caught off by a Duncan screen that he actually fell to the floor, including the video above. That's just fine screen-setting by Duncan and excellent schematic consistency from the Spurs. Chalmers and everyone in the AmericanAirlines Arena knew what was coming. San Antonio was just too good to stop it.
So good the Spurs were, in fact, that they turned the ball over just four times. It was an exercise in precision that seemed impossible to repeat against the swarming, athletic Heat attack. Which, of course, it was. San Antonio turned the ball over 16 times in Game 2, a hard regression to the mean that helped spur (sorry) the Heat's pulverizing victory on Sunday night.
The strange, or at least notable, thing about the Spurs' turnovers is that they were mostly self-created. Bad, overly aggressive passes were something of the norm. Those pocket passes that helped the Spurs thrive in Game 1 were hitting off legs; their timing was off just enough to throw everything out of whack. This particular Manu Ginobili sequence was quite the inspired exercise in putridity:
Perhaps the more notable takeaway from those Miami turnovers is that many were not as a result of traps. Erik Spoelstra seemed to adjust from Game 1's quick-strike strategy against the hard traps by having his bigs hang back in a more standard defense, much in the same way they did late in the Indiana series.
By nature, this strategy purposely gives up mid-range jumpers to the ball-handler. The Heat gladly gave those shots up on Sunday night, and though San Antonio employs one of the best 18-foot jump shooters in the league in Parker, those shots just didn't fall. And Parker really struggled to find good shots inside the paint when attacking the rim against the collapsed big, shooting just 2-of-5 from the restricted area in Game 2.
It will be interesting to see just how both sides adjust. The Heat have to know Parker won't continue to miss all those shots, while the Spurs know Miami won't simply abandon its aggressive tactics. That balance will be something to watch, both on Tuesday and going forward.
Heat: What Offensive Wrinkle Comes Next?
For those who watch things like this closely, perhaps the most interesting wrinkle of Game 2—even more than the hanging back on pick-and-rolls—was the Mario Chalmers-LeBron James pick-and-roll becoming deadly seemingly on the fly.
As San Antonio looked to be on the precipice of sticking around in this game and possibly even coming away with two in Miami, the Heat went to the Chalmers-James pick-and-roll on an inordinately high amount of possessions.
And it started late in the third quarter, right about the time Miami went on its run. While the Heat had intermittently used that look in Game 1, the proficiency was off the charts in Game 2.
And for all intents and purposes, James' role as a screener—at least with that level of repetition—is a new wrinkle. According to Synergy Sports, LeBron only finished possessions as a pick-and-roll screener on 2.1 percent of his finished offensive possessions this year. He was unsurprisingly excellent, though, shooting 61 percent from the floor.
There have been many who called for LeBron to do more work as a screener during the regular season and even during these playoffs—especially against Indiana. It seems, once again, James has gotten the memo just in time for a finals run.
The big question coming out of this is what comes next? Dwyane Wade has scored exactly four points through the first two second halves in this series. That's abhorrent, even for a hobbled version of No. 3. Miami can't rely on Parker missing easy jumpers and Chalmers being James' second banana forever.
One suggestion: Get Wade involved cutting around the baseline. The Heat had a decent amount of success having Wade play off the ball and using his still-great cut smarts to create advantageous offensive opportunities. Miami had a particularly deadly play in Game 1 where Wade came off a James down screen and curled immediately toward the middle after making his initial cut.
The Heat would be smart to revisit this, especially if he starts struggling.
And even if Wade isn't a factor on offense, his defensive effort has to pick up. Game 1 was one of his worst defensive performances of his career—no, seriously, of his entire career—and he improved in Game 2, but only to "kinda bad." He's watching the ball too much, not hustling in transition and getting beat by easy, easy defensive rotations. Playing the hurt card might work in excusing the offensive woes; it doesn't excuse poor effort.
As for Bosh, I'm not that offended by the way he's played so far. There have been times where he's attacked Duncan off the dribble to some success, and his defensive rotations have been excellent for the most part in this series. Should he just hit the repeat button on Game 2—where he was active on the boards and played his (reduced) role offensively—Miami should be just fine in that respect.
Wade, however, needs to step up. Whether that's by finding him new ways to get involved on offense or simply seeing him give effort defensively, either would be nice.