Thanks to countless hours of film study, a couple years of head-to-head history and four actual NBA Finals games, the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs have probably run out of surprising ways to attack one another. Tim Duncan, for one, thinks his team needs to do something—anything—to break up that familiarity.
According to Matt Moore of CBS Sports, Duncan said Saturday after practice:
You get familiar with what's going on and you get into kind of a rut. Obviously their defense was rotating kind of perfectly and knowing exactly what we were going to do. So you have to change things up.
You have to change the pace of things, the way you do things, and in that way it kind of keeps them on their toes. More than them understanding exactly what they're going to do. I think that's what we have to do coming into this upcoming [Game 5].
There's some sound logic to Duncan's thoughts here. That shouldn't be surprising, as his "reasoning circuitry" was recently serviced by the engineers the Spurs keep on staff to maintain him.
You could see in Game 4 how comfortable the Heat were on defense. In fact, they turned San Antonio's offensive possessions into their own attacking opportunities, jumping passing lanes, rotating into the appropriate help positions with ease and denying most of the Spurs' preferred first options.
The Heat snatched 13 steals and generated 18 total turnovers in Game 4, which was a huge reason for their 16-point win.
With enough reps, any defense is going to get used to an offense's preferences—even when that offense is as mechanically sound as the Spurs' is. The Heat looked pretty comfortable in Game 4.
For proof of the value of a changeup, San Antonio need look no further than Game 3, when it employed a defensive wrinkle to flummox LeBron James into one of the most hesitant performances of his career.
LBJ figured out the best way to attack the Spurs' sagging defense quickly, drilling jumpers from all over the floor and attacking the rim in Game 4, but that defensive tweak had a lot to do with the Spurs notching the win in Game 3.
At this point, every game counts. So even if a change is only going to work for a single game—or even a single quarter—it's worth a shot.
It's interesting to note that the Heat don't seem to need to make as many adjustments as the Spurs do. Miami's success is predicated largely on using its defense (when it decides to show up) to generate scoring opportunities. When the Heat get stops, everything else seems to fall into place.
Duncan wasn't specific in his suggestions for how the Spurs need to change, but he did cite "pace" as a potential avenue. The Spurs should probably tread lightly here, though, as a frenetic tempo could play right into Miami's hands. With James around, it's dangerous to push the game into up-and-down territory, where his athleticism makes him so dangerous.
More realistically, the Spurs will probably address the predictability of their pick-and-roll attack. That'll involve varied timing from the roller and probably a few instances in which the ball-handler eschews the screen altogether, catching Miami's strong-side defense off guard.
Or maybe Gregg Popovich will just clear out and let Tiago Splitter get a few isolation sets from beyond the three-point line. There's no way the Heat would expect that, right?
When two teams are as familiar as the Heat and the Spurs, surprises are hard to come by. But if San Antonio can hit Miami with something new in Game 5—whatever that might be—the Heat could find themselves heading back to South Beach with elimination hanging over their heads.
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