The 2014 NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs is only two games old, yet there have been enough storylines thus far to fill an epic novel. Now the series shifts back to Miami with both teams looking to take control of their destiny.
The air conditioning controversy from Game 1, which led to the ridiculous criticism of LeBron James for suffering cramps like any human being in an environment like that, gave way to the dominating performance of the former MVP in Game 2.
We have already seen what the Heat and Spurs do when they are matched up with each other, playing a fantastic seven-game series last year, so trying to find any real separation between the two is practically impossible. Here's our best effort to do so, by looking at what must happen in Game 3 for either side to walk away victorious.
San Antonio's Starters Have to Show Up
The one thing that everyone loves about the Spurs is how deep their roster of talent seems to be every year. It's incredible to think a team in any sport could be this consistently great, winning at least 50 games in 15 straight years.
Yet even with all their depth and talent, if you take out Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, San Antonio's starters scored 20 points. If you add the two stars, the total jumps up to 59.
By comparison, the Heat's starting five scored 86 points. Even with the Spurs' bench outscoring Miami's by 25 points, it still wasn't enough to win the game.
ESPN's Brian Windhorst made an outstanding observation about the Spurs after the loss, noting that the way Gregg Popovich's system works requires everyone to be on their game night after night.
In (imposing his wall, LeBron) also exposed a weakness in the Spurs' construction. Hey, even the Death Star had a flaw, right?
By incorporating so many players into their plan, the Spurs also rely on so many people to play well. That's a lot of variables to account for...
In Game 2, the normally balanced Spurs couldn't even produce as many double-digit scorers as the Heat; Miami had four to San Antonio's three.
San Antonio doesn't have three players who are going to keep up with Miami's big three, but there's no reason a roster with Duncan, Parker, Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard should be getting outscored by 27 points.
LeBron Needs to Remain Aggressive
What's so great about the criticism of LeBron, whenever it happens, is the way it seems to bring out the best in him.
There's always going to be a section of the sports community that will hate him, either for The Decision or because no one is allowed to be compared to Michael Jordan, yet he always manages to do something to shut all the critics up.
Game 2 of the NBA Finals was a perfect example of James' ability to impact a game in every area with 35 points, 10 rebounds, three assists and two steals. As Mike Schur, aka Ken Tremendous, noted on Twitter after the game, what's the criticism going to be now?
What are we going with tomorrow? LeBron was selfish for not letting other people score? LeBron got lucky, somehow? Let me know.— Ken Tremendous (@KenTremendous) June 9, 2014
Even after Game 1, which saw Gatorade actually trolling LeBron a few days later for cramping, no one mentioned he still put up 25 points, six rebounds, three assists and three steals in 33 minutes (more than any other player at the time he left midway through the fourth quarter).
@ryanbkoo The person cramping wasn't our client. Our athletes can take the heat.— Gatorade (@Gatorade) June 6, 2014
Fans and media members love to see how athletes respond to criticism, almost like they have control over the way someone plays, and LeBron was more than ready to answer the bell in Game 2 by being the best player on the planet, whether it was scoring eight points in less than one minute or creating space in isolation.
Even the three-point shot that Bosh hit late in the fourth quarter to put Miami ahead 95-93 came because LeBron was driving to the basket and the Spurs were so afraid of what he would do that they left Bosh all alone in the corner.
LeBron will always be the focal point of any series, so it was great to see him take control of a game as only he can.
Size vs. Speed
What's the biggest key to victory in Game 3?
The Heat and Spurs are such polar opposites from the ways they are coached to how the rosters are constructed that you can't figure out which direction a game is going to take until well after the tip-off.
Miami has the best athlete on the court and more speed with LeBron, Wade, Bosh, Udonis Haslem and Norris Cole than San Antonio can ever hope to have.
The Spurs aren't going to win any track meets, but they have a huge advantage on the inside with Duncan (7'0"), Leonard (6'7"), Tiago Splitter (6'11"), Boris Diaw (6'8") and players who attack the weakest part of the Heat defense.
As Lee Jenkins of SI.com discussed, Parker is brilliant at driving the lane and forcing the Miami defense to react in ways that leave it vulnerable:
Last June, Parker's hamstring eventually diminished his impact, and this time around he is supposedly struggling from a sore ankle. But Parker is still able to collapse the Heat defense regularly, either finishing at the basket or kicking out to open shooters. The Heat's trapping style always makes them susceptible to teams that move the ball well. The Spurs move it as well as anyone and they attempted another 26 threes, too many for Miami.
Neither team has the ability to adjust to what the other does well, so controlling the tempo and pace of the game will determine who takes control of the series. San Antonio did it when LeBron left Game 1, while LeBron picked apart the Spurs in Game 2.
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