As was the case a year ago, the 2014 NBA Finals between the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat is knotted at one game apiece after Games 1 and 2. The venue to start the series changed—playing at AT&T Center this postseason compared to AmericanAirlines Arena in 2013—but home-court advantage has meant very little.
These two teams are proving to be evenly matched once again.
It’s become increasingly clear that the Spurs and Heat are—without argument—the two best squads in the Association. The rematch between them felt inevitable, and it hasn’t disappointed thus far.
In the second game of the series, San Antonio and Miami were tied 12 times and experienced 17 lead changes. How’s that for a back-and-forth affair?
In their Game 2 bounce-back win, the Heat committed more turnovers than San Antonio, dished out 10 fewer assists, drained four fewer three-pointers and had a measly 12 bench points. Those stats suggest that Miami should have lost the game. Nonetheless, it outscored San Antonio by 10 points in the paint, clamped down on the Spurs defensively—holding them to 43.9 percent shooting—and received a dominant performance from LeBron James.
Following a woeful first quarter—two points on 1-of-4 shooting to accompany three turnovers—James got everything going. He finished with 35 points, 10 rebounds, three assists and two steals. He didn’t turn the ball over in the second half and shot 14-of-22 from the field overall (draining all three of his treys).
LBJ was determined to avoid heading back to South Beach facing a 2-0 series deficit. Despite stellar performances from San Antonio’s own Big Three—Tim Duncan (18 points, 15 rebounds), Tony Parker (21 points, seven assists) and Manu Ginobili (19 points off the bench)—Miami pulled out a close victory.
Missing eight free throws didn’t help the Spurs’ chances.
Now the series shifts back to Miami. Can the Spurs swing momentum back in their favor, or will they lose back-to-back playoff games for the third time this postseason?
Seeds: Miami Heat No. 2; San Antonio Spurs No. 1
Series: Tied 1-1
Schedule for Series: Game 3, Tuesday, June 10, 9 p.m. ET (ABC); Game 4, Thursday, June 12, 9 p.m. ET (ABC); Game 5, Sunday, June 15, 8 p.m. ET (ABC); Game 6*, Tuesday, June 17, 9 p.m. ET (ABC); Game 7*, Friday, June 20, 9 p.m. ET (ABC)
Key Storyline for Miami Heat
Miami had to play the final four minutes of Game 1—and most of the fourth quarter—without James, who was battling leg cramps.
The scorching temperatures inside the arena caused by an air conditioning malfunction had players and fans struggling to stay cool. When James was forced to the bench, San Antonio took advantage. It closed the game on a 26-9 run and won by 15.
Game 2 played host to a different narrative. The Heat didn’t have to play without their best player during crunch time, and it paid huge dividends.
|Heat with LeBron James On/Off Court|
|Game 2 Stat||On Court||Off Court|
|Average FGA Distance||11.5 ft.||16.2 ft.|
|ESPN Stats & Information|
James’ impact when he was on the court was clearly the biggest difference.
James had yet another ho-hum performance by his lofty standards, but the supporting cast must produce at a higher level for Miami to win its third straight title.
Erik Spoelstra’s second unit contributed just 12 points during Game 2. Ray Allen scored nine of them.
While the Spurs hang their hat on a balanced offensive attack that can include different catalysts on a game-to-game basis, the Heat continue to be dependent upon the Big Three of James, Wade and Chris Bosh.
Underrated cogs like Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole and Chris Andersen will have to chip in more points when they’re on the court.
Key Storyline for San Antonio Spurs
Great performances from Duncan, Parker and Ginobili have already been noted, but what are the Spurs getting from their own complementary players?
The short answer: not much.
The two primary culprits thus far in the NBA Finals are starting swingmen Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green.
Leonard has earned a bit of a pass for not scoring in double digits through two games, because he has the unenviable task of defending James. He’s expelling so much energy on the defensive end of the court that his offense often becomes an afterthought.
Bleacher Report’s Dan Favale wrote about that in a recent column, citing the 22-year-old’s passiveness.
“Leonard has hoisted only 14 shots through Games 1 and 2. During Game 1, he was especially quiet, jacking up just five shots in an apathetic offensive performance the Spurs cannot afford for him to have.”
That’s certainly a fair point. Even though the goal of San Antonio’s offense is sharing the ball and relying on unselfishness to get good looks—rather than for players to “get theirs”—Leonard shouldn’t be afraid to look for his shot more often than he has been.
His offensive repertoire has improved dramatically since he entered the league. Gregg Popovich needs the youngster to exhibit that on more possessions.
Green, meanwhile, has knocked down 50 percent of his three-point attempts. He’s continued to display a hot hand from distance. Due to that, he’s a guy who should be looking for his shot early and often (he scored just nine points on Sunday).
“Getting Green more looks will be twofold. The Spurs—Parker specifically—must look for Green off dribble-drives early on, and he himself must be encouraged to shoot,” Favale wrote.
More involvement from Green and Leonard will only improve San Antonio’s deadly balanced attack.
There’s no reason to stray toward a different part of the Spurs roster when referencing major X-factors.
Leonard and Green are going to be those guys moving forward.
Ginobili has turned back the clock with a tremendous 2014 postseason. Duncan is still an interior rock, and Parker is showing no ill effects from an ankle injury that sidelined him during the Western Conference Finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Therefore, the play of the younger and less experienced starters is the wild card.
As for Miami, Coach Spoelstra is still waiting for his point guard to return to form.
Mario Chalmers hasn’t had the same confidence. That problem has simply been exacerbated by the fact that ‘Rio is continually getting into foul trouble. He had five personals in just 17 minutes of Game 1 and tacked on three more Sunday.
“He needs to be more attentive to technique and earlier in his thought process,” Spoelstra said of Chalmers, per the South Florida Sun Sentinel’s Ira Winderman. “Things are happening very quickly obviously at this level of competition and your preparation before the play happens is paramount.”
What Coach Spo is saying makes sense, but people seem to forget that Chalmers is a 28-year-old veteran. If the speed of the game is too much for him now, why was this not a problem in the past?
Chalmers needs to play sound defense without fouling in order to stay on the court and find an offensive rhythm. His contributions—mainly from beyond the three-point arc—will be huge in terms of negating what the Spurs’ supporting cast can do.
Key Matchup: Bench vs. Bench
Obviously, marquee matchups like Leonard versus James and Bosh versus Duncan will continue to define this series. But what about the second unit for each squad?
For San Antonio, guys like Ginobili, Boris Diaw, Patty Mills and Marco Belinelli have all had their moments. The Heat, meanwhile, get scoring from Allen and rebounding from Andersen—but Spoelstra is still searching for an additional spark.
After Shane Battier saw 14 minutes of action in Game 1, the veteran out of Duke received a DNP-CD on Sunday.
Spo mixed his rotation by going with James Jones for seven minutes and allowing Udonis Haslem to see the light of day, but those two combined for two fouls and that was it—Jones was 0-of-2 from the field.
Rashard Lewis’s contributions in the starting lineup have brought back flashes of his Orlando Magic days, but Miami’s bench is struggling.
The Spurs’ depth is one of its biggest strengths over Miami. That will be a noteworthy area to keep an eye on during Game 3 and beyond.
Biased fans on either side of this matchup believe their favorite team will attain the Larry O’Brien Trophy in six games.
Objectively speaking, this series feels as if it will go seven…again.
The Spurs and Heat are too evenly matched for any other outcome. This truly is a heavyweight bout between two juggernauts of the sport.
After a loss in Game 1, Miami made adjustments, upped its defensive intensity and pulled off a close win.
For Game 3, look for Pop to make adjustments of his own to ensure his offense stays focused for 48 minutes en route to a close road victory. Back-and-forth games may simply act as a precursor to a see-saw series.
Prediction: Spurs defeat Heat 101-97