Heading into Game 4 of the 2014 NBA Finals, the Miami Heat are looking to respond against a San Antonio Spurs team that looked as unstoppable as ever in taking a 2-1 series lead.
After Game 1 remained close for three-and-a-half quarters through the AC issues and after Miami gutted out a two-point win in Game 2, no one could have predicted the Spurs' performance to wrest back control of the series.
Suddenly, Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green were locking down on the perimeter and nailing just about every shot they took. They weren't the only ones firing on offense; San Antonio's ball movement reached the level of Platonic ideal, as the Spurs ended Game 3 in the first half by scoring 71 points on 76 percent shooting.
The Heat appeared to have the edge heading back home, where they had yet to lose this postseason. Now, it will be intriguing to watch the two-time defending champs figure out how to counter that Spurs attack in Game 4.
|2014 NBA Finals Schedule|
|Date||Matchup||Start Time (ET)||Channel|
|Thursday, June 12||Game 4: Spurs at Heat||9 p.m.||ABC|
|Sunday, June 15||Game 5: Heat at Spurs||8 p.m.||ABC|
|Tuesday, June 17||Game 6: Spurs at Heat*||9 p.m.||ABC|
|Friday, June 20||Game 7: Heat at Spurs*||9 p.m.||ABC|
|Source: NBA.com *If necessary|
Tony Parker-Patty Mills Combo Here to Stay
In Game 2, the Heat went with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Ray Allen down the stretch, with no traditional point guard on the floor. That wasn't just a gambit to get Allen's shooting on the floor and to put the ball in James' hands more; it was a response to Mario Chalmers' miserable play.
San Antonio doubled down on targeting Miami's weakness in Game 3. By pairing Parker and Mills, the Heat were forced to play either Chalmers or Norris Cole for matchup purposes. In doing so, Chalmers reached historic levels of NBA Finals ineptitude.
The Heat don't ask their point guards to be dynamic, but they need to provide some on-ball defense and three-point shooting to remain viable options.
Chalmers is doing neither in this series. Both Parker and Mills have proven too quick for him, and his poor shooting allows San Antonio to rotate its defense more heavily toward Miami's stars, hurting the Heat's spacing.
Until Chalmers or Cole can render San Antonio's strategy ineffective, the Spurs will keep punishing Miami with point guard play.
Leonard and Green Will Be Human Again
Fortunately for the Heat, the Spurs wings won't play like that again.
San Antonio's 3-and-D guys went 4-of-8 from beyond the arc and just 1-of-2 from the corners, instead hitting all 13 of their two-pointers by taking close-out defenders off the bounce and attacking the rim.
That offensive style is neither player's strong suit. Green's floaters and Leonard's layups through contact will not be automatic shots from here on out. In fact, even their jumpers were well-contested for the most part; Leonard and Green just happened to nail them all.
What might stick is Leonard's defensive play.
Though Leonard struggled with fouls against LeBron in the first two games of the series—fouling out of the loss in Game 2—he was able to stay with James without reaching and contest shots with verticality this time around. LeBron still wound up with 22 points on 9-of-14 from the field, but that stat line represents a victory for the Spurs.
Now, Green probably isn't getting five steals again, but his wing disruption should continue to be valuable.
Miami Will Adjust, but San Antonio Will Win Game 4
Just as Gregg Popovich tweaked his tactics following Game 2, Erik Spoelstra will have adjustments ready for Game 4. Unfortunately for him, there's not a ton he can do.
If Chalmers is slumping and San Antonio's throwing in Parker and Mills, Miami's only recourse seems to be playing Cole more. Cole has better on-ball defensive skills than Chalmers, but he's less of a threat from three-point range; even a struggling Chalmers draws token defensive attention based on his reputation as a competent shooter.
Those two and James are his only options to defend Parker and Mills, which means that Spo can't scheme his point guards fewer minutes. He needs to just sit down with Chalmers and make sure he snaps out of his funk.
After San Antonio unleashed Armageddon on Miami in Game 3, the Heat can count on the Spurs playing a bit less superhuman next time around. But nevertheless, Pop appears to have gained the upper hand.
Spurs 106, Heat 98