5 Keys to San Antonio Spurs Closing Out 2014 NBA Finals
As the franchise battles for its fifth title in 16 seasons, head coach Gregg Popovich has manipulated his rotation, placing the Western Conference champions in the best position to win.
Pop also made a change that proved instrumental to the Spurs’ successes during Game 3—though the record-setting shooting performance didn't hurt, either.
Beating the Heat is always a challenge, but San Antonio has put itself in a solid position to bring home the Larry O'Brien Trophy.
Keep Boris Diaw in the Starting Lineup
Whether it’s the contract year pushing him or the veteran finding the perfect role, Boris Diaw has been one of the most important Spurs this postseason, especially now.
Diaw was the seventh player in the past 14 NBA Finals to record a plus-30 rating, which he accomplished in Game 1 with a two-point, 10-rebound, six-assist stat line. Then he tallied seven points, 10 boards and five assists before playing 37 minutes in Game 3.
Offensively, Diaw has hit a corner three in two games, crushing any momentum Miami gained, and he has exploited the Heat in mismatched one-on-one situations on the block. Defensively, the 6'8" forward latches onto LeBron James as best he can, giving Kawhi Leonard well-deserved breaks, however briefly.
When Diaw provides the noticeable offensive boost alongside Patty Mills, Manu Ginobili and others, the San Antonio bench consistently builds the lead. And that's what San Antonio needs, especially when LeBron is off the floor.
Use Tiago Splitter Exclusively as Tim Duncan’s Backup
Tiago Splitter was very solid during the Western Conference Finals, helping exploit the weakened Oklahoma City Thunder bigs.
The Brazilian center started the Finals with 14 points in Game 1, but he was neutralized during the second meeting. Outmatched when guarding Chris Bosh or Rashard Lewis—or even being switched onto LeBron—Splitter was rarely in a favorable position.
Pop’s response was to use Splitter exclusively as Duncan's backup in Game 3, and it definitely worked. He checked in three times, each one being for Duncan, and was then replaced by the Big Fundamental en route to a plus-11 rating.
Currently, the rotation is Tony Parker/Mills, Danny Green/Ginobili, Leonard at small forward, Diaw/Matt Bonner and Tim Duncan/Splitter. Most importantly, this leaves a decent balance of offense and defense at all times, though that is largely contingent on Diaw's production when Splitter is on the floor.
San Antonio must be careful not playing to the Heat's strength of small lineups, but as long as Diaw is performing, the Splitter-for-Duncan substitution is the best option.
Find Ways to Keep Kawhi Leonard Involved Offensively
Tasked with the unenviable responsibility of guarding LeBron, Leonard is the most important San Antonio player during the championship series.
However, the Spurs cannot afford to have Leonard become a one-dimensional player because he is capable of being so efficient as an attacker.
According to Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News, after Game 3 Manu Ginobili said, "[Leonard] had a great game on both ends. It's really hard to make LeBron score under 25, and scoring 30 in a Final is really hard to do. So an unbelievable game by Kawhi."
San Antonio finding Leonard some shots, such as catch-and-shoot threes or allowing him to dribble-drive, will keep the Miami defense moving in another direction. Plus, it will keep LeBron focused on things other than being a playmaker, too.
Control Manu Ginobili's Ginobili-Ness
After a brilliant 16-point, 11-assist, two-turnover performance in Game 1, Ginobili's decision-making has turned extremely frustrating—almost.
The sixth man is averaging 15.3 points, 5.3 assists and 2.0 turnovers per night, so his stats are seemingly fine. However, he is a few aware teammates away from posing a glaring problem.
Over the past two contests, fellow Spurs have constantly bailed out Manu on horribly placed jump passes, and his near-uncontrollable swerving into the lane is causing shortness of breath among San Antonio fans.
Sure, those points can resemble Ginobili at his finest, and the Spurs should not necessarily look to fix what is not broken. But the Manu who committed 12 turnovers during two potential series-clinching games in 2013 needs to not resurface this year.
Continue Forcing Turnovers
Per Grantland's Zach Lowe, Miami has committed a turnover on a staggering 19.9 percent of its possessions.
According to Team Rankings, the Heat only lost the ball on 15.2 percent of possessions during the regular season, and the Philadelphia 76ers had the league's worst mark at 16.3. So in other words, Miami is uncommonly inefficient to this point.
San Antonio has forced Dwyane Wade into 12 turnovers, including five in both Game 2 and Game 3. Matt Porter of the Palm Beach Post notes LeBron ceded possession seven times in Game 3, a personal worst for a finals outing.
What's more, Heat point guard Mario Chalmers has struggled mightily, committing 3.0 turnovers per night, not to mention his 25.0 percent shooting and 4.0 fouls.
Overall, the Spurs are capitalizing on the turnovers and have kept Miami at an average of 95 points per game, which certainly makes it more possible to beat the Heat.