Breaking Down Exactly How the Spurs Are Decimating Miami Heat Defense

Stephen Babb@@StephenBabbCorrespondent IApril 4, 2017

On a night when Tim Duncan became the NBA's all-time leader in playoff minutes, it was the other San Antonio Spurs' minutes that were making all the difference.

Especially on the offensive end.

Head coach Gregg Popovich's ensemble attack again proved lethal, knocking off the Heat in Miami for the second straight time. 

Both road performances were dominant, but the common denominator was offense. After posting 111 points in Game 3, San Antonio scored another 107 on Thursday night. Much of the talk will revolve around what Miami's doing wrong, but the Spurs deserve the lion's share of credit for what they're doing right.

Just ask the Oklahoma City Thunder. Or Portland Trail Blazers. Or Dallas Mavericks.

San Antonio's penchant for scoring the ball is nothing new. What we're seeing in this series is a symptom of what we've seen all season long. The Spurs scored 105.4 points per game this season, playing with plenty of tempo and efficiency.

Through a philosophy that believes in sacrifice and smart execution, the Spurs are beating up on a team that boasts the best all-around player on the planet—and a super-talented duo of sidekicks on top of that. Much to Pat Riley's chagrin, it's San Antonio that's doing its best impersonation of the 1980s Showtime Lakers.

It's time to take stock of what's increasingly emerging as one of the most dynamic offensive teams in history.

And it's time to talk about how they're doing it.



Put simply, the Spurs' shots are falling.

All sorts of things go into making those shots fall. Rhythm, timing, space, focus. The Spurs have it down to a science, thanks in large part to working all season long with shooting coach Chip Engelland. USA Today's Sam Amick recently wrote:

The San Antonio roster is full of players whose shots miraculously improved once they were under his care — from Tony Parker to Patty Mills to Kawhi Leonard, the Game 3 star who made 10 of 13 shots for 29 points. They all swear by the man with the salt-and-pepper hair who used to captain Mike Krzyzewski's Duke teams, the 53-year-old who has such a special way of persuading the most stubborn of athletes to trust in his ways.

By adjusting release points and working out kinks in jumpers, Engelland has made San Antonio one of the most consistent shooting teams in recent memory. It helps that the Spurs have coachable players willing to buy into a coach's input.

It also helps that they buy into the system. For all the talent on this team, there aren't many egos.

The Spurs believe in passing up good shots to find great shots. After the game, Tony Parker acknowledged as much to media (per ESPN's coverage), saying, "We look to make the extra pass, from good to great. We preach that."

In turn, the looks they get are often more open than the average field-goal attempt. Of course, passing up shots also requires another virtue that San Antonio has mastered.



Popovich was asked at the end of the game who he thought his team's series MVP would be.

Only Popovich knows his reasons for avoiding this particular question, but one interpretation is that San Antonio really doesn't have a most valuable player. While you could certainly make arguments for Kawhi Leonard or Tony Parker in this series, the real difference has been made collectively.

The team numbers tell the story.

So do Boris Diaw's. 

The 32-year-old was inserted by Popovich into the starting lineup for Game 3, an adjustment designed to improve the club's versatility on both ends of the floor. That's translated into improved ball movement, especially on the interior where Diaw has repeatedly set up other bigs and cutters with smooth dishes.

Diaw's been a giver for most of the series. Here he locates Parker for a wide-open jumper after getting into the lane.

And for all his distributive efforts, Diaw was rewarded with a dunk of his own in Game 4—again on account of ball movement.

On this possession, Leonard didn't get the assist, but he's the one who broke down the defense and found down Diaw. From there, Diaw fed Duncan for a monster crush.

More importantly, assists shouldn't be the only measure of this team's effectiveness passing the ball.

Parker's ability to break Miami's defense down means that perimeter defenders invariably have to collapse to the paint and help. That forces defensive rotations to be perfectly on time. Otherwise, the next man in San Antonio's line is prepared to drain a three-pointer, drive or exploit his in-between game.

The Spurs may not have scorers as well-rounded as LeBron, but they do have versatile threats capable of spotting up or putting the ball on the floor. There's been much growth in that respect since the 2013 NBA Finals, especially from swingmen Leonard and Green. Both have diversified their games so that they can be more aggressive after catching the ball on the wing.

But it all starts with passing, the kind of unselfishness that's defined this team ever sense it moved away from pounding the ball with Duncan in the post. After the game, James admitted to reporters (per ESPN's coverage), "They move the ball extremely well. They put you in positions that no other team in this league does."

That passing benefits from another kind of movement as well—personnel movement.

When the Spurs are clicking, there's almost always two players moving at any given time. And there's probably someone somewhere setting a screen. That's one of the reasons Green has thrived. He moves constantly off the ball and frees himself up for a brief window in which he has some open space in which to operate. Thanks to a quick release, that's usually all he needs.

Duncan credited San Antonio's ball movement to a "trust factor" after the game when speaking with Stuart Scott. More than any X's and O's component, it's that trust that makes everything possible on the offensive end. There's no hero-ball in San Antonio.

There's just an amalgamation of very unsung heroes.


Everything Else

For all talk about San Antonio's strong perimeter shooting, the Spurs are also getting easy baskets.

The passing has helped, especially in the context of halfcourt offense. But so has pushing the tempo. The Spurs consistently look to move the ball up the court and initiate offense before the Heat has an opportunity to get set up on the defensive end.

That doesn't always translate into fast-break points, but it has caused Miami's defense to scramble on a number of occasions. Credit Tim Duncan for making the deep outlet passes. Credit Kawhi Leonard for running the ball up the court after he gets a rebound.

Miami doesn't have an imposing interior defender, so putting pressure on their team defense opens everything else up. Sometimes it leads to a three-pointer. Sometimes it means a layup. But more often than not, it means San Antonio can avoid taking contested, mid-range jumpers—the kind of offense merely mortal teams often live on.

The Spurs also had 12 offensive rebounds on Thursday night (to Miami's six), including one that won't be quickly forgotten.

The hustle plays have helped on both ends of the floor, but they're a big part of why the Spurs have been able to maintain such robust leads. One extra possession led to this three-pointer from Manu Ginobili in the second quarter.

And after a 12-of-20 performance from the charity stripe in Game 2, the Spurs have bounced back on that front as well. They made 18 of 25 free-throw attempts in Game 4.

Finally, San Antonio had only 14 turnovers on Thursday night. The 22 possessions it forfeited in Game 1 threatened to give the game away. Since then, the Spurs have taken much better care of the ball, allowing them to actually take advantage of their offensive efficiency.

These are the kinds of little things that win games. All the hot shooting and nifty passes in the world won't count for much without Popovich's club doing their due diligence on every offensive possession, doing the things all coaches love to see.

Appropriately, it's every single Spur who's doing them.

Duncan has played a lot of playoff minutes, but it's only fair he has some help in what may very well be his last run at a title. That help is coming in a variety of forms and fashions, but it's coming with a vengeance this time around.

This team's unfinished business is well-documented. Before all is said and done, so too will its masterful offense. An offense that just might be one of the best we've ever seen.


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