Tuesday night's Game 3 matchup between the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs is going to be the most crucial game of the season.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, history suggests the winner is almost undoubtedly the team that will be hoisting the Larry O'Brien Trophy sometime in the next 10 days:
It's worth noting, of course, that the 2010-11 Heat are the one exception to that rule, but it's clear that after Tuesday night, there will be a commanding leader in this series.
In what figures to be such an integral matchup, let's take a look at a few of the "games within the game" that will be vital in deciding an outcome.
Note: All stats courtesy of NBA.com unless noted otherwise
How Often Will The Spurs be Forced to Go Small?
It's pretty simple. The Heat want to stay as small and as athletic as possible in order to make quicker, more efficient rotations defensively and get out into transition offensively—two things they thrive at.
The Spurs, however, want to go big and take advantage of the Heat's lack of physical presence inside, a la Roy Hibbert and David West.
In Game 2, the Heat won that chess match, per NBA.com's Couper Moorhead:
Here's a closer look at that lineup, along with San Antonio's other most common small lineups throughout the regular season:
|Lineup||GP||Total Min.||Off. Rating||Def. Rating||Net Rating|
The sample size is minuscule, so it's important not to read too much into the overall rating (net points per 100 possessions), but the point here is that San Antonio isn't comfortable going small.
Whether it's Splitter/Duncan, Splitter/Diaw, Duncan/Diaw or some other combination, Gregg Popovich prefers to have two true big men on the court at all times.
Pay attention to the lineups both teams are using throughout the game. Whoever is able to play more to their preference will hold a massive advantage.
Will Dwyane Wade Sputter in the Second Half?
Through the first two games of this series, Dwyane Wade's first- and second-half splits have been staggering:
|PTS||FG%||REB||AST||Stl||Blk||Off Rating||Def Rating|
In the first half, he has looked healthy, aggressively attacking the hoop and making positive things happen for the Heat.
But in the second half, he has been a liability, unable to affect the game at all.
Perhaps the Heat should limit his first-half minutes, or perhaps he's just not healthy enough to put together complete games right now, but Wade's second-half production will be important on Tuesday night.