The NBA Finals might not give us the best rating numbers we’ve seen. It probably didn’t do as well on television as we’d all like to have thought. In my Finals guide, I thought that there’d be a distinct taste among fans for the rivalry brewing between these two sides, but we never really got a chance to see that rivalry in real action.
Instead, the Miami Heat were battling uphill against the new NBA Champion, San Antonio Spurs. The point differential throughout the series is absolutely ridiculous. The Finals are supposed to be competitive, but this one was just five games. The run San Antonio had in LeBron James’ cramp game looked like the norm as San Antonio blew the Heat out in every win they had.
My first thought was that this might not be the best for the league as far as ratings go, but this is damn sure good for the game of basketball. Not that the Miami Heat aren’t good for basketball–they are. But the Spurs are the ultimate testament to coaching, patience and the right way to play the game.
I covered a high school basketball game yesterday afternoon. The game was between Good Counsel high school and DeMatha high school. It was the middle of the day in a summer league contest–not many people wanted to be there. Not on a Sunday afternoon during Father’s Day with tons of cookouts and grilling to do. Basketball was probably the last thing on some of their minds.
But on the sideline, Good Counsel’s coached preached about the Spurs brand of basketball. He had his kids running the same motion offense that the Spurs did. The ball movement was there, the weakside motions were there and the unselfish play gave way to multiple basket opportunities. It was a beautiful sight to see and something I was really happy about.
As much as people call the Spurs a boring basketball team, they’re finally starting to buy into the Spurs’ way. People are seeing the success that Popovich and his guys have been able to accrue over the last 15 years and are finally starting to buy in. It’s about time. I think we can finally say that the isolation era is officially over.
The Spurs are the creme of the crop now. Everyone is looking to catch them and that means that everyone will start to mimic what they do. We should see a lot of teams playing a Spurs-ian style game over the next couple of years. The Spurs’ roster doesn’t have the greatest athletes on it, but it does have some very smart basketball players with tons of talent. They don’t have a LeBron James, Dwyane Wade or a Chris Bosh, but they play their roles collectively well and that was more than enough to pick the Heat and their flawed roster apart.
The Miami Heat have some serious work to do. They’re looking up to the Spurs just like the rest o the league. But they’ve also got to compete with the rest of the Western Conference. Should the big three return in tact, they need to decorate the rest of the roster around them with younger, more sturdy options than they had this season. They needed another shooter to space the floor and needed some rim protection to go with that.
The Heat, really, were doomed before the season even started. They let go of an elite shooter in Mike Miller because of health and money costs. But Miller played in every game this season for the Memphis Grizzlies and was very productive on the wing. They signed Greg Oden and Michael Beasley as reclamation projects that will both go down as failures for this season. They tried to space the floor with Chris Bosh taking more threes but that took away another threat in the middle of the floor and in the paint.
The Heat’s roster from last year got older and made no significant upgrades. They weren’t going to be able to beat a younger, deeper Spurs team without James, Wade and Bosh played at the highest levels possible. Out of all three of them, only James showed up.
James averaged 28.2 points per game while shooting 57 percent from the floor, 51 percent from deep and boasting a 68 percent true shooting mark. No one else in the series averaged more than 16 points per game. The Spurs were able to take everyone else out of their game and that was far more impressive than Kawhi Leonard’s defense on LeBron James.
Speaking of Leonard, what a performance by him on both ends of the floor. He didn’t do a good job on James throughout the series, but he was a great help defender in every sense of the word and lit the world on fire from the offensive end. Leonard averaged 17.8 points per game on only 9.8 shots per game. If not for his terrible performances in game 1 and game 2 that average would be a lot higher.
He shot 61% from the floor and made Heat defenders look like children with the way he finished through them. But he got a lot of easy, open looks because of the same reverse cut that Danny Green was making last year. The cut is always on the weakside of the floor and because of the heavy help from the Heat, the wing always gets a good look.
Take a look at how open Leonard is here.
There are five Heat players focused on containing the pick and roll. Rashard Lewis and Mario Chalmers shouldn’t be doubling Tony Parker when he’s so close to the paint here, but they do anyway. James runs in on Diaw off of Leonard because of the double. Parker has no pass into the paint at that point, but James has left Leonard open.
The Spurs aren’t even spaced correctly on the play. Duncan has strolled into the lane and clogged up the paint. Allen has an easy help lane off of Manu Ginobili and can recover if Parker makes that pass back to him. But if James isn’t there, Parker will shuffle the ball to Duncan and he’ll make another interior pass to Diaw once Bosh makes his rotation.
Because James has crashed into the paint, he has to recover to Leonard. That gives Leonard the advantage there and he drives right by James on his closeout.
So this was a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation for James. Because of the Heat trying to trap the ball, the paint was left incredibly vulnerable all series long. Leonard was able to finish the plays that was given to him and he was the best player for the Spurs on both ends of the floor throughout these Finals.
Really, the Spurs were just a bad matchup for the Heat once again. Their passing and spacing really eat up their aggressive defense and kill them because of how they leave the wings and corners open. The Heat focus on trapping the ball handler and trying to cause turnovers. There’s one problem, though. They aren’t as young and quick as they used to be. That goes for their entire roster.
Look at how the Heat stack their defense to one side of the floor.
The Spurs made sure to get rid of the ball early before the Heat could recover from the trap. The ball handler never waited the trap out and just moved things instantly. That really sprung open a lot of looks for the Spurs and caused chaos for the Heat defensively.
They also attacked the Heat in transition where Dwyane Wade has always been a burden. He doesn’t get back on defense fast enough and normally picks up the ball when he should go find another man to guard. Throughout the big 3 era he’s been really lazy defensively in transition, but it’s never really come back to burn them until this series.
And the Spurs were able to guard him with a weak defender because of their weakside help ability and his lack of a jump shot. Wade wasn’t a threat to hit jump shots throughout the series and that’s all he was given. He was the weak link on the offensive end for Miami throughout the last two games and just didn’t give enough effort on the defensive end to impact the series.
The Heat have a lot of decisions to make with Wade, James and Bosh and this is something that the Heat will have to strongly consider if Wade chooses to opt out. Though it was only a series, his health and management has still been an issue for them. You don’t want to pay a guy who will only play around 50 games in a season $20 million. There has been a lot of basketball played on his part through the last four seasons, so it’s understandable why he’s playing hurt. But if he wants to continue playing for the Heat, he should take less money to do it.
James and Bosh should consider doing the same as well. They weren’t as bad as Wade was in the series, but the roster needs major improvement around them. If they all choose to stay, it can’t be at the same rate that they’re currently at. They’re all slated to make about $20 million next season. If they lowered that figure to somewhere between $15 and $17 million, I’m sure Heat management would be able to make things work.
As far as the Spurs go, they’re sitting in a nice place right now. It looks like Popovich will return to coach next season. They may lose Ginobili or Duncan this offseason if they choose to retire. Ginobili said that this would be his last season. Now that he’s won another title, we might really see that happen. But he’s got another year and $7 million dollars waiting for him next season. It wouldn’t be surprising if he returned. The same goes for Duncan and his player option.
Either way, they still have Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker. They’re still going to be a good team and they’ve still got one of the greatest coaches the NBA has ever seen. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were right back in the spot that they’re in now next year with another opportunity to play in the NBA Finals. But it’s hard to repeat, and we shouldn’t deem it an automatic at this point.
This has been a great NBA season with a great finish for the game of basketball. You can’t help but be happy about the finish that Popovich and Duncan had to their seasons. If they chose to walk away from the game right now, on top, you couldn’t even blame them.