The San Antonio Spurs got off to a solid start in Sunday night’s game against the Heat. Much like in Game 1, Kawhi Leonard was able to contain LeBron James, Danny Green got hot from deep, they dominated the glass, and they held Dwyane Wade to a pedestrian 10 points on the night. Leonard played with incredible energy, grabbing 14 rebounds (8 offensive!) on the night and forcing LeBron out of his comfort zone. Green finished the game a perfect 6-for-6 from the field, hitting all 5 of his 3-point attempts. Gary Neal once again hit some big shots off the bench. But even with all of these things going right, the Spurs still lost the game by 19, thanks to a terrific 27-5 Heat run from the end of the 3rd quarter to midway through the 4th.
Much of the Spurs’ defeat stemmed from their inability to execute offensively. The Spurs turned the ball over 16 times, compared to only 6 turnovers for Miami. The Heat trapped Tony Parker far more aggressively than in Game 1; Parker had 5 turnovers and was -27 on the night. Parker was also ineffective attacking the basket; the Heat did a good job of defending the rim without fouling, and Parker was often forced into wild, flailing layup attempts. Tim Duncan also had a bad game. He didn’t look comfortable operating against the Heat’s swarming post defense, and while he is usually an effective passer, Miami did a great job of closing down the passing lanes in Game 2. With Manu Ginobili also having an off night, the Spurs would have needed a perfect defensive performance to have a chance to go up 2-0 in the series, but they could not contain LeBron James in transition. While LeBron wasn’t as effective in the point guard role, he did significant damage as a pick-and-roll screener, creating rifts in the Spurs defense and opening up opportunities with his passing for Ray Allen, Mike Miller, and Mario Chalmers during the Heat’s devastating run. With LeBron’s unparalleled versatility, there may be little the Spurs, or anybody else, can do to stop him from making an impact.
While the outlook for the Spurs may seem dire for Game 3, momentum often doesn’t carry over from game to game. Gregg Popovich will look to make adjustments to better handle the Heat’s aggressive turnover machine of a defense. Limiting turnovers will also limit the Heat’s transition opportunities, taking away their greatest offensive weapon. With all of Miami’s role players firing on all cylinders, they may seem unbeatable, but the pace Miami set in the 4th quarter is unsustainable. Guys like Chalmers and Miller and Chris Andersen are unlikely to play at such a high level throughout the series. Parker and Duncan must rebound and return to their form from Game 1 for the Spurs to have any chance in this series; with their combined experience and skill, as well as the guidance of Popovich, they will probably be able to bounce back. The Spurs might have to settle without much offense from Kawhi Leonard, as his energy will be drained each game by the daunting task of guarding James, but they have a reliable option on the other wing in Danny Green. Their bench has looked overmatched at times, especially with the struggles of Ginobili, but they have the pieces in place to give the Heat a great fight in Game 3. But even if Parker and Duncan come back strong, even if Green keeps up his hot shooting and Ginobili plays like his old self, will it be enough to keep LeBron James from his second championship, now that his psyche is no longer plagued by doubts, and now that he is comfortable playing so many different roles? The Heat’s defense can be broken, and their attack can be slowed if the Spurs play a focused, precise game. If they get sloppy, Miami will take advantage, and will be in the driver’s seat in the series.