Spurs Are “White Hot”

12 06 2013

Throughout their decade of dominance, Pop’s Spurs have shown an ability to play many different styles and tempos on both the offensive and defensive side of the court. So what happened when they put it all together Tuesday night? Utter dominance.

Behind a once waived and cut player (Danny Green) and an undrafted guard with no true position (Gary Neal), the San Antonio Spurs rolled over and over…and over the Miami Heat 113-77 as they now hold the 2-1 series lead. Green and Neal combined to shoot 13-for-19 from behind the arc and had 51 big points—more points than the entire Heat starting lineup.

These two literally carried the team from 20+ feet from the basket. If you take away their dazzling shooting, the rest of the team shot 3-for-13 from 3-point range.

Even though Manu Ginobili‘s line of seven points and six assists doesn’t seem like much to talk about, the Argentinian finally looked comfortable on the court. His game seemed more fluid, and he was making an impact on the game without scoring, something he has done extremely well during his time in San Antonio.

Tony Parker (six points, eight assists) and Tim Duncan (12 points, 14 rebounds, two blocks) might have had their second straight quiet game, but it really didn’t matter. The Spurs were able to take command of this game with their role players leading the way, so these two simply were enjoying the game as much as the rocking AT&T Center. Don’t interpret their low numbers as low productivity.

Even more than all these players, you have to give a large amount of the credit to Gregg Popovich and his coaching staff. He was not deterred with the 19-point loss in Game 2, stuck with his defensive gameplan against LeBron and the Heat that he has coached since the opening tipoff of Game 1 and continues to show why he will go down as one of the best NBA coaches in league history. He might be purposefully giving these one-to-two word interviews at the end of quarters after it was such a social-media hit the first time, but you have to respect the man’s work he’s put into the game.

Oh and that guy that is the MVP? You mean the guy that has been MVP three of the past four seasons? Yeah, I didn’t see that guy out there Tuesday night.

Jimmy Butler couldn’t stop him. Paul George couldn’t stop him.

Kawhi Leonard?

I’ll let you come to your own conclusion. Averaging 26.2 points, LeBron James scored at least 19 points in every single postseason game up to the NBA Finals. Through three games in this series, he has failed to reach 19 points once, and even though it has been a team effort to stifle The King and part of the blame can be directed at LeBron himself, Leonard has been the main man working to contain LeBron.

He kept this up in Game 3 as he held LeBron to 15 points on 7-of-21 shooting, forcing the media to remind everyone that we might be seeing “2011 LeBron” yet again. (Also—in the final minute of the third quarter, Poppovich gave Leonard a breather. During this single minute, LeBron went 3-for-3 with six points. That gives you an idea of the impact Leonard has on LeBron.)

To add on to all of this, Mr. James attempted zero free throws for the first time in his Miami postseason career, making the LeBron haters happier than Stephen Curry with an open 3-point shot.

(My opinion on the matter? Let’s wait to see this entire series before we overreact. LeBron has a tendency to get mad after losses…really mad.)

So with LeBron not playing like himself…or playing like himself…either way, he needed help. And the other two parts of the “Big 3” did not show up. Again.

Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh took 25 shots to get to 28 points—not very efficient. These two have now gone seven straight games without scoring more than 30 combined points, which is the longest streak since they became teammates.

This team was able to squeeze by the Pacers due to James’ play and their tenacious defense, but if the Spurs proceed to turn LeBron into a passive passer, these two have to make jumpers, give more effort, prove their worth and show why they are being given so much money to play in South Beach. (On that note, Green/Neal/Leonard have scored as many points as James/Wade/Bosh in the Finals despite making $46 million less this year. Think about that.)

Even though these three have the most responsibility on their shoulders and are expected to perform at a very high level, I think the main “finger pointing” should be directed toward Mario Chalmers. This kid was praised in last year’s Finals for his 25-point performance in the Heat’s Game 4 victory. He apparently has the ability to really step it up on the big stage when it matters most…so we’re told. And were told countless times between Game 2 and 3.

But here is my question: what about the little stage?

What I am getting at is that Chalmers seems to disappear just as much as he breaks out for spectacular performances. That’s what makes these positive performances seem so much greater. The other performances are so terrible. Yes, Chalmers had 25 points in Game 4 last year. What about Games 1, 2, 3 and 5? Twenty-seven total points. This year, Chalmers broke out in their Game 2 win for 19 points to lead the team in scoring. Man did he look good. Last night? Zero points, one assist, four turnovers (mostly unforced) and an impact that literally hurt his team. That’s disgusting. Chalmers was helping the Spurs for most of his time on the court. In my eyes, he has to be competent one-hundred percent of the time for his “big stage” play to be praised. And more importantly, he has to be competent for his team to win basketball games. Just competent.

In the end, this game is one win for the Spurs just like the Heat’s 103-84 win was just one win. Two years ago, Miami lost the NBA Finals after going up 2-1, so they know this isn’t over. Furthermore, these teams have a resiliency that has allowed both squads to bounce back like no other teams in the league. The Heat haven’t lost back-to-back games since January 8/10. When Duncan/Parker/Ginobili play, the Spurs haven’t lost back-to-back games since December 13/14. If these patterns continue back and forth, the Spurs will win the title in seven games.

Yet, this series seems too complex to quickly analyze with some numbers like that. Each game in and of itself feels like its own series and momentum from game to game is nonexistent. Why else would a series with two blowouts feel like it could still go both ways? These two teams fight back hard.

So what should we expect moving forward?

Other than Leonard playing top-notch defense, Green splashing three-pointers and Wade forgetting how to shoot a basketball, it feels as though anything could happen the rest of the way. ( Parker’s day-to-day status with a slight hamstring strain will also play a factor. Will he play? How hurt is he?)

Last year, LeBron took his game to another level when his team had their back against the wall. This year, the entire Heat team has taken their game to another level when their backs are against the wall. That’s why Miami’s average margin of victory after a loss in this year’s playoffs is 21.6 points.

The Spurs better be ready to take some hard punches right off the bat in Game 4. I mean really ready. There’s no doubt in my mind the Heat are going to come out hungry and angry. Expect LeBron to look like this most of the night…

One simple statistic has to come true, though, for the Heat to win this series. They must win three of the final four games of this series. Consequently, that obviously means this Spurs team would have to lose three of the final four games. Do you see this team with this coach losing three of the next four games?

Yes, the Heat have LeBron. I know, I know…I know. I’ve been reminded. But I have a gut feeling that San Antonio won’t play 48 minutes of basketball and lose three more times. They have a defensive plan to contain LeBron that was only conquered in Game 2 due to Ray Allen, Mike Miller and Chalmers heating up from long range. Other than Mike Miller, who has been on an absolute tear in NBA Finals basketball, shooting 16-for-18 from 3-point range going back to Game 5 of last year’s Finals, can you consistently rely on this supporting trio to help out LeBron when he is forced to kick the ball out?

No.

Chalmers may show up for Game 4 but will he show up for Game 5? Game 6 if we have one?

I just can’t say. And because Chalmers can’t seem to play consistently on any stage (I don’t see Norris Cole pulling a Danny Green or Gary Neal), LeBron is unable to get to the hole (whether caused by the Spurs’ defense or the King’s mental health), and the Spurs have a clear coaching advantage (this is the greatest difference in age in NBA history), the Heat might just have to wait for this “dynasty” to legitimately become a dynasty.

 

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In honor of the Spurs’ NBA Finals record 16 3-pointers they had Tuesday night and the fact that the Mavs won their championship exactly two years ago to this day, here’s a similar night the Dallas Mavericks had against the Los Angeles Lakers on their way to the title. Enjoy.

 

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Harden To Swallow

20 06 2012

And just like that, the NBA Finals will be coming to a close in the near future and the young Thunder seem to be getting younger by the second.

The Miami Heat remained calm and overcame a 17-point first half deficit to take down the Oklahoma City Thunder 104-98 and take a commanding 3-1 series lead. Even though LeBron James (26 points, 12 assists, nine rebounds) and Dwyane Wade (25 points, two steals, two blocks) continued to play as superstars are expected to play, this victory was brought to you in part by Mario Chalmers. The former Kansas Jayhawk looked like he was playing in the national championship again with 25 points and three 3-pointers. Additionally, he put in five of these points in the last minute of the game when LeBron was on the bench with a cramp. (Didn’t that cramp seem more like a broken leg by his facial expressions – just me?)

Yet again, this team had one of their non-Big 3 play out of their minds and confuse NBA analysts. Shane Battier carried this load during the first two games in which he strung together two consecutive 17 point games. Game 3 was a combined effort between four players. Tuesday showed us the little brother finally playing at a level that stopped his teammates from yelling at him as he scored five times the amount of points he had in Game 2 and Game 3 combined.

On the other side, the much more deflated team doesn’t understand where James Harden has gone. Seemingly nowhere to be found on most offensive possessions, the Thunder’s spark off the bench shot 2-10 from the field and only put up eight points to go along with four turnovers. His lackluster play was epitomized during one of the Thunder’s final possessions. After receiving a pick,  Harden was staring right at a wide open 15-footer but decided to just dribble in place for a long second, looking like a middle school basketball player trying to figure out if he can shoot that far yet. This possession ended like it started – with a two possession deficit.

Other than his contrasting 21 points in Game 2, the Sixth Man of the Year is averaging 7.33 points on an abysmal 24.4 percent shooting. That’s worse than what Ramon Sessions produced against Harden’s team. Ouch.

It can’t be more evident that this team goes as the Beard goes. For the most part, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook get theirs. Yes, I would say Westbrook got plenty Tuesday with his 43 points on 20-32 shooting. But the flow of the offense falls flat without the ball consistently going through Harden’s hands. He adds a crafty element that his team’s pure scorers just can’t seem to add like he can. Without his involvement at the end of games, their offense becomes blatantly obvious for defenses to figure out.

The bearded man’s disappearance from this series has not only been the biggest disappointment for all fans of the eurostep (if they actually are out there), but it also might be one of the main reasons Oklahoma City will go home without anymore games to play until the 2012-2013 season.

No doubt about it, this series is over. How have we gotten to this point? Because the Heat have put together a spark comparable if not equal to the Harden that we have become so intrigued with. Shane Battier. Mario Chalmers. Norris Cole. Yes, Norris Cole. It is as if these three have collectively taken on Harden’s role while Harden has played like each of these players in three of the four Finals games. How is Scott Brooks supposed to prepare for a team that has men scoring 10 and 15 points above their normal average? He can’t. The six stars in these Finals all had their fair share of “x-factor” titles that they received prior to the start of the series. Up to this point, though, this has been about an odder trio than the Bobcats Big 3 and a scoring punch off one team’s bench that has misplace his gloves.

This is why the Heat are up 3-1. This is why LeBron and Wade can penetrate and kick it out with faith that their teammates can actually make plays. This is why the Thunder look lost at the end of games since their best ballhandler doesn’t know what to do with the rock anymore. This is why LeBron James will soon get his ring.

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