It’s a phrase you’re going to have to get used to if the Miami Heat can’t come back from their opening game loss of the 2013 NBA Finals to the San Antonio Spurs and their workman-like approach to the game.
You’ll have to get used to it because it is actually a pretty good way to describe how Tony Parker and company went about beating the defending champions last night by a score of 92-88. Master strategist Gregg Popavich has had plenty of time to study the Heat and their tendencies and it paid off in a big way as the Spurs held LeBron James to just 18 points on 7-16 shooting. While James did pick up his tenth playoff triple-double with 18 rebounds and 10 assists, getting the ball out of his hands was enough to give San Antonio the edge.
Where the Miami and Indiana series was decided by points in the paint and rebounds, this one will be focused more on getting to the line, causing turnovers and who can do a better job down the stretch at implementing their game plan.
In the early going of this one, it was Miami that did better, getting out and running the floor which allowed them to quickly overcome an early 9-2 San Antonio run. The Heat would take the lead and not relinquish it until the fourth quarter thanks contributions from all over the floor including Dwyane Wade, Mike Miller and Ray Allen and the fact that they were getting to the line with some regularity, but in the second half their effectiveness faded.
The Spurs hung in, using Parker on pick and rolls, ball screens and just about every way you can imagine to get him and his teammates open looks. Danny Green wasn’t shying away from the game chucking up three pointer after three pointer while Manu Ginobili appears to be at full health for the first time since the early portions of the season.
Miami was finding buckets early on from everyone and was able to maintain a three point lead going into the half, but you could feel the momentum shifting. Kawhi Leonard did a bang up job defending LeBron James throughout the game, giving the King very few easy looks and effectively disrupting his shot at times, particularly from beyond the arc where James went 1-for-5 for the evening.
In the second half, the Spurs continued executing their game plan but improved their defending when it comes to getting back to stop Miami fast breaks. San Antonio would cause 8 Miami turnovers on the night, many of which came in the second half. The Spurs took the lead at 77-76 and did what they always seem to do, come up with the right play at the right moment.
Whether it was Duncan’s tip-in to spread the lead to 83-79 or Parker’s massive 16 foot buzzer beater to seal the game for the Spurs with just over five seconds left, the Spurs just kept getting what they needed when they needed it, especially from Duncan who finished with 20 points and 14 rebounds. They didn’t overcome the Heat lead in a single run, they simply kept grinding, staying in the game and eventually getting what they needed. It was, well, workman-like.
On the other side, the Heat got plenty from James and even a decent night from Wade who finished with 17 points, but Chris Bosh was pretty invisible dropping just 13 points and taking a quarter of his shots from beyond the arc. In the first half, he seemed to have absolutely no role in the offense, actually setting up shop out of bounds on multiple occasions. He picked it up a bit in the second half, but taking three pointers for Bosh in key moments is exactly what the Spurs want and down the stretch that’s what he did.
Certainly James is going to adjust to Leonard at some point in the series and explode for a 30 point night, but if San Antonio can make the adjustments and execute their game plan the way they did tonight, the Spurs will continue to hold the advantage in this series. While James won’t always struggle offensively the way he did tonight, San Antonio isn’t going to shoot 30% from three point range in each game. At some point the team with the fourth ranked offense in the NBA is going to show up and when they do, it could be enough to cancel out anything that James does. Thus it is up to the Heat as a team to beat what has been the best overall NBA team of the last two decades.
I have purposely avoided making predictions about this series both professionally and socially. It’s too difficult to say who wins and too reliant on circumstances. How this one pans out could hinge from night to night on a single turnover, early foul trouble or a missed free throw. And now that San Antonio has stolen home court advantage, this series hasn’t become any easier to predict.