In the first meeting of the season between the Heat and the Spurs, Miami had little trouble securing victory in the Finals rematch, in large part due to the fact that the Spurs were cobbling together a lineup that didn’t entirely feature the team’s best players.
The rematch of the rematch, however, saw the Spurs essentially at full strength.
That lineup from top to bottom proved too difficult for the Heat to deal with at this stage of the season, and behind 23 points from Tim Duncan and excellent defense from Kawhi Leonard which produced five of his team’s nine steals, the Spurs evened the season series by cruising to a 111-87 victory over the defending champs.
San Antonio’s overall team defense stifled the Heat, and it didn’t help that LeBron James chose to settle for long jumpers when they clearly weren’t falling for him for a second straight game. He ditched his protective face mask in the first half thinking that might have been the issue, and afterward reverted to blaming the sleeves on his jersey — just as he did on Christmas Day — for his poor outside shooting performance.
But none of that was anywhere close to a valid reason for the missed shots.
This Spurs team is deep when fully healthy, and the players know their respective roles in the team’s grand scheme. The defense was superb, but the attacking offense, led by Tony Parker’s ability to get into the paint, created high-percentage shots at the rim over and over again, especially in the first half.
Take a look at the Spurs shot chart for the game’s first 24 minutes.
Fifteen of San Antonio’s 22 made field goals in the first half came in the restricted area — an insane amount against a team that’s just slightly above the league average in defensive efficiency.
While the Spurs looked like a cohesive unit attacking on both ends of the floor, Miami looked uncharacteristically out of sync. James managed to shoot just 6-of-18 from the field to finish with 19 points, but a lot of that was due to shot selection, which was at times heavily influenced by the Spurs defense.
This was an important victory for the Spurs, who haven’t had many at all to hang their hat on this season. For Miami, the perspective is a bit different. The Heat are collecting themselves for the final stretch of the regular season, and defending their title is of the utmost importance.
That journey is bound to be fraught with unpleasant steps along the way, but for a Heat team that has played into June the last three seasons, losses to title contenders at this stage of the season are of little significance. Rather, they provide film to pore over when the championship chase begins in earnest a few short weeks from now.