Tag: Gregg Popovich

Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, LeBron James

San Antonio dominates Miami again, wins by 21, takes command of NBA Finals


MIAMI — The San Antonio Spurs have taken the Miami Heat to the woodshed.

For the second game in a row the ball-moving, energized Spurs dominated a Heat team that played stagnant, uninspired basketball on their home court. The Spurs grabbed a lead in the first quarter, pulled away in the second and cruised to a 107-86 win.

San Antonio now leads the NBA Finals 3-1 and heads home with a chance to close it out Sunday night at the AT&T Center.

San Antonio took both games in Miami by a combined 30 points — they fully exorcised any demons left over from Game 6 in American Airlines Arena from last season.

“I mean they smashed us, two straight home games,” LeBron James said.

Most people — including Heat coach Erik Spoelstra — expected a lot more energy out of a Heat team that needed a win, but it was the Spurs that played like the more desperate team.

“I can honestly say I don’t think any of us were expecting this type of performance,” Spoelstra said.

“Well, I think (the Heat’s) reaction was there but we matched it,” San Antonio’s Boris Diaw said after another impressive game with 8 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists.

The Spurs did it with the balanced, team game they have shown all season (and for several seasons). San Antonio shot 57.1 percent, and 51 percent of the Spurs shots were uncontested (according to SportVU cameras). For comparison 39 percent of the Heat shots were uncontested. Kawhi Leonard had 20 points and 14 rebounds plus played fantastic defense against LeBron James (Leonard will be in the mix for series MVP), Tony Parker had 19 points, Patty Mills added 14 and the Spurs as a team had 25 assists on 40 baskets. They were again playing “the beautiful game.”

“I’m pleased that they performed as well as they did while we’ve been in Miami,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. “And that’s about as far as it goes. Now we’ve got to go back home and play as well or better.”

As good as their offense was, the Spurs defense was much sharper, much improved compared to Game 3. The Spurs were smart and aggressive defending the pick-and-roll, and the Heat made it easy on them with a lot of pick-and-rolls or isolations and almost no weakside movement.

LeBron did all he could — he had 28 points on 10-of-17 shooting — but he got no help. Dwyane Wade was 3-of-13 shooting, 1-of-8 inside 8 feet. Chris Bosh was 5-of-11. Heat players not named LeBron shot 27.8 percent through the first three quarters (the fourth quarter was essentially extended garbage time).

“They played great and I can honestly say I don’t think any of us expected this kind of performance…” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.  “We just couldn’t get into a rhythm on either side of the ball.”

Like the Spurs, it was the defensive end that was the bigger deal for Miami — they again played without energy, not closing out on shooters, their traps on the pick-and-roll were half-hearted and the Spurs shredded it with their passing.

Erik Spoelstra was looking for answers, so much so that he tried Toney Douglas starting in the second quarter looking anywhere for a spark.

“Our group has been through everything you possibly can be through except this circumstance, so why not?” Spoelstra said. “Why not test ourselves right now collectively?…

“All it is, is let’s get this thing back to Miami. When we’re right mentally, emotionally, collectively there is a real strong spirit to us. We feel we can win anywhere, and that’s what we’ll work on for the next two days.”

There is a lot for the Heat to work on. The Spurs have executed their game plan at a high level, the Heat have looked like a team that can’t find the switch to flip.

And now, even if they found it, it would be too late.

Active, ball moving, relentless Spurs thrash Heat in first half, lead by 19 at break

LeBron James, Ray Allen

MIAMI — We all expected a team to come out in Game 4 playing desperate, knowing the series could be on the line, playing like this game meant everything.

We didn’t expect that team to be the Spurs.

San Antonio moved the ball, played smart and energetic defense, knocked down their shots (they shot 55.6 percent in the first half) and just outplayed a flat Miami Heat squad, leading 55-36 at the half.

Miami started out the game trying to get Chris Bosh touches, but their offense quickly devolved into a lot of pick-and-rolls or isolations with almost no weakside movement. The Spurs play smart, hard working defense seemed to contest everything — they were much sharper on defense than they were in Game 3 — but the Heat made it easy on them.

Miami shot 35.3 percent in the first half. Dwyane Wade looked old and like a guy with bad knees — he was getting in close but was 1-of-6 shooting inside 8 feet.

Miami’s lack of energy showed on both ends. They tried their usual trapping defense but when it’s done without real energy and intent the Spurs just shred it with passes. Defensively the Heat were not disrupting passing lanes, allowing Tiago Splitter and Boris Diaw to get ball inside (or Tony Parker to drive it there) and pass out to shooters. The Heat close outs were those of a Tuesday night in February in Milwaukee, not the NBA Finals.

Parker had 12 points on 6-of-10 shooting, Danny Green was 3-of-4 from three, and Patty Mills was 3-of-5.

The Spurs have owned the last six quarters of this series.

Erik Spoelstra got so desperate he went with Toney Douglas for a while to try and spark the team. It’s a sign he has no more answers.

Spoelstra, Popovich focused on defense heading into Game 4

Ray Allen, Chris Andersen, Kawhi Leonard

MIAMI — The Miami Heat gave 102.9 points per 100 possessions in the regular season, not spectacular (11th in the NBA) but not bad. In the NBA Finals they are giving up 116.4 to the red-hot Spurs.

San Antonio allowed a true shooting percentage of .523 (think of that as points per shot attempt), the Miami Heat are at .607 in the NBA Finals.

Part of that is these are two elite NBA offenses, but for both coaches the problem is their defuse and that is what they are focused on for Game 4 Thursday night.

“That’s what we spent all of our time on was the defense, because I thought we did a pretty mediocre job,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said before the game.

Eric Spoelstra talked about defense as well and recognizing they need to handle the pick and roll differently depending on if it is Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili with the ball.

They’re different, yeah, there is no question about it,” Spoelstra said. “But they’re both elite, great players. You do have to give them different looks. If it’s the same look, they get comfortable, then they can carve you up….

“You see the difference in their ability, how they attack, what they’re looking for, how they’re trying to facilitate, those type of things.”

That defense, particularly from the Heat, is what this series comes down to — can they bring enough energy to their pressure tactics, can sharper rotations slow the impressive ball movement of the Spurs? If the Heat can do that — as they have done for stretches but not consistently in this series — they can even things up and make this a best of three (the Spurs currently lead the series 2-1).

If the Spurs move the ball, get the good looks and knock them down again enough to take Game 4, this series will be all over but the party on the River Walk.

NBA Finals Spurs vs. Heat Game 4 preview: Miami better bring serious defensive pressure

LeBron James, Norris Cole, Dwyane Wade

MIAMI — Three games into the Finals between the Heat and Spurs, this is what I think we’ve learned:

When Miami brings its peak defensive pressure, it is better than San Antonio. Not a lot, but better.

However that peak Miami defense does not show up consistently while the Spurs’ offensive execution is Terminator relentless. It will not stop, ever. It’s not just the stars Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, it’s Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green and Patty Mills. That’s what we saw in Game 3, a Heat team that entered the game without urgency, giving the Spurs’s shooters a little space and that is all they needed to get hot.

When Heat take their foot off the gas — even a little — the Spurs ball movement going from strong  to weak side and their smart cuts put too much pressure on the Miami defense. This leads to breakdowns and good looks for the Spurs who are shooting the ball at a ridiculously high level. When the Spurs gain confidence because the ball is moving, executing efficiently and their shots are falling there is nothing the Heat can do.

Which brings us to Game 4 — will Miami bring a sense of urgency and the needed defensive pressure? And if the Heat do for how many minutes of the 48 will they keep it up?

The fear of going down 3-1 should motivate the Heat to bring the defensive pressure from the opening tip. Should. You can point to the Heat not losing back-to-back playoff games since roughly the Nixon administration to show how they raise their level of play when challenged, or you can point to the Heat’s effort in Game 2 and you’d be right.

But coming out of the East, Miami never faced a team that would punish it for its lapses like the Spurs can and will. Miami didn’t spend the season building great habits on the defensive end of the floor. They flipped the switch when they needed to and got wins.

San Antonio puts pressure on that Heat defense for a full 48 minutes because of its ball movement — even at the Heat’s peak they’re not going to stop the Spurs entirely. What Miami can do is make it difficult by making sure the extra pass doesn’t happen in a straight line and make the windows for those passes very tight, leading to steals and turnovers that would fuel Miami’s runs.

The Heat are going to need another big game from LeBron James and I expect they get it. He can raise his level to one nobody else in the NBA can match, but he’s going to need some help — Chris Bosh (who has had a good series), Dwyane Wade (who has been fine, but not special) and Ray Allen have to step up.

Plus, getting anything of quality out of Mario Chalmers would be huge — he has been awful but Erik Spoelstra doesn’t have a lot of other options. Norris Cole isn’t built for big minutes, and when the Heat go with their no-point-guard look it presents some real matchup challenges (like Wade trying to guard Tony Parker).

Scoring points has not been Miami’s problem; it is clicking on that end well enough to win.

As John Schuhmann of NBA.com put it well, this series has come down to a race between the Spurs ball movement and the Heat’s rotations. The ball movement has won two of the three.

The pressure is on Miami now to bring its peak defense, for 48 minutes. If not, it will be in a lot of trouble heading back to San Antonio.

Brash, big game hunter Mario Chalmers has been neither in these Finals

2014 NBA Finals - Game Three

After Game 1 Eric Spoelstra was frustrated with Mario Chalmers because on a night depth was needed Chalmers was in foul trouble limiting his minutes.

Spoelstra should be even less happy now — Chalmers has been a virtual no show through three games of the NBA Finals.

Chalmers prides himself on unshakable confidence and stepping up in the big moments (as he has done since college), but he has averaged 3.3 points a game on 25 percent shooting through three Finals games against the Spurs. In Game 3 Chalmers was 0-of-3 on uncontested jumpers (he missed his two contested ones, too). When he is in the lineup the Heat’s offensive flow takes a noticeable hit and he has a defensive rating of 118.3 so far in the Finals, according to NBA.com’s stats.

Chalmers’ slump goes back a couple playoff series now. His teammates and Eric Spoelstra have talked about trying to boost his confidence, about telling him to just play the game and be himself. Just focus on one thing and do it well. But it hasn’t worked and the struggles seem to be weighing him down.

The brash, confident Chalmers didn’t sound it after the Heat got routed in Game 3.

Eric Spoelstra leaned more on Norris Cole, who brought much better energy to the position, but that’s about all. Cole had 8 points on 33.3 percent shooting and was -8 with some defensive lapses in Game 3.

During the season the Heat have had some success with no point guard lineups — a Dwyane Wade, Ray Allen backcourt where LeBron is the primary ball handler. That didn’t work against the Spurs in Game 3, those lineups were -9. Not that anything worked in Game 3 for the Heat.

Spoelstra’s problem is he has no good options here — Chalmers has been bad but Cole is not a guy the Heat have really trusted. The no PG lineups are not a long-term answer, they force Tony Parker into some difficult covers but they also can be a defensive challenge for the Heat.

What the Heat need is their “Rio” back.

And fast.