Miami fought back in Game Two of the NBA Finals to level the series with San Antonio at one apiece. Here are the main talking points from Game Two.
1) Miami’s aggressive approach
For much of the 2013 NBA Finals San Antonio was happy to keep Miami out of the paint and force them to shoot jump shots. Again in Game One of the 2014 finals it appeared a similar pattern may be evolving.
In Game Two Miami shredded that script. Miami made a considerable effort to attack the paint early and often. Although this aggressive approach did not show immediate signs of success (Miami trailed by 7 at the end of the 1st quarter) Wade, James and co.’s attacking style proved too much for San Antonio in the end.
2) LeBron Taking Over
All the pre-game talk was dominated by how LeBron James would perform following his cramping issues in game one. 35 points and 10 rebounds later, James answered these questions emphatically.
After a slow start (1-4, 2 points and 1 rebound in the 1st) James put on a clinic. James attacked the paint with purpose, showing off an array of dunks and spin move layups in the first half. This aggressiveness opened up airspace for James to score 8 points in 52 seconds in the third quarter where he really played like the best player in the world right now.
James made his first six shots after half time. Not for the first time James came up big when his team needed him. James’ aggressive style caused more problems for San Antonio than just his scoring.
3) Foul Trouble
Within the first 3 minutes of the game San Antonio had committed three team fouls. This was largely due to Miami’s decision to attack the paint at every available opportunity. Kawhi Leonard is the man responsible for slowing LeBron James down, if that is possible. Leonard, along with Ginobili to a lesser extent, got in foul trouble early.
Leonard’s foul trouble meant that Boris Diaw was asked to guard LeBron for stretches in the third and fourth quarter. Diaw does not possess the same foot speed as Leonard, meaning Diaw has to respect LeBrons ability to go past him and finish at the rim. With Diaw standing three feet away, LeBron got the green light to start taking (and making) jump shots with regularity.
Nobody in the NBA can stop LeBron. Kawhi Leonard is one of the best players in the league at slowing him down. If San Antonio is to win this series they need Leonard on the floor, and guarding James.
4) Erik Spoelstra’s Adjustments
When facing the same opponent seven games (potentially) in a row, the small adjustments a team makes from one game to the next are key. From Game One to Game Two Erik Spoelstra got the adjustments spot on. Miami’s decision to attack the paint more came directly from Spo.
Two other key adjustments Spoelstra made were keeping larger guards on Tony Parker, and running the 1-3 pick and roll with James and Chalmers to get a switch and have Tony Parker guarding James.
Having a larger man, either James or Wade, guard Parker makes it more difficult for Parker to get into the paint. Even when Parker does penetrate, the larger guard makes it tough for Parker to find see his perimeter men and hit them with an accurate pass.
Parker’s penetration to collapse the opposing defence is key to San Antonio’s game plan. Running the pick and roll to get the Parker switch onto James creates all sorts of issues for San Antonio. With James attacking Parker San Antonio have to help. If you surround James with shooters he is going to pick the right pass and find the free man regularly. It’s up to the shooters to make the open looks.
5) Missed Free Throws
Up by one with 6 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter the Spurs had a great opportunity to extend their lead. Mario Chalmers committed a flagrant foul on Tony Parker by elbowing Parker in the ribs. A flagrant foul gives San Antonio two free throws and then possession of the ball. Parker, still clutching his ribs, would miss both free throws.
On the ensuing possession, Tim Duncan* would go to the charity stripe for two shots, and a chance to extend the Spurs lead to 3. Duncan would also miss his two shots, meaning San Antonio had missed four straight free throws. In a game that finished as a two point Miami win, how crucial is that four missed free throw stretch for the Spurs?
If both players had split their foul shots San Antonio could very well be heading to South Beach with a two game lead. Instead they go to Miami with the series in the balance at 1 – 1.
Check back in on Wednesday for Game 3’s talking points.
*Tim Duncan made history last night by recording his 157th playoff double-double. The Big Fundamental’s 18 points and 15 rebounds tie Magic Johnson’s record.
Eoin Purcell, Pundit Arena