The San Antonio Spurs took a huge step toward winning the 2014 NBA Championship by beating the Heat in Miami on Thursday night.
1) History making
It would be downright insulting not to start this column by acknowledging Tim Duncan’s historic night. With 10 points and 11 rebounds Duncan registered his 158 career postseason double-double, breaking Magic Johnson’s previous record of 157.
Duncan’s consistency throughout his career is amazing. Three years ago it looked as if Duncan’s time in the league was coming to an end, but the work and dedication The Big Fundamental has put in over the past few years is evident.
Duncan is a massive reason the San Antonio Spurs are one win away from capturing title number five. Judging on his play this postseason Duncan could easily continue to play in this league for another two or three years if he wanted.
2) The concept of team
Game Four was a blow out. It was the type of game where both coaches empty the bench and give every player a few minutes down the stretch. That fact does not diminish how the San Antonio Spurs play the game of basketball. San Antonio has as much depth as any team in league history.
On Thursday night San Antonio had 13 players get on the scoreboard. The Spurs team finished with 107 points, only 66 of those points came from the five starters. San Antonio’s high level of play off the bench from players like Manu Ginobili, Patty Mills, Tiago Splitter/ Boris Diaw and all the others is a key ingredient in them leading this series 3-1.
Numerous Miami staff and players said after Game Four that the Spurs have so many ways to hurt a team, any of the five guys on the floor at any time can score. The true testament to the Spurs team concept comes when trying to decide an MVP from the Spurs team. There are so many candidates, Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Boris Diaw. The league may need to break the Bill Russell award into several pieces this year.
3) San Antonio’s offence
People often talk about adjustments as being crucial to winning a Finals Series. When asked after Game Three if he was going to make any adjustments Gregg Popovich simply answered ‘no’. The Spurs have a proven system in place that they trust.
It is too simple to say that ball movement is the key to this system, but it plays a major role. The Spurs are not a team who look to get the ball to one or two certain players to score. The Spurs are happy to move the ball until any of the five players on the floor gets a good look, and then that player is expected to shoot.
The Spurs are so tough to defend because so many players can start the offence. They can run the offence through Parker’s penetration, or through Ginobili’s passing in a pick and roll. They can use Diaw in the low post, or even Tiago Splitter can find cutters to the basket. This system is quite unique, and stopping it is a challenge the Miami Heat must figure out before Sunday.
4) Where are Miami’s second and third option?
Every basketball fan in the world knows how Miami’s number one option on offence is. The question these Finals have asked is who is number two? When LeBron James is on the bench, or if Kawhi Leonard’s defence prevents James from touching the ball, who is the next man up? In theory it should be Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh.
After going 1-10 in three quarters and finishing with only 10 points, D-Wade didn’t look like a player who was going to provide much offence for his team. Bosh has been good in spells this series, but in Games Three and Four he has not delivered in the way his team needs him to.
The fact remains that through this series Miami’s second and third options have been Rashard Lewis and Ray Allen. It was only a matter of time before Lewis reverted back to his regular season form and 2 points in Game Four shows that.
Miami are overly reliant on James on the offensive end. Due to the incredibly low level of play from Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole it appears as though ball handling responsibilities have been left to James also. Right now Miami’s offensive strategy is the polar opposite to that of their opponents.
5) ‘Beat down’
Games Three and Four are the first time in NBA Finals history that a team has won consecutive road games by more than 15 points. Stephen A. Smith and Michael Wilbon (who are both prone to exaggeration) called these two games a ‘beat down’. It is difficult to give San Antonio enough credit for the previous two games.
The Miami Heat is the two time defending champions. They breezed through the Eastern Conference Playoffs without breaking a sweat. They have the best player in the league, and three of the best 15 or 20 players in the league. Off the bench they have the greatest three point shooter in NBA history. Miami is an excellent team.
What does that say about the Spurs? Each of the Spurs three wins in this series have been by 15 points or more. If it wasn’t for LeBron James playing one of the best games of his career in Game Two this series could well have been a San Antonio Spurs sweep. For three games the Spurs have totally outplayed the Miami Heat, it has not even been close. They have been labelled as old, unattractive to watch and even as boring, but this San Antonio team could be one of the greatest teams in NBA history.
Check back in Monday for Game Five’s talking points.