Indiana took Miami to seven games in the Eastern Conference finals but the Heat were able to knock out the Pacers in Game 7. The San Antonio Spurs may have as much talent as the Pacers, but they’re a much better team.
With sturdy defense, unusual discipline and unbelievable performances from its two brightest stars, San Antonio edged Miami, 92-88, to take Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday night.
First of all, and most importantly, Miami has to contend with an efficient, all-around point guard for the first time this postseason. With all due respect to Brandon Jennings (at times a volume shooter), Nate Robinson (a good bench sparkplug but not much more) and George Hill (a really good defender with a relatively limited offensive game), no backcourt player in these playoffs has done more for his team than Tony Parker.
Parker has been a godsend for the Spurs, especially after his amazing acrobatic shot that closed the scoring in Game 1. Over his last three games Parker has shot an incredible 35-for-61 from the field, or 57.4 percent. To take that many shots per game and hit at that rate is something truly special and even historic.
“Tony’s shot is one of those things that happens sometimes,” Manu Ginobili said after the game.
And if Parker’s play this postseason wasn’t impressive enough at face value, consider that he has actually been a much better scorer away from the AT&T Center. Look at his playoff splits:
|Postseason Parker||Games||Min||FG %||3 FG %||Points||Assists||Rebs||FTA|
How can a guard like Parker take so many shots and shoot 51 percent from the field on the road? It can only be described as one of the great postseason performances by a point guard in quite some time.
The scary thing for the Heat is that they have a lot more to worry about than Parker. Again, these are not the Pacers we’re talking about. Consider:
San Antonio has a quality bench: No longer can Miami feast on an inferior second unit. Only two San Antonio bench players logged over 10 minutes Thursday – Ginobili and Gary Neal – and both of them had positive differentials while on the floor. Ray Allen and Mike Miller had good games early for Miami, but San Antonio’s defense clamped down in a major way during the latter stages.
San Antonio has Tim Duncan: Despite being 37 years old and missing his first five shots, Duncan became the oldest player since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to score 20 points and grab 14 rebounds in a Finals game. With all due respect to Roy Hibbert, David West and Paul George, no NBA player leads his team and commands the respect of his opposition the way Duncan impacts the Spurs and their opponents. It should come as no surprise that Duncan and Parker led the game with a plus-9 each.
The lengthy series against Indiana may have had an impact on LeBron James, but San Antonio was also able to make him more of a passive player in Game 1. Miami does not want James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to take the same number of shots. (It was 16 for LeBron, 15 for Wade and 16 for Bosh.) James may have had a triple-double, but seemed a tad passive at times and became the first player in the Finals to lose while having a triple-double since Larry Bird in 1986.
Bosh especially should take fewer shots, considering the slump he’s currently enduring. Over his last five games, Bosh is shooting 28 percent from the field while averaging five rebounds. Bosh is actually shooting markedly better from 3-point range (36.4 percent) over this span, which means that San Antonio would like nothing more than to see Bosh shoot at this point.
Unlike Indiana in Game 7, San Antonio succeeded in deterring Heat drives towards the basket. Miami passed on 53 percent of its drives while shooting 3-for-12 on its drive-and-kicks, according to ESPN Stats & Info. The Spurs’ defense improved as the game progressed, and San Antonio neutralized Miami’s dribble-drive aggression it so greatly thrives on, even though the game was fast-paced (compared to the East finals) and more conducive to the Heat’s style of play.
“The Spurs are the Spurs,” James said. “They’re going to put you in positions where you feel uncomfortable offensively and defensively, and every time you make a mistake, they’re going to capitalize on it.”
San Antonio clearly set a message that this series is going to be tough and intense on Miami, and the Heat have to raise their level of play to vanquish the Spurs. Come Game 2 on Sunday night, Miami will have to “up the ante” and be primed and ready against a uniquely determined Spurs squad.
Shlomo Sprung loves advanced statistics and the way they explain what happens on the court. He is also the web editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. A 2011 graduate of Columbia University’s Journalism School, he has previously worked for the New York Knicks, The Sporting News, Business Insider and other publications. His website is SprungOnSports.com. You can follow him on Twitter.