On the surface, things appear to be OK. The Spurs have executed their defensive game plan, which is to turn LeBron James into a passer. They have prevented the Miami Heat from turning either game into an extended relay race. And most important, they secured a split of the first two games as the road team, which is practically mandatory in the 2-3-2 format of the NBA Finals.
Beneath the surface, however, the Spurs are one spectacular clutch shot from being in an 0-2 hole and facing the specter of a must-win Game 3. And unless they want to be facing a must-win Game 4, the Spurs have to find quick fixes for a number of issues.
“If you look at the result, being 1-1, it’s not bad,” Spurs guard Manu Ginobili said. “But you don’t want to play like this in an NBA Finals. You don’t want to give them that much confidence, and you feeling bad about yourself.”
Some of San Antonio’s problems are team-wide, such as pace and ball security. Others are individual, such as the collective play of their stars.
And it’s fair to expect that a week of sleeping in their own beds will allow the Spurs to relax a bit, which should somewhat raise their level of play.
But it has to get better. And fast.
1. Ball security. Much was made of San Antonio’s four turnovers in Game 1, which tied an NBA Finals record. So perhaps as much should be made of the 17 turnovers the Spurs committed in Game 2, which is more than Miami’s combined total for the first two games.
Six of those turnovers came during Miami’s monstrous 33-5 run, which illustrates why San Antonio must take care of the ball. But it wasn’t the Spurs committing turnovers that led to the Heat getting into their transition game; it was the Heat ratcheting up their defense that led to the Spurs committing turnovers. San Antonio succumbed to the pressure.
“If we can keep our turnovers under 10, it would be better against that team,” said Spurs guard Tony Parker, who had zero giveaways in Game 1 and five in Game 2. “Because every time you have turnovers, it’s a quick fast break.”
Not every time. But often. Which leads us to …
2. Pace. As most teams do, the Spurs like to run to increase their opportunities for easy baskets. For San Antonio, it is less about getting breakaway layups or 2-on-1 situations and more about the secondary break, where it can take advantage of cross matches, use transition pick-and-rolls and fan shooters to the arc.
However, the last thing the Spurs want to do is get into a prolonged track meet with the Heat, who absolutely thrive in the open court. Striking a balance is tough, so San Antonio seems content to rely on precision over pace.
Through the first two games, however, the numbers seem to indicate that slowing things down isn’t working that well. While the Spurs have limited the Heat to 22 fast-break points, they have managed just seven themselves. That is a paltry 4 percent of their offense. In the regular season, fast breaks generated 13.5 percent of their offense.
While pace always slows in the postseason, the Spurs are getting less than two easy baskets per game vs. the Heat. When half-court sets have to produce virtually all of your offense, that demands that your execution and shot-making are near optimum levels.
Which they have not been.
3. Shooting. During the season, San Antonio shot 48 percent. In the playoffs, the Spurs have expectedly dipped slightly to 46 percent. But against the Heat, they are shooting just 41 percent.
Surprisingly, the biggest culprits are the “Big Three” of Parker, Ginobili and Tim Duncan, who have taken exactly half San Antonio’s shots thus far. Collectively, they are shooting just 38 percent (31-of-81) from the field, including a miserable 10-of-33 in Game 2.