While we all prepare our overreactions to the variables that influenced Thursday’s Game 1 of the 2013 NBA Finals, there is one issue with the potential for consistent duplication.
Take a bow, Tony Parker.
But the problems the San Antonio Spurs point guard presents for the Miami Heat are a bit more complex than simply identifying his 10-point fourth-quarter heroics or the shot-clock-beating basket to give his team a four-point cushion with 5 seconds remaining.
As the most hard-to-corral jitterbug in the NBA, Parker’s ability to get where he wants when he wants looms as a lingering danger to the disruptive nature of the Heat defense.
Miami, which led the league in turnovers forced per possession during the regular season, only managed to coerce four turnovers from a Spurs team that spent nine days between games.
When asked for some technical insight regarding his team’s clean ballhandling performance, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was steadfastly pragmatic.
“I don’t know,” he said after the 92-88 triumph. “We don’t have a ‘no turnover’ drill. Our guys just did a great job of taking care of the ball.”
Since Parker spends the majority of San Antonio’s possessions probing the defense – abetted by myriad ball screens – for scoring opportunities, the Heat may have a difficult time creating a change in this aspect of the Finals.
As you recall, Miami was able to survive an Eastern Conference finals series against a physically overpowering Indiana Pacers squad by generating live-ball turnovers. Although the Heat, as we pointed out earlier, are proficient in this category, the Pacers – with former Parker stunt double George Hill running the point – are the sloppiest good team in basketball.
Miami’s tactic of blitzing ball screens frequently sent the Indiana offense into survival mode, causing the shot clock to bleed and somewhat mitigating the Pacers’ altitude and bulk advantage near the rim.
With Popovich having nine days to mull the angles and timing the Heat have used to disrupt ball screens and the bonus of Parker’s ridiculous quickness, the Spurs had little difficulty creating opportunities before the shot clock started to groan.
What made Game 1 a bit dicey for San Antonio was a chilly 42 percent success rate on shots from the field. Although Miami’s close-outs weren’t too shabby, the Spurs’ 30 percent performance from 3-point range – including some corner bricks from Kawhi Leonard – suggests the Heat has even more work to do.
With San Antonio settling in a bit more after a long layoff, don’t expect similarly crooked shooting in Game 2.
But at this time, let’s hark back to the notion of overreaction as the defining emotion for most playoff action. Adjustments will be made and the rhythm of Game 2 may be propelled by matters that have little to do with what defined Thursday’s series opener.
For starters, it wouldn’t hurt for Heat coach Erik Spoelstra to keep his tag-team point guards – Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole – chasing Parker the entire game.
LeBron James was given defensive duty on Parker for a portion of the fourth quarter. This was hardly unexpected, but the added responsibility didn’t help the world’s greatest player close the game on offense.
Sure, there were a few reasons LeBron shot less than 50 percent for the game and had a mere 18 points in his otherwise-gaudy triple-double show. When LeBron faced up from the perimeter, Leonard did a great job of shading him toward the basket-protecting wall built by San Antonio’s larger players without overplaying in one direction and allowing the MVP to get to the rim before help could arrive.
Limited baseline scoring threats from the Heat also enabled the Spurs to provide lane-loitering help for Leonard when James attempted to work on the post.
Expect adjustments to be made there, as well. Dwyane Wade, for example, had four of his 17 points in the second half, but none in the fourth quarter. If the Spurs continue to load up against James on the post, we might see some weak-side pin-down action to get keep help defenders occupied and put Wade on the move toward gaps.
There are many tactical tweaks to be made and elements of a game’s flow that could make Game 2 look completely different.
Miami did a pretty nice job of preventing Parker from annihilating the middle of its defense through three quarters. There are ways to limit the San Antonio point guard’s zipping around in his comfort zone; the Spurs did finish 22nd among NBA teams in turnovers per 100 plays.
And if the Heat can keep Parker off the ball and bother the Spurs enough to make a reasonable number of miscues, their capacity to convert in transition should lead to more than 88 points.
But unless some physical breakdown occurs between now and then, we also should note that Parker probably won’t get any slower.