When two contrasting styles clashed for the first time on the biggest stage in basketball, the minute before and after tip off produced a myriad of questions.
The questions before tip off were fairly typical. Do any of the newcomers to the Finals look nervous? Who is going to come out aggressive for both teams? Any remnants of what I was personally thinking before tip off were scorched by the Heat, pun or no pun intended, take it as you may. Steal, outlet, James to Wade for the slam. Uh-oh. This is going to be ugly. The epitome of Miami Heat basketball was exemplified in less than 3 seconds. Swarming defense leading to the aerial display by James and Wade, with the increasingly more raucous Miami crowd providing the soundtrack. Those 3 seconds are every Heat fans dreams. They wish those seconds could be extrapolated throughout the game continuously until the final buzzer. Free tacos for everyone.
The Spurs had different plans. They made sure that Miami’s first basket would be its easiest.
Here are my thoughts on the game:
- San Antonio made sure Dywane Wade would have to shoot long 2-pointers if he wanted to score again after his opening dunk. This frustrated him and left him looking like an out of control NBA 2K13 player who’s human puppeteer was lightly tapping the shoot button with caffeine-overloaded type reflexes, refusing to hold it down fully for a release and follow-through. Head-fake, head-fake, head fake, his triceps permanently inflamed.
- LeBron had his easiest pass of the night in the opening sequence and the Spurs wanted to make it just that. LeBron made some spectacular passes all night, but they were mostly cross court , between the teeth of the defense, allowing San Antonio to quickly close out given the time the ball had to travel in the air. They turned James into a jump shooter also, going under every screen that he called for. He rarely took advantage, mostly trying to distribute all night.
- The Heat were passive early in the shot clock, wanting the best shot. To them, the best shot is a dunk or wide open 3. It’s worked for them all season. However, there is no best shot against these Spurs. You have to be aggressive, you have to control tempo, and you have to attack early. What was Miami thinking trying to out-execute San Antonio in the half court? Actually, they had no choice. After a few early mistakes, Gregg Popovich chewed his team out over poor transition defense. Miami was smart in pushing the pace when they noticed there was no symmetry in San Antonio’s defense. Popovich adjusted quickly. “See Pop yell. See Pop coach. See Spurs listen.”
- Norris Cole and LeBron converted early on some fast-break layups and at this point, Tim Duncan had been called for two very interesting fouls, disabling him from properly contesting the shots. On the first foul he was called for, Duncan merely stood his ground as Wade’s human puppeteer lost control of the joystick, throwing Wade into Duncan’s midsection. Blocking foul. The second foul that he was called on against LeBron was very much a mystery also. It looked like Duncan made no unnecessary contact. Me thinks the foul was committed by the butler, in the kitchen, with the butter knife. It was that kind of night for Duncan. He firmly tried to exemplify the verticality rule against Miami Heat paint-penetrators, which worked out well, but his face was a cocktail of confusion and anger as he picked up a few undeserving fouls. Duncan started off very un-Duncan like, committing turnovers early and missing his first five shots.
- Tony Parker was the opposite. He was Tony Parker all night, splitting traps, penetrating into the lane, and getting virtually any shot he wanted. Parker was masterful. His spinning reverse layup late stole all the momentum from Miami. Tony Parker is the only player in the world right now who can probably get his own isolation possession against Miami. That’s the Heats worst nightmare. So…
- Cut all the crap about comparing their best defenders to the great defenders in NBA history. For better or for worse they are worlds apart. Jordan and Pippen were dominant on-ball defenders. There are no Michael Coopers on the Miami Heat. You put Pippen and Jordan on an island with someone and they will embarrass their opposition. Lebron James is a dominant defensive center fielder, help defender, and man defender when he has help. Its like comparing Darrelle Revis to an elite zone corner. Lebron is not basketball’s Darrelle Revis. Tony Allen is the closest thing we have, and Tony Parker made him look like DeAngelo Hall with one arm. Tony Parker will win that isolation matchup every time against any of the Heats perimeter players. And the Spurs will exploit that.
- Lebron James had a triple double. But it was very hollow. LeBron’s ability to get into triple territory before halftime is otherworldy. The problem was they needed 30 points from LeBron on a night like this. In Game 2 I fully expect him to aim towards that mark.
- Ray Allen kept Miami up throughout the game by hitting timely 3’s. Both teams exchanged buckets all game it seemed. San Antonio looking to get the stop they needed, Miami looking for that 3rd quarter run that they tend to go on, trying to put the game out of reach for these methodical Spurs. They kept executing their offense, and although Miami scored in the paint, all the layups were contested. Ray Allen is scary though if you’re a Spurs fan. He needs minimal time to fire it from downtown, and he elevates so well that it is hard to block his shot. The quickness of his release is robotic.
- I hate to sit here and point out all the positives San Antonio had when they were down all game. It’s just that Miami made contested layups. Ray Allen hit contested 3’s. It seemed like Miami didn’t know what they were going to get and from who until the last moment. Can they continue to do this? San Antonio looked like they scripted every possession they had minus a few late shot clock heaves.
- Tiago Splitter struggled when Bosh put the ball on the floor. Bosh is too offensively gifted and quick for Splitter.
- Lebron James did zero damage in the post. Expect to see him start on the block early next game.
- Battier missed a lot of important shots , but his ability to front post players who are much bigger than him amazes me.
- Chris Bosh had a lot of open looks that he could not convert late. Hot and cold from the mid range all night.
- One of Bosh’s shots came via a pass from Lebron in which it looked like LeBron had an open lane, at least for his standards. Instead he passed it, and Bosh misses an open 3. If Lebron drives he most likely draws a foul or slams one home. It personally baffled me. Too much Magic and not enough Michael.
- The turnover numbers in this game were amazing. Miami turned it over early in the first, and didn’t turn it over again until the 3rd quarter. No need for numbers, you saw it during the game. Almost every possession had a shot and a rebound. Very rarely were there were 2-on-1 fast breaks. The game was still exciting on both ends. Lots of screen and roll, lots of ball movement, and lots of great closeouts.
- Whoever said basketball wasn’t also a game of inches? Any Given Thursday. I wonder if Dom Toretto from Fast and the Furious was a Spurs fan. He’d arrogantly proclaim to his friends in response to Tony Parker’s last shot: “It don’t matter if you win by an inch or a mile, winning is winning”. The last possession by Parker was madness. “Ahh yes Parker. Wait. No! Pick up the ball! The shot clock is winding down! Damn it Tony! Que tu fais ! Shoot it! Ugh such a horrible shot. WHOA. Did he get that off? He got it off in time!!!”
After watching the replay, it was much closer than it initially looked. And it might haunt the Heat all series. Spurs fans are glad Tony Parker clipped his fingernails the night before. Heat fans still can’t believe he made that shot. I can’t believe how good this series is going to be. Your move, Miami.