Turnabout Is Fair Play
Miami Heat 88, San Antonio Spurs 86
(55-18, 32-5 home)
The Heat returned the favor on Sunday night, by sitting their two biggest stars and giving the Spurs a dogfight on their own floor with their reserves.
Unlike the Spurs, however, who were unable to close the deal in Miami earlier in the season, the Heat pulled off an improbable win without either LeBron James or Dwayne Wade.
And they did it by being more Spurs than the Spurs.
As tough as the loss is to swallow, give all the credit in the world to the Heat. They did all of the things we expect the Spurs to do. They used sharp ball and player movement to get wide open shots and easy shots at the rim; they converted on their 3-pointers (wide-open ones, for the most part); they played swarming D, taking us completely out of our offensive flow; and, most importantly, they trusted in a system, and rode it to a 2-point win.
The Spurs were the team that looked frazzled, harassed out of their offense, uncharacteristically hurried and careless with the ball, trying to do too much as individuals and not enough as a team. We had stretches of solid defense, but for the most part got lost on screens and switches, and surrendered way too many easy shots. Early in the game, the Heat jumped out to an early lead, but they were just making jump shots with no offensive flow. There was no way that could keep up. But the Spurs never made them pay, and eventually the Heat found a groove and played a really solid offensive game, even without the best offensive player in the NBA.
I was particularly impressed with the play of Norris Cole. Though the numbers show a fairly even game, I thought he thoroughly outplayed Tony Parker, hitting tons of big shots and being super aggressive on offense, and playing Parker about as well as he can be played on defense. Parker was never able to get into a rhythm on offense, and the entire system broke down because of it. On top of that, Cole played the entire second half.
The only real bright spots for the Spurs were Duncan (as per usual) and Kawhi Leonard. There’s nothing more to say about Duncan at this point. But Leonard’s game was very intriguing, and has long-lasting implications. Namely, if he is to ascend into the Big 3 (effectively taking Ginobili’s place), he must go through an accelerated apprenticeship in the next two weeks, and jump even another level come playoff time. With Ginobili out, the team can no longer wait for Leonard to grow into it naturally; the team needs to see that potential blossom, and Kawhi must start producing stat lines like tonight’s 17 and 11 on a consistent basis, and, more importantly, continue to be super aggressive in getting his. The future starts now.
While the loss is frustrating and effectively clinches the overall #1 seed for Miami, it doesn’t spell doom and gloom for the Spurs. Miami is a team stocked with smart and talented veterans who are well-suited to play anybody. The sun will set, the sun will rise, and the Spurs will play Memphis tomorrow night, with very little having changed.
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