NBA Finals, Game 1: Rust Never Sleeps
San Antonio 92, Miami 88
San Antonio leads series 1-0
Holy Hell, that was a good game.
And not just because the Spurs won, though that surely helps my retroactive opinion of it. Both teams just played at a tremendously high level, with amazing efficiency on both ends. There were plenty of missed shots, but there weren’t a lot of bad ones. The defense was good; the offense was often better. And with very few fouls and TOs, the speed of the game (both in tempo and duration) was just perfect. Often times when you get to the highest level of professional sports, the level of play actually diminishes a bit (I’m looking at you, Super Bowl), but tonight we saw the two very best teams in the league play with ferocity and intensity at an amazingly high level, and it was beautiful basketball.
And the Spurs won, which made it even better.
Too much going on, so let’s get right to the bullet points:
–Score one for rest. The Spurs came out playing very well, though almost a little too active. Duncan in particular was missing a lot of shots strong. But the team was executing at a high level on both ends, and Parker, Duncan, and Ginobili in particular all seemed to be moving tremendously well. Whatever rust there tends to be usually wears off within a half, so being down only 3 at the break certainly bode well for the Spurs’ fortunes in the game.
–In the Battle of Big 3s, the Spurs came out on top. Parker, Duncan, and Ginobili all payed good games, with Parker putting together a great 4th quarter. James played a pretty static tremendous game (by his standards), but I thought both Bosh and Wade were very spotty. Both started out quite strong, but it became clear quite early that the Spurs’ game plan was to give both all the long-ish jump shots they wanted. One thing casual fans might not know is that Wade is a pretty average to mediocre mid-range shooter (and a poor 3-point shooter), and this was evident in the game plan, as Green sagged way off Wade, begging him to take a long jump shot. Wade is most deadly slashing and playing in transition; forcing a jump shot out of him is a huge win for the defense, because it also stagnates their offense.
And while Bosh is a very effective mid-range shooter, the Spurs have to live with something, and that is one of the things they’ve decided to live with. Bosh also took a lot of shots from beyond his comfort zone (read: wing 3-pointers), and the Spurs are very happy to give those up. Trailing by 4 with about 50 seconds left, Bosh found himself with a wide open 3-pointer at the elbow extended. Duncan was about 8 feet off of him. Please, Chris, take that shot.
–This might sound weird to say about a player who had a triple-double in a Finals game, but Leonard played tremendous defense on LeBron. One-on-one, he was able to contain him about as well as any player reasonably can. The team defense basically walled off the paint, forcing LeBron to find open teammates. The Heat took plenty of open and semi-contested 3s, and I expect those to be even more contested in future games as the defensive rotations tighten up. But a jump-shooting LeBron and a LeBron unable to abuse the rim are about the best you can ask for, and we mostly got both this game. Good on you, Kawhi.
–What might’ve been even more impressive was how unafraid Leonard was offensively. He went right at LeBron a few times, getting by him with ease. He out-hustled him for some offensive rebounds and putbacks, and generally was better than expected on that end. And this is after he missed 3 or 4 wide open 3s in a row. Hit 2 of those, and this game is broken wide open, and Leonard might be signed to a max contract before Game 2.
–The Spurs won despite being outrebounded (by a rather poor rebounding team) and shooting very poorly. Having only 4 turnovers certainly helps (tied for a Finals record, with the 2005 Pistons, who did it to us in San Antonio in Game 6). But the Spurs can play much better, and I expect more of those very wide-open 3s to go down in the future, and I expect many of those wide-open misses at the rim to fall with more regularity in the future.
–The great thing about matching up with the Heat is that there seems to be a spot for just about every key rotation player. We can find minutes for Bonner and Neal and Boris and Joseph off the bench when the likes of Battier, Miller, Allen, and Cole play. Of course, the Heat probably feel the same way. But I don’t care. Any of those players will be able to provide a huge moment in a game, and will rarely be outmatched defensively at any point.
–Another great thing about matching up with the Heat is that we have a strong counter for their best line-ups (which tend to feature Bosh as the only big and LeBron as the 4). The Spurs love playing Tim as the only big and Leonard at the 4, so it works out well. And the Heat do not have a strong counter for our traditional “big” line-up with both Duncan and Splitter. Let the chess moves commence.
–Though, Joseph seemed to have a very short leash in the game. He got a very quick stint in the first half, and Manu became the back-up PG in the second half. Such is life, kid. We still like you a lot better than Beno Udrih, who was an absolute train wreck against the Pistons in 2005. I imagine time between Joseph and Neal will be situational for the rest of the series.
–Man, did Ginobili look fresh. He almost threw down a few dunks in the game, and just looked quicker and more spry than he’s been all year. He’s still walking that edge, but when his health is better, he errs on the side of “genius” more often than not. He still takes really bad 3s late in close games, but he also hit a few huge 3s earlier in the game. I’ll ride with him any time.
–The difference between Green and Splitter from this year to last is stunning. Neither will steal a game for us in the series, but when both play solid, we’re a tough team. Green was hitting his shot tonight, which makes him very important to the team. And Splitter had strong moments on both ends of the floor, and can function well in small line-ups as the primary big when Tim needs a rest because of how well he plays pick and roll and moves in space.
–Duncan had another solid game, even after starting 0-5. the shots were good, and they started to fall. He was great on both ends of the floor, and we finally have a team in which we can use him in the post 5-10 plays a game, which is great for us. And those two huge free throws late in the game prove how much drive he still has. ( years ago, he misses one or two of those. Now he steps up and shoots with confidence. Remember when he would stare at the basket for 13 seconds before shooting? I think the biggest adjustment they’ve made with his FT shot is just getting him out of his own head and just shooting the damn ball.
–There was a lot of talk coming into the series about LeBron guarding Parker. The ESPN crew made a fine point that Parker is probably the one PG that LeBron does not want to guard, because it’s not one-on-one defense, it’s defense against a whole scheme, and constant motion and screens. Plus, with Ginobili on the floor, they can move Parker off the ball and let Ginobili run the offense, negating much of James’ individual brilliance. On two key possessions late we saw Parker being guarded by James. On both possessions, the Spurs ran a simple pick and roll with Parker and Leonard (being guarded by Mike Miller), and suddenly Miller was guarding Parker (a huge advantage for the Spurs), and James was back on Leonard.
–Parker. That shot. The spin. The fourth quarter. I might actually believe he is the 3rd best player in the league, right now, in this moment. He has certainly been the 2nd best player in the playoffs. The Spurs aren’t here without him, and they aren’t winning this series unless he continues to play at such a high level. What has impressed me most is his growth not only as a team leader, but in such a confident and efficient closer. There was a time, late in games, you’d rather have Ginobili or Duncan with the ball, but now, it’s all Parker. He never plays fast, and he almost always make the exact right decision. Damn, he’s good.
–The Heat have the best player in the series, but we have the second best player. The series may come down to where the 3-6 slots fall. So if Duncan and Ginobili can outplay Bosh and Wade, and if Leonard/Green/Splitter can outplay Chalmers/Allen/Haslem/whoever else, the the Spurs really will be the better team.
Now the fun begins. Two days off, time for all the talk, all the hyperbole, all the wonder. Each game should be magnificent, but each will be their own beast, their own entity. Expect a hyper-aggressive, hyper-focused Heat team for Game 2, as they can ill-afford to lose the opening two at home. Will the Spurs be complacent, having secured the split they want on the road? Or will they be equally aggressive and focused?
In years past, I would expect a flat Spurs team in Game 2. But this year’s version is the most focused, resilient, together Spurs team I have ever had the pleasure of watching. They most likely sense that this very well could be their last ride together, their last shot at immortality. They’re 3 games away.
5 for 21.
Go Spurs Go.
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