The Miami Heat answered the bell in a way better than anyone might have imagined in Sunday night’s Game 2 of the NBA Finals. Playing in a must-win spot at home, the Heat used a 33-5 run in the second half to turn a close game into a rout, and with their 103-84 win over the San Antonio Spurs, evened the series up at a game apiece.
If the first two games lend any clues about going forward, it’s that turnovers, rather than rebounding, are going to be the decisive stat when it comes to winning the battle of possessions. The fact the Spurs only committed four turnovers in Game 1 got a lot of attention, while the fact they didn’t rebound, went mostly under the radar.
Early on, you could see Game 2 would be different. San Antonio hit the boards, but was sloppy with the basketball. They won rebounding 44-36 behind a big game from Kawhi Leonard, who had 14 boards, but decisively lost turnovers, 16-6.
On a related point, scoring down in the paint is going to be crucial. Both of these teams shoot the three-ball well, and both did so last night. Each team buried ten treys, on moderate attempts, with Miami shooting 19 times behind the arc and San Antonio trying twenty.
Therefore, the edge would come from scoring inside, and it stands to reason that if you’re taking care of the ball, you’re probably good at making entry passes and creating opportunities. Or, on the flip side, if you’re staying active defensively, you’re going to stop the same.
San Antonio was sloppy, Miami was very active, and the end result was a 46-38 scoring edge for the Heat in the paint. This reversed a six-point deficit in the same stat in Thursday’s opener. The biggest individual performance that stands out here, is a non-performance from Tim Duncan. He was 3-of-13 from the floor and scored just nine points. While he joined Leonard in grabbing 14 rebounds, is it belaboring the obvious to say that if Duncan isn’t exponentially better going forward, San Antonio is finished?
Miami got a good game from Mario Chalmes, who had 19 points and Chris Bosh stepped up with 12 points/10 rebounds. LeBron James didn’t do what everyone thought he would do and try and take the game over. LeBron ended with 17 points/8 rebounds/7 assists. The reality is that no one player can take a game over against a good team defensive effort, and even last night, the Spurs still showed they can make James give up the ball. The league MVP might steal one game by forcing the action for himself anyway—and that one game might be the difference in the series—but he isn’t going to steal four. Kudos to James for not giving in to the hype.
The Finals are at where I thought they would be, 1-1 going to San Antonio, and I further expect they’ll be 2-2 when we’re tipping off Game 5 this coming Sunday.
If I’m the Spurs, I like the fact that my team has been able to make James give up the ball, and while the supporting cast has played reasonably well, Bosh and Dwayne Wade have still not looked like stars. If I’m Miami I like the fact that my team has shown they can put on a blowout win, while San Antonio had their game come down to the wire. If we end up with six nail-biters, the odds say the teams will split, and that would swing the series to the team that showed they could win a blowout.
Continuing the theme of “likes”, I like the fact that Gregg Popovich and the Spurs were obviously furious with their performance. It might seem obvious they would be, but how many other teams would have been happy to get out of Miami with one win? No reasonable observer seriously expected San Antonio to take the first two on the road, but the Spurs themselves clearly did. It shows the intangible toughness that makes them so tough to beat.
But Miami is not without toughness themselves, and I like the fact that in must-win games—Game 7 against Indiana and again last night, they understand that it’s defensive aggression and forcing turnovers that are the key, not highlight reel dunks or shooting the three. They were the more aggressive team early on, something correctly noted by ABC analyst Jeff Van Gundy.
When the Spurs were ahead 13-11, Van Gundy said “San Antonio is ahead, but Miami is playing better.” Danny Green kept the Spurs afloat with a great night behind the arc—he hit all five trey attempts and scored 17 points—but once it became apparent San Antonio wasn’t going to score on the blocks, it was only a matter of time before Miami finally took over.
Above all, as a fan, I like where these Finals are at for entertainment. We’ve had seven quarters of hotly competitive basketball in the first two games and neither team has an obvious edge in the last five minutes of a close game. Sometimes—like last year—the same team keeps out-executing the other in the crunch, and the Finals turns into a series rout, with close individual games. There’s a good chance that close games this year translate into a close series at the end.
Game 3 is Tuesday night (9 PM ET, ABC), and TheSportsNotebook’s next NBA commentary will come Wednesday, to sort it all out again.