Didn't someone say recently, with regards to basketball:
"There are no what ifs in basketball."
"Things happen. Crazy things happen."
I guess you can classify the AC breaking down in game one of the NBA Finals, producing "extreme" conditions" of heat and in turn forcing LeBron James out of the game with cramps under the "crazy things happen" in basketball umbrella.
But there is no use in debating whether or not Miami would have won the game if LeBron stayed in. Instead, it's interesting to discuss what it revealed about both teams.....
How valuable is LeBron?
Cleveland in many ways has served as the perfect control for this sort of question.
The last two years with LeBron they had the best record in the NBA.
The last 4 years without him they have won the number one overall pick in the lottery.
It doesn't get more stark in contrast than that.
We wouldn't expect Miami to display such an extreme in phenotypes +/- LeBron, considering they have Wade and Bosh, right? But dig this:
When LeBron first left the game with ~7:30 to go in the 4th quarter, Miami was up 2 points....
They lost the game by 15.
That's essentially a 17-0 by the Spurs.
With LeBron out of the game a defensive battle that Miami was close to pulling out almost instantaneously transformed into a offensive onslaught blowout by the Spurs.
What's crazy is how much it hurt Miami defensively. The Spurs scored 26 points in a little over half a quarter. Danny Green, who was without a field goal for the first 42 minutes of the game, made three threes and scored 11 points in the final 6 minutes.
Over Miami's run the past 4 years we've seen multiple times just how essential LeBron is.
Whether it's the 2011 Finals, last year Finals games 1-3, or the final 7:30 in game one the other day.
Compare that with Miami being able to stay afloat and win the last couple of years with injuries and lack of production affecting both Wade and Bosh at times.
Yes, the supporting cast is essential.
But it's clear, without LeBron, things fall apart......fast.
Pulling an Ibaka
Speaking of fast, how about the recovery time of Tony Parker?
He went from serious ankle injury forcing him out of the clinching WCF game to questionable health for the Finals to scoring 19 points, on 53% shooting, with 8 assists in game one....within less than a week.
Perhaps making injuries seem worse than they are is the new trend these playoffs.
Let's see what LeBron looks like tonight.
Die by the three
In last year's NBA Finals, the Spurs shot the lights out from three in the first 5 games.
Case in point, through the first 5 games alone Danny Green set a record for most threes in an entire NBA Finals by making 25 three pointers (remember there was talk of him being Finals MVP?).
Also, Gary Neal wasn't so bad either - making 12 threes through the first 5 games.
That's 37 threes = 111 points = ~22 point a game....which made up almost 25% of the spurs offense through the first 5 games!!!
Guess how many three pointers Danny Green and Gary Neal made in games 6 & 7 last year, combined.
That's 12 points total = 6 points a game..... which was ~6% of the Spurs offense.
That's a big difference, and an adjustment (that I actually asked Coach Spoelstra about) that had a major affect on the championship.
Now go back to game 1 the other night.
The Spurs made 13 three pointers = 39 points = ~35% of their offense!
But, interestingly (though maybe not surprising):
First 41 minutes: 7 three pointers made
Last 7 minutes: 6 three pointers made
This seems like something worth following......
Live, by allowing points in the paint
In addition to shooting the lights out at the end of the 4th quarter in the game 1, the Spurs also put in work in the paint - scoring 49 points. Tim Duncan had 21 (all in the paint) and Splitter had 14.
A defense never really wants to yield high percentage shots around the rim.
The Spurs scored only 6 points in the paint during their 7 minute run to blow the game open at the end of the 4th. Which means, that their points in the paint helped them stay in the game, not actually win it.
Again, consider last year's Finals.
Tim Duncan averaged 19 points a game (& 12 rebounds).
But in San Antonio's losses Duncan averaged ~21 points while in San Antonio's wins he averaged ~16 points. Wait, so you're saying the Spurs actually fair better when Duncan scores less? Seems counter-intuitive. But actually, think about it from the Heat's perspective, they have been able to survive getting beaten the crap out of by Roy Hibbert and David West for the past three years.
But maybe they don't so well when you spread them thin and take away their on ball pressure defense/athleticism?
So, you're saying when the Spurs run and gun it's to their advantage?
And when it's a slower grind it out game it's to Miami's advantage?
I mean, I think the Heat like to run in transition.
So, to clarify:
If it's a fast full court game, maybe Miami likes that.
But if it's a fast half court game - with a lot of passing, San Antonio likes that.
In other words: the Spurs win by offense, the Heat win by defense.
It's an interesting evolution for these teams.
Maybe I should reconsider my statement claiming the Heat move the ball and share the ball as well as the Spurs. 30 assists for the Spurs in game one compared to 16 for Miami.
Perhaps a couple confounding factors for both teams having similar assist percentages (as well as total number of assists) are LeBron and Miami's points off turnovers.
Maybe, on average, total numbers for assists and passing are similar. But there is a difference between accumulating assists from LeBron orchestrating and transition buckets versus all 5 players touching and moving the ball in a half court set.
Doing the Diaw
Did you see Boris move the ball last game?
Of his 6 assists, here's one where he's doing his best Magic impersonation:
He also had a Nash assist in there as well.
With 10 rebounds as well, Diaw was a +30 on the court.
But he didn't even lead the Spurs in assists!
No, that was......
16 points, 11 assists, and 5 rebounds (+22 on the court).
Not to mention 9 points in the first quarter.
Seems like he was able to shake off whatever ailments, and bad memories, he had from last year.
It was just a dream
Ginobili was great.
But Wade also held his own for a good part of the game as well (particularly early on).
Did you see that Olajuwon dream shake he displayed in the first quarter?
1) Wasn't LeBron the one that worked out with Hakeem?
2) Why do Spurs centers continue to get doped by that move?
He's (still) got game
Just when you thought Ray Allen was relegated to being a Finals (and in turn history) altering three point specialist, he pulls out a throw back:
My goodness, the stiff arm might have been the best part of the play!
Nothing like getting thrown out of the way by a 38 year bball player. Yes, that's officially a grown man move. And Danny Green, I see you getting some too!
By the way, Ray Allen used to do that on the regular.
Speaking of Danny Green, that record for most threes in a Finals that he broke last year? It was previously owned by Ray Allen. Therefore, considering Green's penchant for usurping Allen, it's probably not surprising that after Jesus Shuttleworth's dunk, this happened:
Any chance this was Ray Allen's facial expression again?
It certainly was mine (in a good way).....because that is something Danny Green DOES NOT do on the regular!
Feeling the Heat?
Are the Heat in trouble?
Well, maybe not if you consider that during the previous 3 Finals of the big three era, they lost game one each time they won the championship (and conversely, lost the chip when they actually won game one).
Not to mention, they have won their last 12 games following a loss in the playoffs.
Maybe that's why LeBron and Co. have seemed incredibly relaxed these past couple of days.
I guess practice makes perfect:
It's kind of amazing these guys can joke and still have fun in the Heat of the battle.
Makes sense considering this group has seemingly faced everything......
.....Well, except a 0-2 in the playoffs.
Bill Russell, winner of 11 NBA championships (8 in a row) wrote an interesting piece about how he'll be watching these NBA Finals and what he'll be looking for. Check it out.
A couple of things that stood out to me:
"Intelligent adjustments. Ultimately, this NBA championship will come down to intelligent adjustments."
"The team that is most successful in exploiting the other team will win. Make the other team make adjustments and the team that has to make the most adjustments always falls behind."
Those two statements kind of seem at odds.
But, I guess the essence is that championship teams are the ones that impose their will, and when needed (but maybe not too often) they successfully make the proper game to game as well as in game changes.
Basically, to win, a team needs to dictate how the game will be played, forcing the other team to follow and change what they are comfortable doing. But when they change to make you change what you are doing, make sure you can intelligently change what you're doing......
You got all that?
Adjustments for Miami:
1) Make sure the AC works
2) Don't give up the three! You can live with the Spurs scoring in the paint.
3) Need more from the bench (besides Allen)
Maybe more minutes overall.
But certainly more threes (and defense on Green?) from Battier.
More rebounds from Bird.
And more points (and defense on Parker) from Chalmers/Cole
Not sure this is an adjustment, so much as an observation: Have LeBron attack the rim.
Interestingly, the Spurs went away from their dare LeBron to shoot defense from last year by not giving him a pocket when guarding him. Consequently, LeBron can drive by his defender at will - kind of like he did against Boris Diaw on his last play....even with cramps. It also was effective at getting Leonard in foul trouble.
Adjustments for San Antonio:
Not really much except
1) Take better care of the ball! Can't commit 23 TOs against Miami and win too often.
2) Get the three going early - especially Danny Green. Maybe set some down screens for him if LeBron or Battier is guarding him.
Well, let's see what Crazy thing will happen tonight!