Previously on Armchair 3, we brought you an 800-word recap on Game 6 of the NBA Finals from a Miami perspective. Now, we flip to the road team — how did San Antonio let the championship trophy out of their grasp and what can they do to win the NBA’s most coveted honor for the 5th time since 1999.
San Antonio’s probably kicking themselves after Game 6, a game they really should have won in Miami. But the Heat prevailed in overtime, 103-100, and so it’s on to Game 7. Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan are 4-0 in NBA Finals appearances, one of which (2005) they won in a Game 7. So let’s not be naive and assume San Antonio blew their opportunity Tuesday. This series is far from over.
Wait, how was San Antonio in this one in the first place?
Consider these stats. Manu Ginobili had almost as many turnovers (8) as points (9) in 35 minutes of play, in which the Spurs were a dreadful -21. Tony Parker finished with 8 assists, but shot 6-23 from the field, his second-worst shooting performance of the postseason; he was 3-16 in the Spurs’ Game 6 closeout win over Golden State. In the second half and overtime, Tim Duncan amassed all of 5 points.
San Antonio played about 40 minutes of really efficient basketball, but to say their performance was even among their best postseason would be an overstatement. Sure, Duncan was fantastic in the first half, with 25 points and 8 rebounds. Sure, Parker had his moments, including 5 straight points late in the 4th that almost put this NBA season on ice. Sure, Kawhi Leonard, 22 points, contributed his best scoring night since April 6.
My point: There’s plenty of adjustments San Antonio can make for Game 7. To start, Pop could force more 1-on-1 block touches for Duncan, back to the basket against Chris Bosh. Miami had absolutely no answer for this early. Less isolation ball from Parker, especially when he’s guarded by the league’s best perimeter defender in LeBron James, could also help, though that was only a problem late in regulation and OT. And more open 3-point looks — San Antonio was 5-18 in Game 6; coming into Game 6, Danny Green was averaging 5 3’s per game himself.
The Spurs, the league’s most creative offensive team, only assisted on 13 of the team’s 37 field goals in Game 6. Like I said, room to improve.
Things San Antonio’s needs to carry over to Game 7…
Until LeBron decided to go cray early in the 4th, the Spurs were fantastic in defending James and Dwyane Wade. Pack the lane, force the mid-range jumper. In fact, the strategy was so effective Miami’s run didn’t come until Wade was on the bench in the fourth, with LeBron and Bosh surrounded by shooters in Mario Chalmers (20 points), Ray Allen (9) and Mike Miller (8). The Heat were -15 in Wade’s 37 minutes.
I’d be curious to see Pop’s lineup moves come Game 7. Does he continue to give Boris Diaw big minutes? Diaw played 23 effective minutes, particularly on the defensive end, where, unless he’s catching the ball on the move, LeBron continues to struggle. Tiago Splitter, you would think, is the odd man out — in his 8 minutes Tuesday, the Spurs were -13. With Udonis Haslem out of Miami’s rotation, Splitter’s by far the least athletic player on the floor. He’s a mess offensively, despite 5 points last night, and he can’t match Miami’s speed defensively.
S.A. needs something — I’d say at least 20 combined points — out of Gary Neal and Danny Green. The two combined for only 8 in 65 minutes in Game 6; in Game 3, they scored 24 and 27, respectively. Aside from Leonard, with Manu struggling from deep — he’s 22% this series and 30% these playoffs — these are San Antonio’s only threats from the outside, and thus the only obstacles to doubling Duncan on the block.
Why you’d be crazy to count San Antonio out…
The Spurs are 4-0 in the NBA Finals in the Popovich era. In 2005, the Spurs defeated the Detroit Pistons, then the defending champs boasting one of the top starting units in league history, in a Game 7. Yes, that game was in San Antonio, but the point being Pop, Duncan, Manu and Parker have all been here before. The only player on this Heat team to play in an NBA Finals Game 7 is Ray Allen, who was 3-14 at Staples in the Celtics’ 2010 loss.
I picked San Antonio in 7 before the series started. I’m certainly not flipping now.
Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.