Finals Game 1: Turn Up the Heat

June 6th, 2014 | by Ben Dowsett
Photo by Andrew D Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Photo by Andrew D Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Well.  That was interesting.

The basketball gods have clearly decided that this Finals matchup lacks the proper amount of intrigue, throwing us a curveball in what was already a doozy of a ballgame.  We’re going sticky Band-Aid style here and tearing the entire thing off in one shot, because there’s a still-amazing game of basketball to get to: The temperature in San Antonio clearly affected the on-court product for both teams.  Saying that the game would have unfolded in precisely the same manner without said heat is obviously foolish, as is insinuating that an entirely different result would absolutely have taken place under normal conditions.  The reality here is easily apparent – it’s an unfortunate event, made even more so by the fact that it appeared to affect the game’s best player the most, but nothing more than that.  Is it okay for fans (particularly Miami fans or LeBron apologists like myself) to feel a tad disappointed that the world’s best was severely limited for a (mostly) close Finals game, likely a result of his V-12 engine breaking down more quickly than all the 6- and 8-cylinders when there’s a gas shortage1?  Yes, I think so.  But should the Heat or their fans feel “cheated” out of some sort of a deserved victory?  Absolutely not.

See?  That barely even hurt, and now there’s just a little red mark there.  You won’t even notice it in an hour or two.

Getting to the meat of things, here’s hoping that the typically bloated reactions to anything remotely out of the ordinary involving LeBron or the Heat don’t overshadow what was still a terrific game of basketball, particularly from the Spurs.  Miami shot better than 41 percent from beyond the arc and over 47 percent overall, collected 14 steals and an uncharacteristic 22 Spurs turnovers total…and still lost the game by 15.  It was yet another shining example of what makes San Antonio such a joy to watch, the Spurs’ reflexive machine unbothered by whichever distractions presented themselves.

The Spurs shot 58.8 percent from the field and 52 percent from beyond the arc, and these figures are made all the more remarkable by the fact that Miami undoubtedly played some of their best defense of the entire season, at least through the first three quarters.  Rotations were crisp, with all five Heat defenders on a string and at what seemed like close to maximum effort.  No matter – San Antonio simply continued to do what they always do, probing and rotating until they found a weakness:

The Spurs showed some of the same small bits of confusion against the Heat’s length that hurt them last postseason, particularly in their 18 turnovers through the first three quarters.  But while they’ll obviously hope to improve here, it just makes their overall performance that much more remarkable – San Antonio nearly doubled Miami’s assist total for the game (30-16), and they more than did so if secondary assists (hockey assists) and passes that led to free throws2 are counted as well (in fact, the Heat had none of the latter, a disturbing fact for coach Erik Spoelstra).  The Spurs gradually wore down Miami’s trapping defensive attack, then landed a big finishing blow with James on the bench in the fourth quarter.

Several guys played pivotal roles, perhaps none more than Manu Ginobili, who came out with a fire in his eyes and a clear desire to prove something after last year3.  He nailed his first three triples and stayed energized throughout, dishing 11 assists in just 32 minutes, including a few with his patented flair:

Tony Parker flew slightly under the radar with another excellent game, dishing eight dimes of his own on a night that saw Pop tinker with his substitution times.  He played over 36 minutes and didn’t appear to show any visible signs of discomfort with his ankle, something Spurs fans will surely breathe a sigh of relief at.  Danny Green, last year’s early series hero, caught fire once again late in the game to help seal the win with LeBron on the bench, nailing triples on consecutive possessions with under five minutes to go to put the Spurs up for good.  As per usual, a terrific team effort.

On the other end, Miami has to be concerned to have just lost a game where their offense played so well.  Four different Heat players made over half their shots, and the team as a whole went an even 50 percent on contested field goal attempts, per SportVU, including 14-25 on such shots from James, Wade and Bosh.  Their lack of ball movement in comparison with the Spurs is a concern – whether it was the temperature or other factors, they devolved into more isolation-heavy sets as the game went on, and it eventually was their undoing when LeBron left the game.  It also played into a big discrepancy from the line, San Antonio doubling Miami’s number of free throw attempts for the game.

Of course, there are always little bits of silver lining, and the Heat are far from finished here.  They’ll obviously hope to avoid a repeat scenario for their top player, and a fully recovered LeBron for 38-42 minutes will certainly be an upgrade on what they got tonight.  Further, the Heat can take some solace in the general variability of jump-shooting from game to game, an element that swung in San Antonio’s favor in Game 1.  Going back to contested versus uncontested field goals, Miami actually generated more of the latter, with 37 uncontested shots to 28 for the Spurs, with Miami going 48.6 percent and San Antonio 53.6.  The bigger discrepancy was on contested shots – the Heat shot a perfectly acceptable 50 percent, but were dwarfed by the Spurs’ 62.5 percent mark, one it’s hard to imagine them sustaining over a full series.  Parker and Duncan were particularly lethal here, combining for 14-20 shooting on contested looks.  These numbers aren’t perfectly contextual, of course4, but Miami can hold out some hope that shooting will even out over the course of the series and perhaps even swing heavily in their favor for a few games.

In the end, though there will certainly be plenty of rabble roused in basketball circles across the globe surrounding auxiliary events5, one has to simply take a hat off to the ageless Spurs for yet another masterpiece of a game.  They have a lot of work ahead of them to back it up, though; regardless of circumstance, LeBron will take this result to heart, and a freight train wearing a headband will be coming San Antonio’s way come Sunday.  I’ll take six more just like that last one, please, waiter, but just hold the electrical surge if you will.

Ben Dowsett

Ben Dowsett

Ben Dowsett is a life-long Jazz fan and general sports fanatic based in Salt Lake City. He also writes for Nylon Calculus (Hardwood Paroxysm/Fansided Network), and can be heard on the airwaves for the SCH podcast and appearances with ESPN AM 700. With a strong background in both statistics and on-court fundemantals, he writes primarily as an in-depth strategic analyst. He can be found on Twitter at @Ben_Dowsett.
Ben Dowsett

3 Comments

  1. Mewko says:

    Great article. I agree with you. It’s not cheating. Both teams had to play in the same heat.
    I will sarcastically say that San Antonio made the A.C break down on purpose. Not to shut down LeBron, but to get their beverage sales up. It was even hotter for the fans because hot air rises. Feel bad for the coaches, they had to go their in their suits.

  2. Nice article, but unfortunately that wasn’t a hammer play (your first video). There was no step-up/pin-down screen on Belinelli. A hammer play does not need a throw-down pass, which I guess is what you thought, and we often see the Spurs run a play from the hammer series by just using a skip pass.

    All the best.

    • Ben Dowsett says:

      Thanks for the comment – I am indeed aware this play doesn’t contain all the required elements of a Hammer set, but the play was visually similar to how such a set typically plays out for the Spurs, and the designation is just a way for me to remember which clip was which when I uploaded my clips to YT. Appreciate the willingness to clarify.

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