Even though the Miami Heat won Game 2 of this NBA Finals to put the series in a 1-1 deadlock, there’s still only about a week of basketball left to be played in the 2012-2013 season. While this isn’t Jazz-related, I wanted a chance to analyze some basketball on this site before the doldrums of the offseason begin. Here are some of my immediate notes and observations from last night’s pivotal Game 2 Heat win:
The Difference In Turnovers
Turnovers were a significant part of the story after Game 1: it was 4 Miami turnovers in the 4th that allowed San Antonio to go on the run that gave them the lead, and San Antonio’s game turnover total of 4 was incredibly impressive, especially given some of the passes being thrown by the Spurs. Indeed, out of the over 1000 games played this season, there were just 4 games in which teams had 4 turnovers or less.
In Sunday’s game, the story was instead about San Antonio’s carelessness with the ball, giving up 16 turnovers while Miami committed only 6. Most of San Antonio’s turnovers didn’t lead to transition opportunities for the Heat; per Synergy, Miami had just 2 more transition opportunities than in Game 1. Instead, the turnovers simply stymied the Spurs’ offense, limiting them to just 84 points.
Last season, there were 62 games in which one team had a turnover differential of 10 or more against their opponent, the turnover-happy teams were just 14-48 in such games (a 22% winning percentage). The Spurs weren’t winning Game 2 with an offensive performance like that.
Better Heat Traps on the Pick and Roll
How did San Antonio accrue 16 turnovers? Many of the mistakes were just sloppy basketball: Kawhi Leonard traveled on the first play of the game, Tony Parker dribbled it off of his foot uncharacteristically, Gary Neal had a pass go right through his hands and out of bounds, and Tim Duncan misread Manu Ginobili’s intentions on a inbounds play. These are focus turnovers, and the Spurs were disappointingly prone to these sorts of mistakes after their masterful Game 1.
However, Miami’s defense forced many of them too. In particular, it was a slightly different approach to the Tony Parker pick and roll that caused the Spurs initial frustration. In Game 1, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili were very successful with the pocket pass (the bounce pass between the two defenders in the pick and roll) to their big men, Tiago Splitter and Tim Duncan, rolling towards the basket. In Game 2, however, Miami positioned its defenders slightly closer together, and had them focus on the pocket pass. The result: Tony Parker turnovers. Parker turned the ball over twice on consecutive forced pocket passes early in the 1st quarter:
See how Miami’s defenders stay close together, very much aware of blocking that pocket pass? The second turnover may even be a kicked ball, but it shows an awareness for this facet of the Spurs’ pick and roll game. From this point forward, the Spurs generally had to pass around, rather than through, Miami’s defenders on the pick and roll. This does two things: first, it generally gives the Spurs the ball in worse positions on the floor (Duncan at the top of the key rather than flashing towards the hoop), and second, it gives Miami an extra half-second or so to make the defensive rotation that it needs to prevent the layup or open three. The Spurs may well need to add a new wrinkle to their pick and roll game.
Miami’s PnR and Isolation Game
On the other side of the floor, Miami’s pick and roll and isolation game were dismal in Game 1. According to Synergy, San Antonio allowed just a 0.67 PPP on isolation plays, a 0.57 PPP on pick and roll plays in which the ball handler kept the ball, and just a 0.38 PPP on pick and roll plays for the roll man. You would certainly expect better numbers in the Isolation and Pick and Roll from a team with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh.
As you’d expect, Miami was much better in Game 2, finishing with a 1 PPP in isolation, 0.95 for the PnR ball handler, and 1.43 PPP for the roll man. When watching the film, the reason for the difference seems to be one of patience: in Game 1, Miami often simply attacked with reckless abandon, trying to finish right over the Spurs’ defense. In Game 2, they had more patience to seek out the right play, often giving a beat to read the defense before attacking the vulnerability that the pick provided. Miami’s actually very good at reckless abandon, and so probably got somewhat unlucky in Game 1 in missing some shots they typically make. Luckily for them, this type of shot luck reverted to the mean in Game 2.
Mike Miller’s Renaissance
After the game, speaking over one of Sunday’s highlights in which LeBron kicks to an open Mike Miller for a three, NBATV analyst Dennis Scott said something along the lines of “And you know what Mike Miller’s motto is: ‘Let it fly!’”. Of course, it’s just a silly comment over a highlight video (and the current NBA studio analysts generally say some silly things at this point of the broadcast), but it shows just how much Mike Miller has changed over the past few seasons.
5 years ago, when playing for Minnesota, Timberwolves fans were incredibly frustrated at Mike Miller for his reluctance to shoot the ball. This is reasonable: Miller was making over 9 million dollars a year, and was a former NBA 6th man of the year precisely because he could shoot from the outside. Instead of taking advantage of the best aspect of his game, Miller sought to become a facilitator and playmaker, a decision which turned him from an above-average to a below-average player overnight. During his season with Minnesota, he shot just 3.4 threes per 36 minutes.
When Miller joined the Heat, things generally returned to normal: he shot 5.1 threes per 36 minutes, just as he had generally done in his early career with Memphis that brought him the recognition and money in the first place. This season, he’s even furthered that commitment, shooting 7.1 threes per 36 minutes in the regular season and playoffs. It’s been the best thing Miller could do for Miami’s offense, and his 3-3 performance last night helped in their big win. Miller’s motto change came just at the right time to help Miami.