There’s no I in team

Javier Cortez, Sports Editor

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Only a few can say they predicted an outcome with such disparity. The San Antonio Spurs obliterated the two-time defending champion Miami Heat in five games to win their fifth NBA championship in franchise history.

It was supposed to be another classic series between two great teams. It turned out to be a complete mismatch between a great champion and a past-its-prime fallen champion. The difference in urgency, bench play and overall game plan could not have been clearer.

The biggest shock was not how great the Spurs were, but how bad the Heat were, and with every game it showed more and more.

 

Game 1: Spurs 110, Heat 95: The AC shuts down, so does LeBron

This game will be forever known as the game where Miami couldn’t take the Heat, especially LeBron James. The story lines after game one had nothing to do with the game itself and more to do with LeBron’s cramping.

The game, although not what everyone expected in terms of conditions and its ending, had some interesting adjustments that both teams came into game one with.

The first being how the Spurs guarded LeBron James, they did not give him space to shoot like they did last year. In game one, they played him tight and only doubled and brought help defense when he attacked the basket.

It’s surprising because it is a bad strategy. When LeBron drives to the basket, the defense is always going to collapse, which means James is always going to the open shooter. If the defense does not collapse and help, LeBron is going to get an uncontested layup or dunk.

Secondly, the sloppiness of the game. Both teams had a combined 41 turnovers, whether it was bad ball handling or careless passing, both teams essentially kept the other team in the game.

Lastly though, the conditions of the game cannot go unnoticed, it was hot as hell. Miami was in control of the game and the last seven minutes would have been a lot different if LeBron had been playing.

For the majority of the game, Miami outplayed San Antonio, but when a game is close all that matters is who wins the fourth quarter and that is exactly what San Antonio did.

 

Game 2: Heat 98, Spurs 96: Big game James

Game two was everything that game one should have been for the Heat–a game within reach in the fourth quarter, with the best player in the game to close the game out. Miami made less mistakes then San Antonio and tied the series up.

James was phenomenal, scoring 35 and adding 10 rebounds as the Heat stole home court from the Spurs. He was the scoring leader for three of the four quarters for each team, he was consistent and in rhythm for most of the game.

Miami made up for a bad fourth quarter in game one and seemed to have the momentum heading back to South Beach. When James was on the floor, Miami looked to be the better team and if the game was close in the fourth quarter, the edge would have to go to Miami.

 

Game 3: Spurs 111, Heat 92: The Spurs put up video game numbers

Game three was supposed to be the game were Miami took control of the series, and the outcome couldn’t have been any different. The Spurs recorded a finals’ record 71 first-half points on a record 75 percent shooting from the field. It looked like the Spurs were shooting into a swimming pool, nothing ever missed.

Both teams deserve credit though for the historic first half. The Spurs were absolutely out of their mind, but the horrible Miami defense cannot go unnoticed. The rotations were late, bad communication and the mismatches were blatant.

LeBron scored 14 in the first quarter to keep Miami within reach, but Kawhi Leonard had an even better quarter and game. He was aggressive offensively and, more importantly, he kept LeBron stagnant offensively.

After playing great in game two, James turned in what would be his worst game of the series, scoring 22 points, with seven turnovers and suspect defense.

 

Game 4: Spurs 107, Heat 86

Somehow the Spurs proved everything right about the Heat wrong in game four. The Heat always play well after a loss–nope. The Heat’s defense always make adjustment to win–nope. The Heat’s role players always give the big three a spark when needed–nope.

Game four defied the laws of science, it’s like a Republican being right about global warming being a hoax or God hating gay people. It just doesn’t make sense, but somehow it happened.

Miami came out with no urgency and they paid dearly for it with another blowout loss at home.

LeBron had a very good first quarter and that barely kept the Heat in the game. By the end of the first quarter, the Spurs proved Miami’s biggest weakness, which is that LeBron James is Miami’s only line of defense.

If a player on San Antonio gets hot, LeBron must guard that person. If the Heat needs to go on a scoring run, LeBron must be that person. The only way the Heat would win game four and the rest of the series is if LeBron literally does everything great.

 

Game 5: Spurs 104, Heat 87

It was obvious that a blowout was coming. By the time game five rolled around, the Spurs proved that they were the better team, and all Miami had was the best player.

The Heat came out with their best first quarter, followed by their worst second quarter. Once the Spurs finally took the lead midway through the second quarter, the Heat were never going to get it back.

LeBron had another good game, but his supporting cast failed him once again. He played every minute until six minutes were left in the fourth quarter. The white flag was waived and a new champion reigned.

 

The blame game: Who deserves it and where it goes

  1. Erik Spoelstra—To put it bluntly, he was out coached. Popovich had the better team, but Spoelstra’s game plan never changed. The lineups and rotations differed, but the offensive execution and pick-n-roll defense was bad for the majority of the series. At the end of the day, Spoelstra can only take so much of the blame, his team was limited and you can only do so much as the head coach. 15 percent.

 

  1. The other big two—Wade and Bosh were non-existent in the series, by far their worst performances in four NBA Finals. Wade immediately dismissed health problems but the physicality in his game is gone and Bosh suddenly disappeared after a whole season of making big plays. 40 percent.

 

  1. The supporting cast—There was no supporting cast and that is why there was such a huge disparity in the series. Chalmers was unreliable, Lewis was okay for two games and Battier wasn’t even in the rotation. The past two championships that the Heat have won, the bench stepped up. Guys like Mike Miller, Mario Chalmers and Ray Allen are all a thing of the past. 45 percent.

 

 

Why LeBron deserves no blame

When LeBron left the fourth quarter with cramps and only played 43 seconds in the last seven minutes that was a microcosm of the whole series for Miami.

Miami can’t stay with San Antonio, let alone win a game with LeBron on the bench. In fact, they didn’t even stand a chance unless LeBron was scoring the majority of the points. Wade, Bosh, Chalmers, Allen and the rest of the Heat were non-existent offensively.

LeBron’s only inconsistencies was that he scored in spurts and turned the ball over. He would have a huge quarter, then wind down in the next quarter. If LeBron was not in the 35-40-point range for each game then it was another W for the Spurs.

You can’t ask a player to score 40 points per game, while guarding the best player on the opposing team. Only one time in NBA history has a player in the NBA Finals averaged more than 40 points per game (Michael Jordan, 1993).

If the expectation was for LeBron to average 40 per game, then that is an expectation that most players would fail at over and over again.

No matter what LeBron did, his team failed him. Wade looked slow and old, he had no trust in his jump shot and he could not explode when he went to the rim. Bosh was sporadic with his scoring, he missed wide-open looks and rebounded at a low rate.

Ray Allen had opportunities and looks throughout the series, but could not find the bottom of the net. Old age was not a factor for the Spurs, but it definitely was for the Heat.

 

What the future holds.

San Antonio

It seems like every year is their last year, but somehow they come back and have a legitimate chance for a title. There is a downside to San Antonio’s constant success. They are setting themselves up for a long recovery process.

San Antonio has proven that they like to build through the draft and trade for role players. They do not sign big-time free agents–they tried more than a decade ago with Jason Kidd and that didn’t work. Players like Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James won’t come to San Antonio.

The market is too small and the coaching staff in San Antonio does not pamper star players. Greg Popovich has an acute coaching style that very few stars in today’s league can fit.

San Antonio is going to have a hard time building through the draft when they have the last pick in every round. With Duncan, Parker and Ginobili at the helm, San Antonio will find a way to be successful, but those core three are not the future.

Miami

The Heat are solely dependent on LeBron James. If he leaves, they suck, if he stays, they will contend. They don’t need another star player on the team, they just need to reassess their bench and get younger. The big three need to opt out and restructure their contracts so they can add scoring and rebounding. There are three keys needed for Miami to win another title.

  1. Dissolve the big contracts–Wade should not get a Kobe Bryant-type contract, Bosh should not opt back into his contract and James needs to get paid more.
  •  Dwyane Wade-  two year 14-million, Ginobili type contract
  •  Chris Bosh- two years, 20-million
  •  LeBron James- two year, max contract, 1+1 contract

LeBron is the only player who deserves big-time money because he is the only player on the team in his prime. If the Heat are looking for big contracts then their future together is over. Every championship team eventually runs its course, but in this case the Heat can choose their fate.

  1. Get rid of the small ball- Its floor-spacing, 3-point shooting offense has run its course and now it needs to end. The Spurs once again proved that small ball doesn’t beat traditional lineups. When you ask big men to shoot 3 pointers and sacrifice their defense, you are going to have problems.

Miami’s biggest weakness has always been their rebounding, that needs to change. If the Heat can get a legitimate center who can rebound they will be drastically better on defense. It will limit the opposing team’s offensive possessions and make their transition offense even better against quality teams. The late ’90s Bulls were in a whole other stratosphere when they acquired Dennis Rodman, the Heat needs a Dennis Rodman.

  1. Find a new bench–Miami has a plethora of 3-point shooters and now they need to find some bench players that can rebound, defend and attack the basket. Whether they find those players through the draft, free agency or trades, it needs to happen.

 

The legacy of two great teams

Miami

The Heat will always be a disappointment to the national media because of their tongue-in-cheek pep rally in 2010. They are in an elite group when it comes to teams that have won back-to-back championships and only three other teams have made it to four straight NBA Finals. They had a great run and it would have been even better if Wade’s knees hadn’t deteriorated so fast.

San Antonio

The 2013-14 Spurs should go down as one of the best teams in the past 25 years. Their display of team basketball is something that has not been seen since the Celtics and Lakers of the 1980s. Only the 2003-04 Detroit Pistons come close.

They played selfless and with a sense of urgency the whole series, and for the first time in four years they made the Miami Heat defense solely predicated on their offense. Miami is known for their fast-break dunks and jaw-dropping alley oops.

If Miami didn’t score on every basket, then their defense was in trouble. Only Dallas has been able to do that. The Spurs deserve all the credit, they beat the two-time defending champions with ease. Champions fall hard and the Miami Heat fell hard.

 

 

 

 

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