Sunday, June 9, 2013

Spurs - Heat Game Two - Clear Air Turbulence

After the James block
Every time I take a flight, I'm a little amazed when people get up and casually wander around the plane. I get up when I have to, in that I'm not going to soil myself, but the people who just get up to stretch or walk or whatever just throw me. Haven't they heard of Clear Air Turbulence, or realize that they are in a metal tube that's 30,000 feet above where monkeys are meant to be, and that at any moment, the plane can fall or rise fast enough to cause, well, life-changing damage, and possibly the most awkward conversation ever at a funeral? Sit the hell down. Do not mock the Plane Gods. They can hurt you real bad.

Game Two of the NBA Finals was the clearest resemblance that I've ever seen to Clear Air Turbulence, with said Turbulence being personified as LeBron James. We had a game that was back and forth, with the Spurs staying close due to the contributions of their role players and three point shooters, and James having one of the worst games of his playoff life... and then the game changed with a vengeance, and the Spurs found themselves scraping their brains off the ceiling. But let's build up to that.

We are now contractually required in all sports to show you pre-game choreographed dance routine with call and response. Miami does theirs with Dwyane Wade. Woo! Wade also seems to be saying that he needs to be more aggressive. Have you ever heard of an athlete needing to be less aggressive? Me neither. Being aggressive must be like being awesome; one can never be enough of it. I fully expect to see, in my lifetime, some NBA player to just come out swinging a steel chair at his opponents, just to show He's Most Aggro. Anyway, I digress.

The Spurs started the first quarter skittish, but the Heat couldn't take advantage, and Danny Green's early threes staked them to the game's first lead. Miami fought back with Chris Bosh and Wade are, but Kawhi Leonard and Tim Duncan were solid as well, and whenever the road team gets past the initial burst of emotion from the home team, that's a win for them. There's also a solid lack of LeBron James so far other than the final make; credit Leonard. By the end of the first, neither team lead by more than 5, we were tied at 22, and you can now turn on your devices and move about the cabin.

Gregg Popovich is polite with Doris Burke; not nearly as much fun as when he's rude. ESPN makes this all about the Spurs turnovers, which seems premature, but random and tied isn't a story that the World Wide Leader In False Narratives is going to tell, so there you go. Mike Miller's first shot is a three and a make as Mike Breen notes how Shane Battier doesn't exist any more, and Miller's renaissance that started in Game Six of the Pacers series appears to be for real. The Heat defense is hardcore, and Norris Cole's make gives the Heat a mini-run. The Spurs erase it with a straight on Gary Neal three, and that's 5 of 7 from there. We're now into the fifth quarter of even or better game for the road Spurs, and just from judging the game play, it was hard to tell which team is desperate for the win, and which one is supposedly just happy to get a steal.

Tiago Splitter blocks Bosh at the rim as the teams trade effort defense; big effort all over the floor in the second. No player with multiple fouls, so once again this game isn't being dictated by the refs, at least not in the most obvious sense. Manu Ginobili caps a 10-0 run from the arc, and the Spurs benefitted from Tony Parker not getting a call earlier in the play. Chris Anderson finally stops it with a FT make. Ginobili turns it and takes his second foul, and he looks bad with the ball tonight. Anderson with a stuff, but Parker gets on his horse and finishes; wow. James gets back in the game and makes from distance over Splitter, and it's a 2-point game for commerce again.

Mario Chalmers shows skill in a give and go with James, but Parker makes yet another. James finds Ray Allen at the arc for the lead, so Parker just makes another banking drive. The MVP isn't enjoying his usual shutdown effect on defense when he goes on Parker, part of which is because the Spurs are spectacular on screens. Ginobili takes his third as the game goes on the see-saw; Allen again. Parker to Duncan for the settling bank and lead. Wade in the lane, and that's six in a row for Miami. Parker owns James on a drive, but can't get enough behind it, and Wade eventually converts in the paint for the 3-point Miami lead. Crowd fully engaged, so Parker gets to the rim and sets up Green for the wide-open three and tie. Wow, wow, wow. Parker is playing unreal ball so far, and gets a turn on Chalmers; it's answered by Parker actually missing on a drive, but even that works out as James elbows Duncan for his first foul. We go to commerce with Jeff van Gundy puling that elbows to the head should be no-calls. This just in: Jeff van Gundy doesn't think anything is a foul, and this level of analysis is never tiresome. Game moving along swimmingly, just one more reason to love this series so far.

Duncan short rims one and Chalmers sticks a three; he's looked good tonight, and now has 10. Parker makes the Spurs' 7th turnover of the first half; too many for them to win. James hits Wade with a laser for the make and a 5-point Heat lead. Miami gets away with a foul on Parker at the end of the clock, and the Heat's ability to force long possessions is getting intense. Another turn ends the half, with James getting the rim on a halfcourt heave that wouldn't have counted. It's Miami 50, San Antonio 45, and while the Heat lead only came late and isn't very major, it's telling to me that they are finally getting some turnovers, and the Spurs are behind despite hitting a bunch of threes.

The halftime analysis is all about James and his lack of production, rather than noting how the Heat had only three turnovers and are getting production out of many sources. Udonis Haslem falls hard and gets praise for it; Parker misses a FT, and the subsequent Bosh make gives the Heat the biggest lead of the night at six. Duncan's miss drops him to 2 for 8, but James misses a lane runner that he normally makes, then blows another easy chance in transition as Green cagily pulls the chair on him. Parker misses in the lane as the refs show another Home Team Needs Game Two moment. (Your ref tonight is Joey Crawford, which really isn't a good thing.) James gets away with a charge on Green as the Heat start to get separation. Popovich pulls Parker, but Leonard gets a board and make off another Duncan miss to stop the run. Leonard, Duncan and Splitter combine to bully the Heat on the boards, and then Splitter's block on Wade leads to Green's fifth (!) three pointer; it's a one-point game. The world will little note, nor long remember, this little flurry, but when Miami had the chance to push this to double digits with Parker on the bench, the Spurs' support players -- Leonard, Splitter, Green -- stemmed the tide on the road. Not what you'd expect, really.

After the too-late Erik Spoelstra timeout, Bosh from mid-range is answered by Leonard from the arc, and we're tied again. 10-2 run for the Spurs in 2 minutes. Wade draws Duncan with veteran craftiness, but misses both; free throws are a deteriorating part of his game, along with anything that isn't a drive to the hoop. Duncan angrily whips a ball off Bosh's leg after a bad entry pass, then clangs a mid-range jumper. James is now at 6-4-2 in 27 minutes, which is becoming The Entire Story, really. Leonard makes, then misses the FT. James takes his second foul on  a moving screen, and this is as ineffective as he's been in some time. Duncan and James add a miss to their woeful lines, but Haslem gives us yet another tie. Super ragged possession by the Spurs ends with a Green turnover and Popovich looking snarly with the ball. Chalmers makes a defensive tech to break the tie.  Wade and Bosh combine for an ungainly bank, but Ginobili threads it to Duncan, who slams with as much rage as you will ever see from him. James is denied at the rim by Green (!), and then the UNC product makes another shot from the baseline. I can't believe I just saw that.

And in retrospect, this might have been the worst thing to happen to the Spurs tonight, in that this was when James flipped the switch, and the Spurs started looking for seat belts.

James flops after an o-board and draws Green's second. Chalmers owns Green for an old-school three and 2-point Heat lead; just constant back and forth here. 15:43 left in the game as commerce happens and ESPN prepares the Danny Green Highlight Reel. Neal lets one go through his hands; James answers with his own turn, and Anderson adds a foul for good measure. Ginobili does the same, and Allen ends that circus with a three and a 5-point lead. Duncan misses and the crowd's smelling blood as Chalmers feeds James for the acrobatic leaning make; unfair. The Spurs don't panic, as Duncan works Anderson in the post and gets one make, then Leonard gets the board for a Parker floater. All of that work is erased by James feeding Miller for the three, and the sense that Storm's A Coming rises. Parker misses and gets the board, then hits the deck for another no-call. Duncan turns it ugly after Ginobili inbounds it to him, and Chalmers answers with the and-one. The FT make gives us our first double-digit lead of the series (!). Ginobili's three stays out, and Duncan's baseline make is post-buzzer. At the end of three, it's Heat 75, Spurs 65, and for the first time in seven quarters, Miami looks like, well, Miami. The defending champions.

Spoelstra, in the post-quarter interview, defends James' play as just part of his multi-dimensionality; this dimension would be known as Getting Roasted Alive As a Choke Artist If His Team Were Not Up By 10. Parker airballs it on defensive pressure, and a James make, then pass to Miller for the three makes me think garbage time is coming. 15 point Heat lead. Neal bricks a panicky three, and I'm not sure why he's getting burn with Green on the bench. Chalmers with a make as Popovich continues to eschew the timeout; it's not helping, though Van Gundy thinks it's manly. Um, the lead is 17 now, you idiot. Chalmers blocks Splitter, James converts, and now we finally get the timeout. 19 point game, and we have achieved Garbage Time. But not Brain Injuries. That came soon after.

Neal with a jumper to try to convince the national audience to stick around. Anderson with two makes wipes that off the board. Splitter gets Anderson's fifth in 14 minutes, and the Spurs don't seem to be a good match up for him. And then James has the highlight of the game (series? season? decade?) as he straight up rejects Splitter's dunk at the rim. It ends in an Allen three, because, well, why not. The Spurs look like an opponent about to have his spine ripped out in Mortal Kombat, so James obliges with a steal, then collects the over the shoulder pass from Miller and dunks it as we go into Full On Globetrottery.

Remember when we talked about the Spurs not being able to withstand the A+ Heat Game? Well, they are getting it tonight, especially in the second half, and the lead is now 24. That just ended the game. Hell, it just may have ended Splitter. (An aside: Tiago Splitter is a legitimate 7-footer. He's internationally trained and experienced, strong and secure with the ball... and he just got absolutely obliterated while dunking. You know when guys talk about getting served up with a facial? What James just did to Splitter was a thousand times worse, and is going to be shown a few billion times over the years. 30-5 Heat run. Wow.)

Popovich concedes. No, seriously; Tracy McGrady is on the floor, and T-Mac is Popovich's Defeat Cigarette. The remaining minutes are at preseason speed,  without any dumb physical fouls because the Spurs have actual class, and lots of people who won't take any shots of importance this year get some numbers. Why they didn't just end this thing after the James block, or why Spoelstra didn't take Popovich up on the offer and pull all of his starters too, I don't know, but whatever gives van Gundy a chance to fellate McGrady works, I guess. Matt Bonner and Shane Battier hit some shots and smile, so maybe they'll both get into a future game. Probably not. And that is that.

The final was Heat 103, Spurs 84, and the next game is Tuesday. I have no idea what kind of game we'll get. Remain buckled.

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