Friday, June 6, 2014

Spurs - Heat Game One: Perception

LeBron In A Word
Fun Fact: My eyes don't work together. I can see out of both of them just fine, and I can do just about everything I need to do, but it crops up occasionally. Say, when I'm trying to catch a fly ball, or park in a tight space.

It actually comes in handy sometimes. It helps me to not hold too tight to what I feel is Truth, or Correct; it's easy to be wrong, after all, when other people might have a better look at it. And that's kind of where I was after this game, in which both teams played well but sloppy, LeBron James couldn't finish due to cramping, and the Spurs eventually shot the Heat out of the building.

Now, the reasons why these things happened gets us back to, well, Perception. Sloppy play tends to happen early in a series, especially after a long layoff, but the reason for all of these turnovers is going to be hung on the AC issue. James has had cramping issues in the past, but since this is the Finals and the Heat are hated, it will be seen either as his lack of Clutchness or an act of a loving god. The Spurs, in particular Danny Green, might not have gotten going if James had stayed on the floor. And so on.

Early on, before AC Gate dominated every waking moment, the Spurs took the first half behind Tim Duncan hitting everything in sight, with Manu Ginobili bringing his A game on everything except turnovers. It's a little telling that they could not get separation anyway, because Tony Parker was shaking off enough rust to counter the good contributions from Boris Diaw. Gregg Popovich made a great coaching move and got lucky with Marco Belinelli getting Kawhi Leonard off the floor before a third foul, and Belinelli hit some shots to boot. On the other hand, it's hard to see how the Spurs were going to keep hitting so many threes, the turnovers are not the way to survive Miami, and maybe AC Gate ruins Parker or Duncan for later. It's going to be  a long series, after all.

For Miami, the bright side was getting James, Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade off to good starts, and Ray Allen looked awfully spry for a man who played pro hoop in the 20th century. But the turnovers were bad for them as well, and the Spurs were just moving the ball far too easily for what is supposed to be a great defensive team.

Starting the third, San Antonio kept both bigs on the floor, a less effective lineup than what worked for them, and to underscore the point, Miami authored an 8-0 run to start the lead change action. When James made his first three off an o-board, it looked like Miami might make a move, but both teams stayed close as the coaches went early on bench moves to deal with the heat. Ginobili's layup off an in-bounds led to the and-one and fresh tie on an uncharacteristic lapse from the Heat. As the crowd made noise despite the heat (heroic!), the Spurs got into too much deference on offense, while the Heat just couldn't buy a make from their benchies. The sloppiness in this game was beyond the turnovers, really.

With his three ball not falling, Allen went to the cup with surprising effectiveness, throwing down a transition dunk that looked like it surprised him as much as the rest of us. The refs were not calling much at all, but Tiago Splitter got a call on James after reacting to a forearm with a world-class sales job, but the Spurs continuing issues with turnovers helped push the Heat lead to six. It stayed that way to the close of the third, when Splitter got a sloppy make to end the scoring. 78-74 Miami, and these teams are so well-matched to each other that even when it's sloppy, the hoop is really, really good.

Mario Chalmers with his fifth foul in 13 minutes is one of those small moments that keeps a game close, and can't be doing much for his next free agent contract. Splitter with the kitten-easy continuation make and three-point play, and you'd have gotten fine odds on the play of Tiago Splitter scores 9 points in a row. Despite 36 minutes of evidence that this was a bad idea, the Spurs just couldn't stop trying for hero bounce passes that turn into turnovers, and Bosh gets the nightly four-point play that makes all of the analysts freak out. Miami with their most meaningful lead of the night... and that's when it all went to hell for them.

On two straight possessions, I credit Leonard and Diaw for excellent 1-on-1 defense that makes James settle for long and weak two-point attempts... but it turns out to be a lot more than the defender, as James calls for replacement from the small problem of not being able to walk. Wow, that's kind of an important development. The Spurs react to the blood in the water tepidly at first, as Ginobili misses and Wade makes, but Danny Green, freed from the on-ball pressure and length of James, makes from the arc as the first moment of flood. Allen can't finish, Green makes another triple off a great pass by Diaw, and the crowd goes nuts as James looks like he's going to heave. That sound you heard was Cleveland having an orgasm.

With the game slipping away, it's Chris Anderson on an iso, and it somehow works to tie it up again. Duncan makes from a great feed by Manu. Wade misses a short floater, leading to Duncan throwing the perfect lead to Green for a slam. That was just pretty, really. James comes back and makes over Diaw with his dying breath, but can't move at all and the Heat have to foul and carry him out. Love him or hate him, that was kind of sad.

Green hits again to make it five, and it's obvious the way this one's going now. Wade lobbies for a foul and misses, Ginobili gets his 10th assist to Diaw for the make, and it's a 7-point game with 3 minutes and change. Chalmers makes a three for his only good moment of the game, and the Spurs add a little more drama with their 23rd (!) turnover, but Allen short arms a corner three. Parker can't make on a wild drive, but Duncan gets the o-board and Wade's foul. Leonard with a killshot 3 off trademark Spur ball movement, their 11th made three of the game. Chalmers turns it, and Miami has no more outs. 7 point game with 87 seconds left. To make it official, it's Ginobili, Duncan, Parker, corner three, 10 point game, largest of the night for the Spurs. If you don't find that pretty, you root for the Heat and you hate hoop.

San Antonio shot 59% from the floor with 13 threes, which is to say, way too good for Miami to overcome. The final run in this game is 31-9, and the final score is Spurs by 15, and 1-0 in the best of seven. We've now got the next three days (ye gads) to talk about air conditioning, cramps, and how Michael Jordan never ever yada yada yada.

The telling thing to keep in mind here was that the only thing the Spurs did was win a game that the home team more or less has to win in a best of seven. Indiana beat Miami in Game One of that series, too. Miami was right in this before James went out, and while I'm pretty sure the Spurs would have won this because their shooting was too good late, it's hard to overstate how much James means to his team. I'm expecting a very different game on Sunday night, and so should you. This is going to be a long series, and it's not going to be decided by a lack of AC in Game One.

But in the meantime, it's all up to your perception. The home team won Game One. How they did it might not be as important as the rest of the world will think.

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