The Spurs’ success at moving the ball is well known, but perhaps it's tough to see they're getting even better as the finish line approaches on the 2014 season.
San Antonio dished out a playoff-high 30 assists while carving up the Heat’s interior defense during much of their 110-95 Game 1 home victory Thursday night. That savvy passing fuels an offense that is scoring a franchise postseason-record 106.7 points per game.
Miami’s defense forced 22 San Antonio turnovers in Game 1, but also gave up high-percentage looks at the basket that offset those miscues. Tim Duncan’s 21 points and 9-for-10 shooting from the field was supported by Tiago Splitter’s 14 points on 5-of-6 shooting. The duo’s 14-for-16 (87.5 percent) performance stemmed from close-range opportunities; just one of the made baskets came from outside 4 feet.
“San Antonio is one of the best offenses in the league and sometimes they’re going to get you,” admitted Heat forward Chris Bosh before Saturday’s practice. “We’ve got to do a better job of being ahead of the play with our communication and rotations.”
The Spurs forced Bosh and the Miami bigs out of the paint with their ability to dribble through the lane. As they committed to the open shooter or to stopping the drive, Miami had to bring weakside help until a mismatch on Duncan and Splitter presented itself to the opportunistic San Antonio offense.
"We have been working on things in our rotations since Game 1 to ensure that a small isn’t on Timmy's back,” Bosh said. “Once the Spurs touch the paint, as a big man you have a decision to make. You don’t know if they’re passing or shooting and they will go all the way through the paint and then dish. So if you stop their shooting and you jump to contest it, they’ll pass. We need to keep them out of the paint and we’re going to need solid defense and to be everywhere at once to do that.”
Spurs point guard Tony Parker has built his career on being a threat to get to the paint, score and pass. He has led the team in assists the past 13 seasons and added eight dimes in Game 1. Parker’s ability to distribute was aided by a combined 17 assists from Manu Ginobili (11) and Boris Diaw (six). The trio’s versatility creates a lot of problems for the Heat; consequently, Diaw (plus-30), Ginobili (plus-22) and Parker (plus-11) had the highest net points while on the court.
The Heat have mastered the ability to make defensive adjustments after playoff losses. Miami has won each of its past 11 games following a playoff loss, by an average of 15.1 points, while allowing just 88.5 points per game. In last year’s Finals, the Heat allowed 106.3 points per game in San Antonio’s three victories, then surrendered 92.3 points per game in the succeeding games.
All eyes will be on LeBron James as he returns to the court following his cramping issues in the fourth quarter of Game 1, but it's what Miami does on defense that will determine whether the series goes to Miami tied.