Coming off a phenomenal opening salvo in these 2013 NBA Finals, here are a handful of thoughts and things that seemed worth mentioning from Thursday's fantastic Game 1 between the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat:
• Dwyane Wade is back, until he isn't, so is he really back? The All-Star shooting guard turned question-mark X-factor started the game with a sharp cut and dunk, made four of five shots in a 10-point second quarter that kept the Heat ahead of the despite a 12-point frame from low-post bully Tim Duncan ... and then got awful quiet after intermission, missing five of seven shots, scoring just four points and looking less than a little like the active, aggressive rim-attacker we saw in the first half. What happened?
"I thought that we were a little fatigued, honestly, in the fourth quarter, looking around," Wade said after the game. "We looked like a team that came off a seven‑game series."
That could have had something to do with it, sure — there were a couple of occasions where Wade might have had a chance to drive but instead settled for long jumpers that went awry. On several of Wade's other takes, though, it didn't look like he didn't have the lift or the bounce as much as it looked like he had real trouble finishing over/around Duncan when he got inside — three of his second-half misses came on driving layups contested by No. 21.
There's no shame in that — Duncan's long been one of the great rim protectors in the game — but Wade must continue to attack him and find ways to convert at the tin whenever he gets there. For one thing, as Mike Finger of the San Antonio Express-News noted, we don't know how often he'll be physically able to get there. For another, basically any attempt by Wade that isn't taken from point-blank range is a bad idea right now; he's 52 for 83 (62.7 percent) inside the restricted area in the playoffs and 39 for 120 (32.5 percent) outside it.
And for a third, the Heat can ill afford more instances of Wade going scoreless on just two field-goal attempts in the fourth quarter, ostensibly losing his positional battle to the likes of Danny Green. That's especially true on the other end, where often-lackadaisical work from Wade helped Green go 4 for 9 from downtown and give the Spurs the sort of tertiary scoring punch they've relied upon from him throughout this season.
Perhaps the additional rest that comes with the Finals' elongated schedule will serve Wade well and increase the likelihood of him being able to rekindle some explosiveness later in games. But if the first step doesn't come back and stick around, and the Spurs continue to make him work against Green on the offensive end and Manu Ginobili on the defensive end, this could wind up being a long series for both Wade and Heat fans.
• In the face. As if Shane Battier (whose shooting slump only got worse with an 0 for 3 in six-plus minutes on Thursday) and Mike Miller (who is basically just a collection of strains, fissures and sore spots at this point) didn't have enough to deal with, now they've got to contend with Spurs' feet in their faces.
First, Tony Parker caught Battier after a late-second-quarter foul:
Then, Miller got the full-on Garvin stomp from Green early in the fourth:
The Spurs really know how to add injury to insult to injury.
• Careful. The Spurs had two turnovers in the first four minutes and nine seconds of Game 1 — a poor pass by Duncan on San Antonio's opening possession that led to a Wade dunk and a Tiago Splitter giveaway just after the eight-minute mark that resulted in Duncan's first foul. They then went the next 26 minutes and 40 seconds of game-time without coughing it up, which seems pretty good.
Their next turnover came on a sloppy Ginobili pass with 5:11 remaining in the third quarter; their fourth came 78 seconds later, when Duncan lost the ball after Miller rotated over to impede his progress on a roll to the rim. And that was it — they played the final 15:53 without handing over possession, although they came pretty close this one time. Just amazing control and execution, especially against a Miami team intent on wreaking havoc.
"Their pressure defense is what they do, their ability to get in the open court," Duncan said. "[...] That's what we want to stay away from, obviously. That's where they're at their best. So we took care of the ball very well."
So what was the secret to your success, Pop?
"I have no clue," the coach quipped. "Sometimes you have turnovers, sometimes you don't. We don't do no‑turnover drills. I don't know what those are."
No no-turnover drills, sure. But you do emphasize not being "gross," so maybe it amounts to the same thing.
(BuzzFeed Sports has a looped-GIF look at Exhibit B. You should just leave it in an open tab all day.)
Just your typical through-a-defender's-legs-in-transition and in-air-curveball passes casually tossed during the NBA Finals. No big whoop.
It's so fun to have Manu around. I'll miss him when he's gone, and I am grateful that he will not be gone just yet.
• Brighten the corners: The shooting numbers weren't sensational, by any means — Miami finished the game 34 for 78 (43.6 percent from the field) and 8 for 25 (32 percent) from 3-point range, and San Antonio was a bit worse (35 for 84/41.7 percent, 7 for 23/30.4 percent). But both the Heat and the Spurs — who finished first and third in the NBA in corner 3-point attempts per game during the regular season — were able to break down their opponents' defenses enough to create multiple good looks from the corners in Game 1. It especially must have felt like a dam breaking for the Heat, who saw the Indiana Pacers essentially snuff out their short-corner 3 game in the Eastern Conference Finals.
During the regular season, 11.3 percent of all Miami field goal attempts came from either the right or left corner; in their Round 1 sweep of the Milwaukee Bucks, that number rose to a crazy 14.8 percent before dipping back down to roughly season-average (11 percent) against the much-stingier Chicago Bulls defense in Round 2. The Pacers, though, obliterated the Heat's scheme by virtually never helping off perimeter shooters and closing out hard at all costs — just 7.5 percent of Miami's field-goal attempts came from the corners in the conference finals.
Against the Spurs (who, as I noted in our Finals preview, are pretty good at running shooters off the line themselves) in Game 1, Miami managed 12 tries from the corners, accounting for a whopping 15.4 percent of Heat shots. Unfortunately for the Heat, they missed eight of those 12 tries, with the struggling Battier, LeBron James and Mario Chalmers each missing two apiece.
The corner 3 didn't account for quite as much of the Spurs' offense this year as it did for the Heat — about 9.5 percent of their total field-goal attempts came from the corners during the regular season — but it's been an even smaller part in the postseason, with less than 8 percent of their shots coming from the short corner in each of the first three rounds. (Part of that's due to the fact that, thanks to Parker's dribble penetration and Duncan's mastery on the block, they've been able to get more than their fair share of bunnies, but still.) They topped that mark in Game 1, with seven of 84 field-goal attempts (8.3 percent) coming from the corners ... only, like Miami, they couldn't capitalize on those looks, making only two of them, with Green and Kawhi Leonard combining to go 1 for 6. (You wonder if Pop will live with Leonard missing what's normally nearly a gimme for him if losing lift on his jumper is the price the Spurs have to pay for his defense on James.)
While I expect both the Heat and Spurs to tighten up their defensive rotations in Game 2 to avoid leaving those looks available, I also don't expect them to continue shooting 33.3 percent and 28.6 percent (respectively) on bread-and-butter shots they made at 40-plus-percent clips this season. Add that up, and it's likely we're going to see the offensive efficiencies of both teams — 102.9 points per 100 possessions for Miami and 102.3-per-100 for San Antonio, which are very pedestrian marks by their league-topping standards — increase at least a little bit before this series is through.
One more note: The Heat and Spurs combined for 162 field-goal attempts in Game 1. One hundred of them came either right at the rim or from beyond the 3-point arc. In an NBA Finals game featuring two of the three best defenses in the league, 61.7 percent of the shots came from the two highest-value areas on the floor. Damn, these guys are good.