On Wednesday, Miami Heat big man Chris Bosh called his team’s Tuesday evening loss to the San Antonio Spurs “probably the worst game we’ve played together.” Bosh, who received fewer than a third of the offensive touches that he enjoyed in the first two contests of the 2014 NBA Finals, is likely to be the offensive focal point for Miami and once again a defensive point of emphasis for the Spurs, who went out of their way to force Bosh out of the action and draw Miami’s offensive attention elsewhere.
For three quarters, Miami’s offense didn’t suffer as a result – the Heat still managed 75 points in the first 36 minutes without the help of transition forays or Bosh at his absolute best. Down the stretch, and after taking in the game as a whole? CB’s absence sticks out. He made all four of his shots, and his presence on the perimeter did tilt San Antonio’s defense at times that resulted in the Spurs having to give up easier shots to others, but the Heat can’t survive with such an integral part of their core being underutilized to this degree.
This is why Bosh’s presence (especially if he continues to slip picks and confound San Antonio helpers) will be the key storyline heading into Game 4 – how the Heat will attempt to glom onto the obvious offensively while still making his looks feel like a surprising part of its arsenal, enough to catch San Antonio off guard. And, in a way that should have basketball junkies rubbing their hands together like the creeps we are, we should all be looking forward to San Antonio’s assumptions and counter to the expected Heat counter, and then the counter to the counter to the counter that we’ll see put in place once the third quarter of Game 4 tips off.
And then the counter after that.
So, yes, we’ll all be watching Chris Bosh in Game 4. He has to be the force on both ends that puts Miami over the top, and because he can’t rightly bring the ball up court, he’ll need some support in that regard.
Beyond that? Here are three storylines to watch in Game 4.
Sustained ball movement, and Tony Parker’s place in that
As you’re well aware, the San Antonio Spurs put on a clinic in the first two quarters of Game 3. A record-setting clinic.
And, as you’re likely aware, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was more than pleased with Tony Parker’s play in Game 3, despite his lack of boffo stats:
Parker did have a great game. He put the Heat defense on edge throughout the first quarter with his feints while sometimes dominating the ball, and he made pin-point passes that led to scores that he wasn’t directly credited with.
He also was the major sticking point, to paraphrase Popovich’s go-to phrase, when the Spurs’ ball movement was less than ideal. This is clearly nitpicking, these strains only showed late in the second quarter and during the third quarter, but the weakness was established, caught on tape, and Miami would like nothing better than to see Parker fritter away possessions while dribbling endlessly in Game 4.
Luckily for Parker and the Spurs, Gregg Popovich gets access to the same tape.
Miami had its issues in the second quarter, defensively. That’s saying the absolute least. Prior to that? There was some decision-making on that end that the Heat probably want back, some close outs that could have been an inch or two better, and the team could have talked more or have been better prepared for what San Antonio was trying to do, but by and large this was the Spurs system – led by Parker – taking it to the two-time defending champs. There were setbacks and borderline lazy plays as the half dragged on, but San Antonio earned that initial advantage by making accurate passes with alacrity, outcome be damned.
The outcome for San Antonio was, clearly, sainted. Still, it would be foolish to forget that that many of Kawhi Leonard’s jumpers came over a defensively-proper hand in his face, and that many of San Antonio’s pass-pass-pass-pass-pass-scores came after several passes just made it through Miami’s group of defenders. Miami has a lot to clean up, and Tony Parker has to watch his stickiness, and San Antonio has to keep up its quick decision making and precision passing in Game 4.
It’s going to be a fascinating confluence.
Miami in transition
Four fast break points for Miami in Game 3. Four. It’s true that taking the ball out of the net against a team that just about went from the midpoint of the first and second quarters without missing a field goal isn’t exactly conducive to helping your uncle Bob remember the Showtime era, but the Heat have also scored just 11 points off of turnovers over the last two games. Again – cue that LP that can’t keep repeating once it hits the scratch – this is in great part to San Antonio’s ability to anticipate defensive rebounds and/or turnovers and leak out to defend, but the Heat are borderline hopeless without their touchdown plays.
We say “borderline” because the same Miami team that was blown out by 19 points in Game 3 while only registering six points off of TOs still won Game 2 (on the road, no less) by two while only tossing in five points off of turnovers. Something has to give, though, and while you can’t exactly draw up transition forays on the chalkboard or start to leak out in advance of a defensive rebound or take silly chances in moving toward potential steals, this can be changed.
The Heat can take chances, offensively, in the same way that San Antonio does the same in the half court. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade have their plates full as they attempt to cover their own men while minding the defensive glass in Miami’s small and also super-small lineups, so others will need to help. And while the ascension of Rashard Lewis as a playoff starter has done wonders for Miami at times, his presence (remember, Rashard was a poor rebounder for a small forward even while playing power forward in his prime; apologies for the annoying emphasis) could be limiting Miami’s chances at turning a miss into something of a make.
Or, it could be San Antonio’s work in getting back. Three games in, and we really can’t tell.
Boris Diaw vs. Chris Andersen, Mario Chalmers vs. Patty Mills
A bit of an odd comparison, as it pits two reserves against two (assumed, considering Diaw’s stellar play) starters who may never technically match up with each other, but the collective influence of the these four players could turn this series around, and give us the pivotal Game 5 on Sunday that we all expected.
The idea that Boris Diaw could somehow turn into a reliable straw that stirs the drink, nearly 11 years after he was selected in the same draft as LeBron, Bosh, and Dwyane Wade, is still a little off-putting. It isn’t because he lacks the talent or know-how or standout games, it’s just that team after team and coach after coach have tried to cull this sort of consistent game-changing play out of him for more than a decade, to mere varying results. Diaw was once again a broken-play finisher and hockey assist maven in Game 3, working in a starting role, but it’s once again up to him to remain reliable in his effort and influence.
Andersen could see more minutes in Game 4, and though his post-up defense was unsuccessful at times in Game 3 the big man still managed to contest shots closer to the rim far better than any other Heat contributor (and that’s not a dig at Chris Bosh, who has done yeoman’s work in this series), sometimes having to take on two penetrators at a time as his Heat teammates poorly collapsed. That said, a more cogent game plan in terms of switching and rotating would do Andersen well, heading into Game 4. At some point, hard and fast rules have to be agreed upon.
Patty Mills didn’t take or make a single shot during a 58-second run he was awarded midway through the fourth quarter, with his Spurs up 10 and the Heat red hot and rolling in its comeback attempt. He ably chased Ray Allen defensively during his first defensive possession, cut away from a sloppy Dwyane Wade on the next offensive possession (drawing Chris Andersen’s attention, briefly, which led to a Kawhi Leonard dunk), and his quickness in a LeBron James/Norris Cole screen and roll that followed helped lead to one of James’ seven turnovers and a trip to the line for Leonard on the other end. This sort of activity, combined with that three-point shooting, can help turn a game around.
Mario Chalmers has to turn his game around, while we’re at it. He’s missed nine of 12 shots in this series, while contributing nine turnovers and 12 personal fouls on the far end of the box score. His defense against various Spurs guards hasn’t exactly been the stuff of legend, but no point man is staying in front of these sprightly Spurs in the modern era, and Chalmers has done well to sop up minutes until James needs to switch over on Tony Parker. With that in place, Chalmers can’t keep fouling, he can’t keep turning it over at this rate (especially for a contributor that uses up so few possessions), and he has to hit his available shots.
The Spurs have won two of three, but this series is teetering. There are so many things for either side to juggle, as things square up for Game 4, and all we can ask is continued execution and healthy sets of wheels.
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