It’s very possible the Miami Heat are growing older before our eyes, in spite of the fact the team’s three great superstars are working near their respective primes. It’s also more than possible that, at this point in the NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs are way, way better than the Miami Heat. And that San Antonio’s cruel mixture of depth and precision is keeping the Heat at arm’s length from the defending champs.
Nobody expected the Spurs to be this much better, downing Miami by a second straight blowout, in winning Game 4 of the 2014 NBA Finals. Two convincing one-sided wins in a row, with the most familiar being the squad’s 107-86 downing of Miami in order to take a 3-1 lead in this championship round, has to at least realign the way we perceive these Spurs. It’s true San Antonio earned the best record in the NBA this season, and it’s always been true the Spurs have been good enough to dismantle the Heat without reflex in a Finals setting, but is this team this good?
Apparently so, and regardless of motivation. The Spurs pained their way through the 2013 summer after losing two straight to fall to the Heat in last year’s Finals, and smartly ham-and-egged their way through the regular season on their way to the league’s best record and home-court advantage in the eventual Finals, but most assumed this was going to be a coin-flip pick of a series. When the two squads left Texas after Sunday’s Game 2 with a tie score, with the 94 minutes the two bands played each other (not counting the four minutes an injured LeBron James had to sit out in Game 1), the end result was an even amount of points scored between what seemed like two evenly matched teams.
These two contests in Miami appear to have dissuaded those of whom shared that opinion. “Those of whom,” in this instance, meaning “just about everyone working without a computer algorithm and a big ole brain.”
Spurs swingman Kawhi Leonard was once again astonishingly good on both ends of the court in Game 4, registering 20 points and 14 rebounds while overcoming what looked to be obvious fatigue issues to find gear after gear after gear needed to keep up with James, the two-time reigning Finals MVP. James ended his night with a game-high 28 points on just 17 shots, but his team’s movement away from the ball was lacking, and LBJ too often had to go it alone in the face of what was a withering San Antonio defense.
That defense had to improve after Game 3, a contest that saw San Antonio give up 51 percent shooting and 47 percent 3-point marksmanship to Miami in spite of the Heat’s handicap that came from having to take the ball out of the net just about every time down court as San Antonio racked up 111 points. Miami was able to make a game of things in an attempted comeback on Tuesday mainly because San Antonio was unable to put the Heat away because of dodgy defense even in the face of a record-setting offensive showing on the other end.
There were no such issues on San Antonio’s defensive end on Thursday. Once again, San Antonio turned in an exhilarating offensive performance, but the Heat (run out of their go-to transition game after watching the Spurs make basket after basket) could put together only a pedestrian offensive performance. And once “pedestrian” meets “we can’t run because these guys won’t turn the ball over or miss shots,” 82 points is usually the result.
Issues abound for Miami. Dwyane Wade missed 10 of 13 shots and turned the ball over four times, and yet his offense may have been better than his terribly poor defense in this loss. Mario Chalmers missed four of his six shots, and the switch to put Ray Allen in the second-half starting lineup ahead of a struggling (San Antonio just ignores the guy, at this point) Rashard Lewis did not pay off, as the Spurs outscored Miami 26-21 in the third quarter, and by 18 points with Allen on the floor.
Allen wasn’t the problem, though. In a way, neither was Wade, nor Chris Bosh (just four rebounds in 38 minutes) nor Chalmers, nor any helper you would be influenced to point to.
The Spurs are this good. They’re this great. They’ve managed to take what looked like an even pairing and turn this series into a one-sided affair, with only James’ ridiculous Game 2 shooting making the difference in a two-point San Antonio loss. The Spurs have topped the Heat by 56 points in three other combined wins, and yet the deficit feels further and further estranged as the minutes tick on. All the while, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has managed to mold his rotations, his playbook, and his team’s attitude into something that has risen above the moment and opponent. Carp about the Heat’s end game all you want, but so far this has been San Antonio’s series.
The Spurs and Heat are full of very, very coachable players. The Spurs just have the better team full of coachable players right now.
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