Monday, June 10, 2013
Spurs' turn to adjust
By Henry Abbott
Larry W. Smith/Pool/Getty Images
In Game 1, the Miami Heat were merely solid on defense, and for David Thorpe that wasn't nearly aggressive enough. He wanted them to play with their "hair on fire."
David Thorpe says Chris Bosh played championship defense in Game 2.
As soon as Game 2 began, Thorpe remembers thinking, "OK, now that's Miami Heat basketball."
"Some teams need to lose, and get scared to play that way," he says, pointing out that the Heat's record in these playoffs in the game following a loss is stellar.
The Heat have lost five times in this playoff run. In the five games that followed, Miami is not just undefeated, but has won by an average of 21 points.
Breaking the Spurs
When Thorpe coached in high school, before big games he would sometimes ask his assistant to find a stick. "Not too big a stick," he says, "I'm not that strong of a guy."
Then he'd stand before the team, and he'd start bending the stick. "I'd explain that you apply pressure," he says. "And you keep applying pressure. And the stick bends. And then it bends some more. You never know when it's going to happen, but if you just keep at it, it's going to break. That's how defensive effort works. It might break individually, like how in the last series D.J. Augustin couldn't get anything done at all, so the Pacers fell apart when George Hill left the game. Or it might break team-wide like what happened with the Spurs in Game 2."
Almost all of the San Antonio Spurs shot poorly. Starters not named Danny Green (who made all five of his 3-point attempts) shot 14-of-44 for the game, including 3-of-13 for Tim Duncan, and 5-of-14 for Tony Parker.
"If they had kept playing," Thorpe says, "San Antonio would have lost by 60."
Bosh playing like a champion
Chris Bosh was on the bench for much of the Heat's key run, but Thorpe says he was a major part of how the Heat built the 48-minute pressure cooker for the Spurs.
"Early on he really stood out to me. Some NBA bigs make their mark by blocking shots at the rim like Serge Ibaka, or intimidating people from driving like Roy Hibbert. Bosh does something different: He covers a ton of space. He's very long, very quick and very aggressive. He gets low, with his hands wide, really getting after the ball-handler and then he's so fast getting back to his man and staying low and wide just like he should. The result is a lot of deflections and some early turnovers, and he kept the Spurs from the simple actions that get open shots. Miami's not featuring Bosh as a scorer, so he doesn't have eye-popping stats. But the Heat can absolutely win a championship with Bosh playing like this."
What the Spurs can do differently
The Spurs have focused their defense on LeBron, which paid off handsomely in Game 1 and earned them a split of the two games in Miami.
However, that approach isn't perfect, most importantly because it means the Heat have a lot of open shooters. They won't always hit those shots, but by and large many will fall. When they started falling in Game 2, the result was an instant blowout -- even as James didn't have a big scoring game. Turnovers and buckets from the likes of Mario Chalmers and Mike Miller defined the big run.
"LeBron has been more or less mystified as a scorer," says Thorpe. "I think he'll figure some more things out in that regard. But in the meantime, he'll keep making the right basketball play, which against the Spurs has meant hitting a wide-open shooter a lot of the time."
A hidden downside for the Spurs is that they're not pressuring the other Heat players, the lesser ball handlers and poorer decision-makers, who might falter under pressure. That's a big reason why the Spurs forced just six turnovers in Game 2.
"The Spurs have been almost casual on defense -- content to contain LeBron drives -- for all but a few minutes of Game 1," Thorpe says. "They need to figure out how to have some defensive intensity, like Miami has had to figure out."
And at the other end, Thorpe says a little poise would go a long way for San Antonio: "Right now, when the Spurs' ball handlers are feeling pressure from the Heat's trapping, they have mostly been able to make passes to safety. But the problem is those are not threatening passes, and the Heat are able to recover. Under pressure in Game 3, I'd expect Gregg Popovich to have his players ready to make crisper passes, more decisive attacking moves, and better angles, to make the Heat pay for swarming the ball."
The margin of error, Thorpe says, is much smaller for San Antonio: "I thought Miami would win the series before it started. I thought they'd win after Game 1, and I think it even more after Game 2. 'Anyone but LeBron' makes a lot of sense for a possession, or a quarter, but it's a lousy approach to a seven-game series."