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Monday, June 9, 2014
What we learned in the Finals (so far)

It's back to even after two games in the 2014 NBA Finals. The Miami Heat struck back against the San Antonio Spurs in Game 2, knotting the series at 1-1. Now where do things stand? We break it all down as the teams transition to Florida.

1. What's the biggest takeaway thus far for the Heat?

Andrew McNeill, TrueHoop Network: LeBron James can't rest. The Heat have a negative net efficiency when LeBron sits in large part because Dwyane Wade hasn't been effective offensively; he's not explosive enough to get by Danny Green or Manu Ginobili anymore, and San Antonio's disciplined help defense is keeping him in check. Miami needs LeBron on the floor to get its attack going.

Kevin Pelton, ESPN Insider: When LeBron is on the floor, they're the better team. They're plus-11 in his 71 minutes of action in this series, but have been outscored by 24 points during the 25 minutes he's spent on the bench.

Ethan Sherwood Strauss, TrueHoop: They're playing well offensively, but injuries have to be a concern. The Birdman looks more like just some dude named Chris Andersen, Dwyane Wade keeps holding that left knee and Mario Chalmers is either injured or in one of his worst slumps. If this sounds overly negative about a team that just got a road playoff split, then it says something about my nature.

Michael Wallace, Heat Index: The Heat are right on track, with a split in hand, despite all of the drama this weekend. And aside from James, Chris Bosh and maybe Rashard Lewis, no one else has put together two consistent and productive games.

Royce Young, They have a win in San Antonio checked off. Coming into the Finals, the Spurs had lost just once in the AT&T Center this postseason, and a Game 1 win extended their home streak to eight, all by at least 15 points. The Spurs hold home-court advantage in this series, but a split before heading back to Miami is a job well done for the Heat.

2. What's the biggest takeaway thus far for the Spurs?

McNeill: More Boris Diaw. San Antonio's lineups featuring Diaw and Ginobili with Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard are outplaying Miami to the tune of a 73.8 net efficiency through two games. Ball movement is the best way to beat the Heat's blitzing defense, and no group in the league can whip it around like those five.

Pelton: Diaw's unexpected ability to slow down James didn't carry over from the 2013 Finals to this year's series. That proved a major issue this time around in Game 2 because of Kawhi Leonard's foul trouble. The Spurs need Leonard to avoid fouls so he can match up with James as much as possible.

Strauss: They need to figure something else out now that LeBron's figured out Diaw's defense. The Spurs are in a tricky spot because Diaw at power forward is their best offensive look, but now leaves them vulnerable on the other end. Something tells me Gregg Popovich has a few ideas on handling the Tiago Splitter-Diaw-Duncan frontcourt dynamic going forward.

Wallace: The Spurs' biggest problem so far is the Spurs. After a perfect display of basketball in the fourth quarter of Game 1, the Spurs were completely puzzling down the stretch in Game 2. Key late turnovers and missed free throws were self-inflicted wounds that doomed their fate.

Young: Ginobili is still playing well. The Spurs' super sub has been on a roll all postseason, but there's been a feeling that eventually the magic was going to run out. Ginobili's had a few unsavory moments in the first two games, but he's still scored 34 points on 25 shots. That's the Ginobili who can be the difference for the Spurs in Miami.

3. If not for AC malfunctions, would Miami be up 2-0?

McNeill: I don't think so. The Spurs' offense was creating good looks even before James left Game 1 with an injury. San Antonio was simply able to quell the turnover problems for a few minutes and hit shots at a high rate. It just so happened that most of those shots were 3s, and that sort of blitzkrieg helped seal Game 1.

Pelton: Probably. The Spurs' offense was bound to dominate for an extended period if they could simply hold on to the ball, but Miami had enough of a cushion to make it a possession game down the stretch had James been available, and the Heat should be favored in such games.

Strauss: Probably not, even though I think they win Game 1 if the AC stays on. Let me explain. The Heat seem to do better when fueled by a certain desperation. Had they won Game 1, I doubt they come up with the performance we saw in Game 2.

Wallace: No. Last word(s) on the AC game: It affected both teams. It took LeBron out of the game, but the Spurs did plenty to put themselves in position to win it. LeBron is amazing, but he couldn't have stopped every Spur in the fourth quarter. This series is probably right where it should be after two games.

Young: No. Down seven with nine minutes left, the Spurs ripped off an 11-2 run over the next four minutes to regain the lead. LeBron was beginning to deal with cramps during that stretch, but the Heat were up two when he checked out. Danny Green had found his stroke and the momentum tilted entirely San Antonio's way. No question the air conditioning impacted the game, but it's quite the assumption to say the Heat would've won in usual temperatures.

4. Who's the MVP of the first two games of the NBA Finals?

McNeill: Tony Parker, who's putting up 20 points and 7.5 assists per game while shooting over 50 percent from the field. And he's taking advantage of the 3-point opportunities Miami is allowing, shooting 4-of-6 from 3 in the series. We're still waiting for a signature stretch to remember these games by, but Parker's play has the Spurs in good position heading to Miami.

Pelton: James, and it's not particularly close despite how well Duncan has played for the Spurs. Through two games, James is using 37 percent of Miami's plays while on the floor -- a superhuman rate better than any playoff run in his career -- without sacrificing any efficiency whatsoever.

Strauss: LeBron James. I was tempted to go with Danny "A/C" Green, just because that nickname is incredible. But James was good in Game 1 (until the cramps), and incredible in Game 2. As Tom Haberstroh pointed out, the last guy to have 35 points and 10 boards and shoot 64 percent in a Finals game was Shaq.

Wallace: On the court? LeBron. Off the court? The AT&T Center's director of facilities maintenance.

Young: LeBron James. He responded to the cramp game with a dominant, electric Game 2; outside of a couple of 3s from Rashard Lewis and the big shot from Chris Bosh, LeBron did most of it on his own. He scored 22 of his 35 points in the second half and basically dragged the Heat to a split.

5. What's the biggest play of the NBA Finals thus far?

McNeill: LeBron's layup over Diaw in Game 1. I'm sure cramps would've forced James out no matter what, but this was the final blow that forced him out. Cutting San Antonio's lead to two points before leaving with the injury, James never returned, leaving us with all the "what ifs" we can handle for one series.

Pelton: Bosh's 3-pointer set up by James in Game 2. If Bosh misses, San Antonio is a heavy favorite to win. As it was, the shot forced them to score and get stops over the last minute and a half of the game, and the Spurs could accomplish neither task.

Strauss: The latest Bosh 3-pointer gave Miami the lead, and served as a reminder of why LeBron trusts his shooters. Ultimately, the numbers are in his favor. People might crave hero ball at the end, but making the right play pays dividends.

Wallace: Bosh's corner 3-pointer in the final minute-plus of Game 2 that essentially put the Heat in control. Honorable mention goes to any of the six straight shots LeBron hit midway through the second half during that one-man run to carry the Heat.

Young: Bosh's 3 with 1:17 left in Game 2. The Spurs spoiled a number of opportunities to take control. The Heat made them pay for them. Bosh missed a corner 3 the possession before, but he was open again, and LeBron found him. It was that old Right Basketball Play thing all over again, except this time, Bosh made the shot and nobody had a word to say about LeBron passing.