Commentary

Spurs struggle as Heat go small

Originally Published: June 14, 2013
By J.A. Adande | ESPN.com

SAN ANTONIO -- It's not what Mike Miller did in his new role as Miami Heat starter that made a dramatic impact on Game 4. It's what the Spurs didn't do about it.

Miller, the notable lineup change for Miami in Game 4, didn't score a point in 21 minutes. And it didn't matter. The San Antonio Spurs never punished the Heat for their small-ball lineups. That's because their big men couldn't duplicate the damage wrought on Miami by Indiana's Roy Hibbert and David West in the Eastern Conference finals. San Antonio couldn't dictate lineups the way they did against Golden State, when the Warriors had to go big to stay with the Spurs' size.

In Miami's 109-93 victory, the dominant interior force wound up being … Chris Bosh, who blocked two shots and grabbed 13 rebounds.

[+] EnlargeTiago Splitter
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesTiago Splitter started but struggled to an 0-for-3 performance with four points in Game 4.

It started with a calamitous 47 seconds from Tiago Splitter, who caught the opening tip and promptly committed a turnover by throwing the ball to a teammate in the backcourt, then gifted Dwyane Wade with two free throws on a foul.

Gregg Popovich then sent in Gary Neal, and while Neal (like Danny Green) initially continued his hot-shooting ways, the Heat's ability to stick with its smaller lineup eventually turned the game in Miami's favor.

"It enabled them to get up and down," Green said. "It created a mismatch for us, especially with D-Wade. We had our 4 guarding him a good amount of time. It created more fouls. It allowed them to get after us defensively. They're aggressive, they rotate faster, they move the ball more. They were able to attack and get open looks."

The Heat stayed small and still managed to win the big-boy stats, categories such as points in the paint (50-38), rebounds (41-36) and blocked shots (7-4).

The Spurs could easily chalk up their Game 2 loss to missed shots and turnovers. But they have a host of issues to address for Game 5, including:

• Tony Parker's ability to provide a sustained effort while dealing with his strained hamstring. Parker got off to an excellent start, with 15 points and six assists in the first half. The quickness was there and his court awareness -- that sense of when to shoot and when to find his teammates -- was on point. But he didn't score in the second half, when he missed all four of his shots, and clearly looked worn out by the end of the third quarter.

"The first half [the hamstring] felt OK," Parker said. "The second half I think I got fatigued a little bit. But overall I'm just happy I didn't make it worse."

At least he gets two off days now to see if the injury can get better.

• Manu Ginobili's disappearance. Ginobili's poor play has gone from a footnote to a feature story, impossible to ignore after this 1-for-5 shooting night in Game 4. The ends of quarters are so critical in this series, and normally that's when Ginobili has the reins of the offense. But he has been so ineffective he's actually negating the strong play by Gary Neal, who had another great shooting performance (4-for-7 overall, 3-for-4 on 3-pointers).

• Too many turnovers. When the ball gets away from them, the ballgames get away from them. The Spurs' 19 turnovers in Game 4 give them a total of 36 in their two losses.

Duncan operated inside more than he had in previous series, but one sequence was alarming: After Duncan scored from close range, he allowed Bosh to slip by him on the opposite baseline for a layup. That wasn't the Duncan defensive presence we'd seen earlier in the series.

We also didn't see him effectively deter Wade, either on drives to the basket or when Duncan switched to defend Wade on the perimeter.

There was a moment in Game 3 that symbolized Wade's ineffectiveness in the first part of this series. It came in transition, when Wade started to pull up for a jumper, Duncan quickly closed out on him and it caught Wade off guard. Wade dropped the ball, hopeful that a teammate would scoop it up before finally grabbing it himself for a traveling violation.

Wade was ready for Duncan when he went against him in Game 4. He maintained plenty of space and coolly shot jumpers over him. LeBron was the one everyone demanded atonement from, but Wade was the one who made the biggest difference, and part of it came from the confidence he felt in his ability to score from all of his favorite spots.

The Heat generally felt comfortable throughout. They were able to get back to their style of basketball.

"They've been playing small all year," Popovich said. "That's when they're at their best."

Splitter played less than 14 minutes. At one point Popovich had his team take a foul just to stop the game so he could remove Splitter. Popovich went with Boris Diaw at the start of the third quarter after Diaw helped the Spurs climb back in the second quarter. But there's a reason Diaw was used as a last resort, not a key part of the series rotation, and eventually he began missing shots and turning the ball over like the rest of the Spurs.

Popovich has work to do. He got past the Warriors and Grizzlies by eventually shifting the game from those teams' stars to their supplementary players.

The NBA Finals have taken a different turn, with Miami's Big Three asserting itself to the tune of 85 points and 30 rebounds in Game 4. With the way Ginobili is playing, you can't say the Spurs still have their Big Three in effect right now. At the moment, they simply need somebody big. Lowercase b, for the uppercase W.