Big questions heading into Game 3
The Heat stole a game in San Antonio. Can the Spurs return the favor as the series shifts to South Beach for Game 3 (ABC & ESPN Radio, 9 p.m. ET)? Our 5-on-5 crew weighs in.
1. Who or what has been the most pleasant surprise of the Finals so far?
Amin Elhassan, ESPN Insider: The unpredictability. For most of Game 1, the Heat were the better team, but they faltered down the stretch. Similarly, the Spurs outplayed the Heat for most of Game 2, only to see Miami steal the game. Uncharacteristic miscues by both teams have allowed for an "anything is possible" Finals so far (hat tip to Kevin Garnett).
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Andrew McNeill, 48 Minutes of Hell: That this series is just as competitive as last year. 2013 was a classic and, unfortunately, sequels rarely live up to the hype. Through two games of this year's championship series, though, we've been treated to the same close matchup as last time around. Not only that, but both teams play beautiful basketball to boot.
David Thorpe, ESPN Insider: Rashard Lewis. His contribution cannot be underrated. Mike Miller is one of the world's best pure shooters, and he helped Miami win two titles. Lewis did not project to make a similar impact, but his ability to make shots has helped balance Miami's offense.
Michael Wallace, Heat Index: Rashard Lewis. The veteran shooter barely cracked the Heat's regular rotation. But since he was inserted into the starting lineup during the Eastern Conference finals against Indiana, Lewis has been a surprise spark plug for the Heat. With his 3-point stroke and ability to excel at the "stretch 4" position, he's turned back the clock to his role from the 2009 Finals with Orlando.
Brian Windhorst, ESPN.com: Probably that Tony Parker looks to be healthy. Both teams are at full strength and that's what you want, a full accounting of both teams. These teams prepare all season for this, now they're at their best.
2. Who or what has been the biggest disappointment of the Finals so far?
Elhassan: I'm still stuck on the AC outage of Game 1. When did they know it was broken? When did they know it couldn't possibly be fixed in time for the rest of the game? These are questions that I'm not totally sure have been answered.
McNeill: The flopping. Both the Spurs and Heat push the boundaries of embellishing contact on a regular basis. Great teams are always trying to find the slightest edge, we get it. The problem is, it takes away from the extremely high level of play that we're witnessing. A seven-game flop-off between such elite teams seems downright disingenuous.
Thorpe: Mario Chalmers. I'm sure hundreds of players in Europe are watching this series and thinking, "That guy is in the NBA?" He has not played like a pro, period.
Wallace: The lazy and ceaseless narrative that critics and so-called haters have motivated LeBron James to play at the top of his game. LeBron sort of engaged the debate by suggesting between the first two games of the Finals that he was the easiest target in sports, when it comes to criticism. But the last thing any of these players at this level think about when they get on the court is what someone in the media said or wrote. That storyline is well beyond old at this point.
Windhorst: I'm not disappointed with anything, other than the end of Game 1. A few players have been disappointing, namely Kawhi Leonard. But overall it's been good play.
3. What one adjustment should the Heat make?
Elhassan: Through two games, the Heat's defense has struggled to front Tim Duncan in the post, succumbing to the Spurs' ball reversals and entry feeds. In the second half of Game 2, they guarded him straight up, to much more success. Continue to force Duncan to shoot over a defender rather than trying to prevent the entry feed.
McNeill: More small ball with Chris Bosh spotting up in the corner. The two most talked about plays from Game 2 involve LeBron James playing point power forward and Bosh taking a couple of corner 3s. Spreading the Spurs out like that by giving Tim Duncan no one to defend near the rim will stretch San Antonio's defense thin.
Thorpe: When the Spurs switch out anyone smaller than Leonard onto LeBron, LeBron needs to go to the low post, rather than settle for position farther out. Then Miami should run someone into the pinch post if it can't feed LeBron immediately, thus allowing for a quick high-low pass that can come before the Spurs can get help inside. It's what the Spurs have done successfully to Miami. Staying attached to Duncan more on the defensive end is a big key, as well.
Wallace: Insert Toney Douglas into the rotation if Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole continue to struggle or play inconsistently. Douglas' defense and experience gives Miami another option in the plan to slow Tony Parker. Douglas lacks the shooting and scoring threat Chalmers and Cole tend to offer, but he's a relentless, full-court pest who plays with energy. He's a guard version of Chris "Birdman" Andersen.
Windhorst: The Heat need some production from their point guard spot. Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole haven't given them much. Chalmers is in a protracted slump, not just scoring but in general play. They need to relieve some of the pressure on LeBron to dominate.
4. What one adjustment should the Spurs make?
Elhassan: Keep the ball moving in end-of-the-game situations. A big part of the Game 2 loss was the devolving of the Spurs' offense from the "joga bonito" we're accustomed to seeing to good ol' fashioned hero ball: iso-heavy offensive sets where the ball sticks in one player's hands. That includes pounding the ball in to Duncan in the post and having him take awkward running hook shots across the lane.
McNeill: Start Kawhi Leonard at the 4. Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter can't play alongside each other in this series (minus-14.7 net efficiency in 17 minutes so far), but Gregg Popovich still wants Boris Diaw coming off the bench. Start Leonard at power forward defending LeBron, with Marco Belinelli in place of Splitter and defending Rashard Lewis.
Thorpe: They can be a little more patient if they don't get a layup or three in early offense, because the Heat's defenders will get spread out chasing shooters and the Spurs will gain more of an offensive rebounding advantage. They had 11 in Game 2 but can get 20 in a game in this series. Miami's defense is basically "anyone guard anyone," which allows for matchup advantages for the Spurs inside if they take enough time to find them.
Wallace: Continue to push the pace. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has implored his team to get the pressure on Miami by pushing the ball in transition at every opportunity. The Heat want nothing more than to settle into their half-court defensive strategy, where they can dictate matchups. But the Spurs are one of the few teams in the league that have the depth, shooters and athletes to run on makes or misses against the Heat. Maintaining that effort is a tremendous challenge.
Windhorst: Duncan has to get more touches. I fully understand their offense is predicated on ball movement and they can't just dump the ball in to him. But he's a huge advantage and they're just not using it like they should.
5. Who wins Game 3?
Elhassan: San Antonio in a nail-biter. The Heat also went into heavy iso sets down the stretch of Game 2, and I'm not confident that they'll continue to be successful unless they can keep the ball moving, as well.
McNeill: Heat, but solely based on having home court. Basically, this series is so even that every game feels like a toss-up and the one major difference between the two teams is who has the benefit of being at home with their normal game-day routine. I think Game 3 will be another close one and I'll go with Miami.
Thorpe: Miami. LeBron James has to be favored in any game he plays. He is the "X factor" of the series. LeBron can get to a level of play no one else can touch, and his unique set of talents allows him to bring teammates with him when he is at his absolute best. Only the Spurs can beat him three out of five games, but they have to play their best, shoot their best and hope LeBron is just great and not extraordinary. Unless the AC in Miami shuts down.
Wallace: Heat. The undefeated home record reaches 9-0 after Tuesday night. Miami has won 10 consecutive home games dating to the end of the 2013 Finals, when it won Games 6 and 7 against the Spurs to secure a second straight title. All that said, the Spurs had the best road record in the league this season, so I fully expect this series to return to San Antonio tied at 2-2 heading into Game 5.
Windhorst: Heat. 8-0 at home in playoffs. Best player. Momentum.