For one half of basketball, the Spurs looked like they could do it. For one half of basketball, the team from San Antonio looked like it could overcome King James, Chris Bosh and the team from Miami. Regardless of their potent offense, the Heat seemed eminently beatable for one half.
The Spurs were passing, finding easy baskets in the paint on a regular basis. Players held the ball for all of a moment before finding the bigs like Duncan, Tiago and Dejuan. When the ball bounced out to the three line, shots weren’t missed. Then, on the defensive end, the Spurs locked down. Busy hands knocked away the ball, and quick feet prevented easy penetration to the basket.
Then, in the third quarter, it all started to fall away. LeBron James seemed to simply will himself to score, firing threes over defenders and penetrating toward the basket. Passes to the perimeter resulted in quick threes. The Spurs lead, which had been established through hard work and effort, quickly evaporated as the Heat pulled ahead by 2 points. Their lead then continued to 10, then 20 and more.
The energy that the Spurs had demonstrated seemed to evaporate and, while veterans such as Duncan and Parker always seemed to keep their cool, it was the Spurs’ young guns that seemed to fade. While Duncan’s 8 points seemed small, it was not the reason for this loss. Parker’s 18 went a way toward establishing the Spurs’ lead, but he did little to cause the loss. In the end it fell to a group of young players, both new and old, who fell apart under pressure.
Splitter, Joseph and Anderson combined for a paltry 11 points. Super sub Danny Green kept up his Manu-like replacement role with 20 points. The Spurs’ failure, though, did not come from a lack of scoring ability. No, their downfall came from the same weakness that has plagued them since the beginning of the season. Their defense, in decline for years, seemed to totally evaporate under the scorching Heat offense.
LeBron and company shot 58.2% for the night, a percentage so high that it is, simply, impossible to overcome. No team in the NBA can allow their opponent to score such a high field goal percentage and reasonably expect to win. The Spurs themselves shot a respectable 47.5% despite miserable performances by players such as Richard Jefferson, who chipped in a whole zero points.
The three most telling stats, though, came from shooting percentage and turnovers. as already said, the Spurs shot a full 11% less effectively than the Heat. Paired to their miserable defense and only adequate offense were their 17 turnovers. Against a team led by one-man-break LeBron James, even a single turnover can mean instant points.
So where do the Spurs go from here? Rather than fret about their offense, the Spurs need to immediately address their inability to defend consistently over four quarters. They’re also going to have to address the fact that their offense is generated inconsistently from players they’ve come to rely on, such as Jefferson. Subs often get replaced according to how they’re performing that night, but starters are held to higher standards. While Jefferson bears the worst of this weight, Duncan must also bear some of the burden. Even though he has grown older, he is still heavily relied upon, especially to lead against teams such as the Heat.
Defense, though, is the name of the game. The Spurs will need to fix this quickly in an abbreviated season.
The Spurs play again on Wednesday night as they take on Orlando. Tune in at 6:00 P.M. and remember to follow our coverage on Twitter @spursexaminer. Go Spurs Go!