Five Talking points - Miami Heat vs. San Antonio Spurs
What was billed as a marquee match on US national and International TV – plus a landmark in the year for us poor Heat fans in India – turned out to be something of a damp squib, with the San Antonio Spurs resting their “Big Three” of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili leading to a 105-100 loss to the reigning NBA champions Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena. The Spurs had only nine available players for the game, since forward Kawhi Leonard and Stephen Jackson are out nursing injuries. Though the third-string Spurs team kept the game close, the end result was average basketball on a night that NBA fans expected much more. Here’s how it went down:
1) Motivation (or lack thereof):
The Spurs on the court played hard and played like this was the only game that mattered. The Heat, on the other hand, continued their 2012-13 habit of slacking off against weak teams. After close encounters with Cleveland and Milwaukee recently, the Heat refused to buckle down and defend out to the three point arc against the Spurs. Chris Bosh said that it as a “letdown” to square off against the best Spurs team possible. Regardless, only Ray Allen and Norris Cole had the energy and motor to keep pace with the Spurs and the disinclination to play all four quarters hard showed. The game should never have been this close. Cole was the first sub off the bench for the Heat, entering with 5: 05 left. Give the young point guard his due: Cole hit his jumpers from mid- to long-range tonight, even if he made a few patented bone-headed drives to the rim trying to score against multiple defenders.
2) The Gary-Splitter Show:
Spurs Forward Tiago Splitter stepped up in the second half, hustling on rebounds and putbacks, scoring in the low post, finding the open man and playing aggressive defense. He finished with 18 points, 9 rebounds and 2 assists and played Heat counterpart Chris Bosh to a near-tie.
Gary Neal was the reason the Spurs stayed in the game as long as they did. Neal was the primary option on offense and forced some shots, but mostly made key baskets at pivotal moments of the game. Since the Spurs scored much of their points in a transition game, Neal’s stop-and-pop three pointers and jumpers absolutely killed the Heat. Neal moved the ball well, but his efficiency was ultimately compromised with having to run the offense. He finished with 20 points on 20 FGA, 7 assists, 2 steals and 6 TOs.
3) Miami’s defense:
Habits are formed over the course of the season. The Heat believe they are capable of playing at another level – especially on defense – but every season is a new season and this year, it has been all words. For the 9th time in 14 games, the Heat’s opponent scored 100+ points. The Heat could not wall off the paint, could not stop the Spurs in transition and simply played lack-lustre defense, allowing the Spurs 10 three-point makes for the game. The true barometer of the Heat’s commitment and interest in a game is their defensive energy, which was lacking tonight. It’s wasn’t the apocalypse though. Their ball pressure still forced 19 San Antonio TOs (off 11 steals) and they got the stops when it counted, in the last two minutes. Wade’s game was off tonight as well, especially on the defensive end. And the only person Ray Allen may be able to guard in this league is Steve Blake.
4) Ray Allen and his unique brand of awesomeness:
“It’s curtains,” said He, after burying the game-clinching triple against Denver last month, and that’s been the Heat’s clutch time narrative so far this season. With 24 seconds to play, the Heat down one and being pressured at the FT line, Bron passed out to Jesus Shuttlesworth for the Ice Cold Killa. Once again, Ray Allen bailed the Heat out of what could have conceivably been its most embarrassing loss of the season. Allen came to play; he scored in every possible way on offense, finishing with 20 points on 7-15 shooting. His offensive output off the bench was sorely needed on a night where the Heat shot only 4 three-pointers before the Allen dagger in the end. While LeBron filled the boxscore once again (23p/9r/7a/4s) and made a few OMG plays in clutch time (including a beautiful drive and reverse layup that made him look like he was floating on a cloud), Allen was the soul of the Heat team on this night.
5) Coach Pops:
NBA Commissioner David Stern released a statement mid-game that read: “This was an unacceptable decision by the San Antonio Spurs and substantial sanctions will be forthcoming.” Coach Pops defended resting his star players (with SA playing its fourth game in five nights) after playing them in a blowout of the Magic in Orlando yesterday, likely in anticipation of the upcoming fixture against the league-leading Memphis Grizzlies. Consequently, the Spurs started Patrick Mills/ Nando De Colo/ Matt Bonner/ Tiago Splitter/ Boris Diaw. In other words, a starting five we will likely never see again. This was probably basketball at its lowest: a team set-up to fail and a coach who laughs in the face of fans who believe that the regular season actually means something. Justified or not, the rhetoric out of this match will not deal with San Antonio’s performance (though a gutsy, gritty one) but instead with the implications of Pop’s move and his locking horns with the NBA commish. Basketball loses on all counts (unless you’re a Nando De Colo fan).
Highlight of the Night:
Charles Barkley set out to interview the usually laconic Greg Popovich on the sidelines between the 1st and 2nd quarters. Chuck was rebuked by Pops for asking one question too many.
Quote of the night:
Charles Barkley (insistently): “The Heat are not a great three-point shooting team…”
Reggie Miller (equally insistently): “Yes, they are.”
Chuck or Reggie, whom do we believe? Tough one.