If I told Gregg Popovich that Tony Parker would have a game-winner, two 20-point games from Tim Duncan, unconscious shooting performances from Danny Green and Gary Neal for three consecutive games, and not one member of the Miami Heat’s ‘Big Three’ would score 20 points until Game 4, it’s safe to say that the permanent scowl etched on his face would still be there and he’d probably tell me to get off his lawn.
But he would be satisfied with it, deep down in the black crevices of his once beating heart.
But would he be satisfied with all of those circumstances working in San Antonio’s favor if it only meant a tied series through four games? Would he be pleased with a 2-2 result knowing that his Spurs have shot 50 percent or better from beyond the arc in three consecutive games?
Would he find any solace in the fact that a 36-point victory in Game 3 might have spelled future disaster for his team; knowing that his team would never replicate the NBA Finals record 16 three-pointers his team collectively hit?
With the exception of Manu Ginobili, 17 points on 18 shots in his past three games, and Tiago Splitter, every member of the Spurs has played above-average or elite basketball at some point during the Finals.
In Tony Parker, you have a crafty point guard who has already hit a slew of incredibly difficult and timely shots. Despite dealing with a hamstring injury, Parker effortlessly dropped 15 first-half point. However, the injury may have played a factor in the second half as he went scoreless on four field-goal attempts.
Conflicting reports suggest that Parker’s hamstring is recovering, but, straight from the horse’s mouth, his hamstring also might tear at any moment and, if this was the regular season, he would be sitting out for ten days.
A hamstring injury while going against the league’s top pick-and-roll defense could spell disaster as it did in San Antonio’s hapless second half in Game 4, where they were outscored 60-44 and found their offense relying on the sustained three-point onslaught of Danny Green and Gary Neal.
That duo has become an absolute migraine while Miami is awake and a nightmare when they sleep.
Green, shooting an ungodly 68 percent on 28 three-point attempts, and Neal, converting an apocalyptic 55 percent on 22 three-point attempts (and 65 percent over the past three games) have been as close to unstoppable as two shooters could be.
It’s been the year of the gunner against the Heat. Nate Robinson, Brandon Jennings, George Hill, Paul George and now Danny Green and Gary Neal are getting into the act of shooting nearly lights-out from the perimeter, no matter the type of defense the Heat play.
The Spurs did struggle mightily hitting their shots in Game 1, shooting only 30 percent, but they have now shot a higher three-point percentage than overall field-goal percentage in the past three games. They also famously converted 16 three-pointers on 50 percent shooting, with Green and Neal combining to shoot 13-of-19.
Miami will live with the contested three-pointers on Gary and Neal because of how unsustainable those types of shots become after so many games. And after three consecutive games of incredible shooting between the two, a combined 26-of-36 from beyond the arc in Games 2, 3 and 4, there’s reason to believe that they’ll begin missing, even the easy ones.
Green was a 43 percent three-point shooter in the regular season, while Neal managed only 36 percent. Both players are almost doubling their regular season three-point percentages in their series against the Miami Heat, and they’re doing it whether they’re open or heavily guarded.
The Spurs move the ball as well as any team in the league, and Neal and Green have been reaping the benefits. However, can they sustain it for possibly another three games?
The three-point shooting has been San Antonio’s go-to offense throughout the past three games and even with the three consecutive games of 50 percent shooting from beyond the arc, the Spurs are only 1-2 in that stretch.
It makes one wonder what San Antonio has to do to limit Miami, especially with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh collectively snapping out of their funks in Game 4 to combine for 85 of Miami’s 109 points, if they can only rely on three-point shooting from two role players and the hamstring that’s going to possibly tear at anytime of Tony Parker’s.
San Antonio will no doubt have a response to Miami’s made-it-look-easy Game 4 victory. They’ll find ways to limit LeBron’s transition opportunities (San Antonio had 18 turnovers in the loss), continue allowing Wade and James to shoot mid-range jumpers in the half-court, and add new dimensions to their always volatile pick-and-roll attack with Parker and Duncan.
San Antonio is in desperate need of help from Manu Ginobili, who didn’t score his only field-goal of Game 4 until the 2:23 mark of the fourth quarter with the game already decided. He’s shooting 34 percent thus far and is averaging less than eight points per game.
He’s also shooting 19 percent from beyond the arc and is 0-of-7 in the past two games. It seems as if Green and Neal have taken all of the Spurs’ three-point shooting abilities for themselves.
People will say that Manu is due for a big game or two, but how is that to be expected when he’s 35-years-old and has single-digit scoring outputs in seven of his past nine games. He hasn’t scored 20 points since a Game 4 win vs the Golden State Warriors.
And the Heat’s defense isn’t anything like Golden State’s. There’s no Klay Thompson or Harrison Barnes. It’s Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, two of the league’s best perimeter defenders over the past decade.
It’s tough to argue in defense on Manu Ginobili being a sustainable form of offense with such low scoring outputs over the past two series. He struggled against the physical defense of the Memphis Grizzlies and is now facing adversity against the high-octane defense of the Heat.
Coach Popovich may have the solution for limiting the Heat, but it’s his on-court personnel that will hinder the defense. The Spurs cannot stop the Heat in transition, nor can they match their speed when they go to a small lineup.
The Spurs made a tremendous mistake with Tiago Splitter on Dwyane Wade in last game, and it resulted in the center playing a mere 13 minutes and the interior opening up just enough for the Heat to score 50 points in the paint in Game 4.
Plus, Mike Miller on the floor will always spell problems for a Spurs team that will face a quandary in figuring out who to throw at Miller, but also to defend James facilitation.
Even with a 0-of-1 performance in his start, Miller simply being on the floor does more than what Udonis Haslem could have offered. While Haslem’s defense will be missed, the Heat are extremely capable of holding their own against Tim Duncan when Chris Bosh is playing the defense he was playing last game.
Also, when he and James are getting on the boards, and limiting San Antonio’s offensive rebounding attack, the Spurs will only find themselves with even less answers than they had before. After giving up 19 offensive boards in Game 3, the Heat outrebounded San Antonio in Game 4 and were supported by James and Bosh combining for 24 of Miami’s 41 rebounds.
All San Antonio can ask for is against-the-odds performances from Tony Parker, Danny Green and Gary Neal, pray for a time machine for Manu Ginobili and hope that LeBron James suddenly loses his confidence.
Otherwise, the Heat appear to have the momentum for a six-game series win, as many predicted.