Five games in, this has been one heck of a series.
Even though every game since the opener has been one-sided by the final minutes for one of the two teams, it has still been a fantastic showing by both sides in how they have made adjustments after losses, showing great prowess defensively and offensively throughout stretches.
Tied 2-2, Game 5 was up for grabs. Playing their last home game of the season, the San Antonio Spurs put on a show in front of their home crowd and are just one game shy of defeating the defending champion Miami Heat to win the crown.
Trampled by Miami’s Big Three and Erik Spoelstra’s small-ball adjustment in Game 4 (Mike Miller spacing the floor, Chris Andersen not playing...), Gregg Popovich made his own small-ball adjustment in Game 5 by starting the struggling Manu Ginobili for Tiago Splitter, and it payed off immensely, as Ginobili finally came up big with 24 points on 8-for-14 shooting and 10 assists. The Spurs’ Big Three combined for 67 points on 66 percent shooting, helping San Antonio finish the game shooting 60 percent against a Heat team known to defend well.
So how did they do it?
The Spurs isolated on 19 percent of their offense in Game 5 and it proved extremely effective. Tony Parker abused the Heat’s point guards in Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole, getting his way with them and blowing by them for easy points in the paint. He finished with 36 percent of the Spurs’ 50 points in the paint, 18 of his 26 points. Parker made every single one of his nine attempts in the paint for those 18 points, capitalizing on every opportunity he got. He finished the game with an excellent 1.27 PPP on the isolation.
As for Ginobili, eight of his 24 points were in the paint, where he was 4-for-7, and he finished the game with a crazy 1.83 PPP running the iso. Of course, this is not to mention the eight free-throw attempts he and Parker were rewarded for their efforts getting in the lane, combining for 13-for-16 from the charity stripe.
San Antonio rode a 15-2 run to end the first quarter. The key to the run? Isolation. Parker abused Cole during this run, and it either resulted in Parker getting in the lane and scoring, or driving and kicking to an open shooter.
The Spurs were simply able to take advantage of Miami’s lack of size on the inside, winning the points in the paint battle 50-40. It is worth noting that the team that wins that battle in each game in these Finals has won the game.
Prior to Game 5, Miami was averaging 58.7 percent on shots in the paint in the series, going 81-for-138 as a team. In Game 5, the Spurs did an excellent job of defending the paint, allowing the Heat to convert on just 46.5 percent.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, “the Heat shot a series-low 39.2 percent on drives in Game 5, including 4-for-12 on drives from Wade & James.” In Game 4 they were a combined 11-for-15 on drives, totaling 26 points.
LeBron James came into the game making 56.7 percents of his shots in the paint, but was limited to just 35.7 percent on Sunday night. Part of this was “botched” fastbreak opportunities for the Heat, of which we must give some of the credit to the Spurs being able to get back and bother Miami just enough to force some misses. However, James just couldn’t get his rhythm going and finished 8-for-22 from the field, only 2-for-10 on jump shots.
James at the power forward spot allowed Popovich to play Boris Diaw big minutes, as Tiago Splitter and Matt Bonner were struggling defensively against Miami’s small-ball lineups. Instead of being forced to defend the perimeter, all Diaw had to do was keep his body James down low, and it payed off. He is big enough for James not to be able to bully and is also deceivingly quick. LeBron finished the game 1-for-8 against Diaw.
San Antonio also combined for eight blocks in the game, getting stops at the rim and
Couple Miami’s struggles from the paint along with their atrocious shooting from mid-range, where they shot 6-for-20, and it makes a lot more sense why they only shot 43 percent for the game.
In fact, what saved this game from being a complete blowout was their shooting from long-range. They went 11-for-23, including 4-for-4 from Ray Allen who converted on two four-point plays in the game. Their two hot-spots from the floor were from the two corners from the arc, where they were 4-for-6 from the left corner and 3-for-5 from the right.
Down 3-2 and on the brink of being dethroned, Miami will find themselves in a similar position as the one they were in during the 2011 Finals against the Dallas Mavericks, when they lost Game 6 on their home floor.
Will history repeat itself, or can the Heat find a way to finally break out of their slump and win two consecutive games?