Heat dominate Spurs using the formula they need to be successful. Question remains: can they sustain it?
Posted by Matt Moore
If the Heat's stretch of losing 6 of 7 and five in a row displayed everything that was wrong with their makeup, chemistry, gameplan, coaching, and approach, the way they've responded in their three-game winning streak shows the mirror image. After winning a tough game against a motivated Lakers team, then stomping an overmatched Grizzlies team Saturday, the Heat put together their most impressive performance of the season against the Spurs Monday night, destroying them 110-80.
The game featured the formula that you would have wanted to see all season from the Heat. Defense setting the pace to provide transition opportunities, and the Heat taking advantage of mismatches nearly every time down the floor. It's not easy -- it was never going to be easy in the first season with all the pressure, an inexperienced coach, and such a poor supporting cast. And this game does nothing to erase the belief that the Heat are headed for a second-round outage. After all, all they did was split the season series with the Spurs, with each team winning by 30. But what Monday night's game showed is what they're capable of against an elite team. And the results were impressive.
The Heat won almost every statistical category, from shooting percentage (54 percent to 38 percent), rebounds (47-33), assists (25-17), and split turnovers with 11. How they got there, though, was the key. The Spurs did what they do best, work to stretch the floor and create open corner threes. Part of the Spurs' 27 percent 3-point shooting effort can be notched up to just an off night, but a large chunk of it should be accredited to a Heat defense that constantly ran off the three, forcing players like George Hill to dribble and re-adjust to step-back threes. By the third quarter, Manu Ginobili was in a position to try cross-court passes which resulted in more turnovers, which prompted more fast breaks which lead to more points.
That transition offense is the biggest pendulum swing for the Heat. The idea among many is that come playoffs, the strength of Miami's offense, their ability to run with the amazing athletes they have, will be limited in the grind of playoff-style basketball. It's a sound belief, given what we know of the history of the playoffs. But in that history, we have rarely seen a team with this kind of offensive talent on the floor. Perhaps the Showtime Lakers are really the only comparison, though the Heat lacks a playmaking point guard like Magic Johnson, no matter how talented in distribution LeBron James is. The Heat will try and rely on that athleticism to overcome the kind of defense that traditionally wins titles. Against San Antonio, the best team in the league record-wise, the formula worked.
Not to be ignored in this game was the ability of the supporting cast to create opportunities for the Triad. Chris Bosh had 30 points, with many of them off pick and roll situations. In particular, in the second quarter, Bosh went right at Matt Bonner. With Tim Duncan trying to stay out of foul trouble, Bonner was forced to guard Bosh. The Heat repeatedly went to Bosh in the post, and he worked him over on consecutive possessions. Similarly, Wade had gone to the post against George Hill, forcing similar problems for the Spurs, who had no real answer.
Then, you had possessions like the one where the Heat blocked a Blair attempt at the rim, Wade ripped out in transition ahead of the pack, and found James cutting down the middle for one of the best highlights of the year. The Spurs were helpless against it, and it showed not only the athletic ability and basketball acumen, but the raw emotion the Heat is playing with right now. And that's really been the missing ingredient.
(HT: Get Banged On )
Miami has started to play like it cares, consistently. And while nothing short of a trophy hoist in June will quiet those who doubt them (nor should anything less), the heat have discovered who they are, and it's who they thought they were, all those months ago.
They just had to reach a point where they wanted it enough. Now we'll see if they want it enough against defensive challenges like Chicago and Boston. Otherwise victories like Monday night's will be forgotten as easily as the disaster the Heat had less than two weeks ago in San Antonio. The map hasn't changed. But at least the Heat have found their compass.