During a timeout early in the second quarter, Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoestra gave this assessment of the San Antonio Spurs:
“They’re catching us by surprise on everything.”
While Spoelstra was referring to San Antonio’s blistering offense, the same can be said of the whole team’s performance against the Heat. Attacking. Frustrating. Fast-paced and precise. And ultimately, completely overwhelming the Heat on a way to a 111-87 victory.
The Spurs (now 45-16) simply overmatched Miami from the start. The first quarter ended with the Spurs shooting a ridiculous 79% (on 15-of-19 shooting) and building a 15-point lead against the Heat. Eight different players (and every Spurs starter) scored during the quarter, with 11 pinpoint assists leading to nearly every made field goal. Boris Diaw, starting in place of Tiago Splitter, was an immediate factor, hitting a quick 3-pointer and finishing with 16 points (on 5-of-5 shooting).
Conversely, the Heat (dropping to 43-16) seemed completely out-of-sync. LeBron James, possibly still fatigued following his 61-point performance against the Charlotte Bobcats earlier this week, was 1-of-6 in the first period, though he eventually finished the game with 18 points on 33% shooting (both well below his season averages). Miami was at least able to stay in San Antonio’s rearview mirror thanks to the efforts of Chris Bosh (24 points) and Michael Beasley (11 points).
But the Spurs, perhaps seeking a modest revenge for last season’s collapse in the NBA Finals, never wavered from their game plan. Even when Miami cut the lead to five near the end of the third quarter, San Antonio answered back with two Patty Mills 3-pointers to help push the lead back up to 12. And Miami was never a threat again.
The Spurs wound up shooting a more reasonable 50.6% for the game, paced by Tim Duncan’s 23 points and Tony Parker’s 17. Significant contributions were also made by Kawhi Leonard (11 points, 5 rebounds and 5 steals) and Marco Belineli (8 points). Although no individual performance was a true game-changer, the Spurs balance left Miami disoriented with a case of basketball-induced vertigo.
San Antonio’s system is so well-executed it can frustrate even seasoned teams like Miami. Guards Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers picked up technical fouls within seconds of one another arguing with an official. But even these protests felt like the players were just going through the motions, much like the Heat’s performance this night.
And isn’t that what has separated San Antonio for over a decade? That while they are largely dismissed for being too old, injured and boring, they simply find a way to keep winning? Miami is still seeking consistency for their post-season run. Meanwhile, San Antonio flies under the radar while still remaining at the top of the standings.
So, Coach Spoelstra, was it really a “surprise” at all?