Gregg Popovich pins Game 2 loss on Big 3, but Tony Parker’s response will decide series
MIAMI — LeBron James’ block will stand as the most enduring moment, but Game 2 had already been decided by the time he shoved Tiago Splitter’s dinner back down his throat.
The 2013 MVP could take an extra moment, or three, to flex and beat his chest after the block because the game, for all intents and purposes, was out of San Antonio’s reach. A 15-0 run that stretched over the end of the third quarter and early fourth quarter gave the Heat a 19-point lead when James unleashed his rejection. The 15 Miami points stand out, because they were the moment that James finally came to the Game 2 party on offense, but the Spurs’ doughnut better explained why this game wasn’t competitive down the stretch. San Antonio can keep pace offensively with Miami when it is hitting on all cylinders; when it’s missing on all cylinders — at least all cylinders not named Danny Green — a rout is to be expected.
“We have basically no shot winning a game against them if none of us played good,” Manu Ginobili conceded, referring to himself, Tony Parker and Tim Duncan. “We definitely got to step up and do better.”
The overall numbers were terrible for the Spurs’ Big Three and the timing was even worse. Parker, Duncan and Ginobili combined to score just 27 points on 10-for-33 shooting. Parker and Ginobili combined for eight turnovers, double the number the Spurs committed as team in Game 1. The Heat kicked their defense up multiple notches, deflecting passes and keying transition opportunities almost from the opening whistle, but the Spurs’ guards had their share of disappointing, unforced miscues: passes slipped through fingertips, Ginobili stumbled around the perimeter and Parker lacked the total, seemingly effortless control factor he possessed in Game 1.
San Antonio’s offensive possessions unfolded like this during that decisive 15-0 stretch: Parker missed a jumper, Duncan threw the ball away, Ginobili missed a three-pointer, Gary Neal turned the ball over, Parker missed another jumper, Ginobili missed another three-pointer, Neal missed a three-pointer and Tiago Splitter committed a turnover. When Neal finally hit a hoop to end the drought, San Antonio had gone 4:16 without scoring, going 0-for-5 from the field and committing three turnovers. Yuck.
“Missing shots and not shooting well and turning it over is a bad combination,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said afterward, clearly in a grumpy mood because of the display. He placed the loss squarely on his three stars. “Tony, Manu and Timmy were the ones that were 10-for-33. Not going to put that on the bench.”
Of the three Spurs mentioned, there’s no question who is most important for San Antonio’s chances in this series.
The Spurs have won throughout the postseason despite up-and-down play from Ginobili, who was shooting just 38.2 percent in the playoffs entering Sunday. Game 2 marked the seventh time in 16 Spurs playoff games that he failed to cracked double-digits; San Antonio is now 6-1 when that happens. Kawhi Leonard has usurped Ginobili as the Spurs’ third-leading scorer and Danny Green — who had a team-high 17 points in Game 2, including a perfect five-for-five from deep — is nipping on Ginobili’s heels for fourth.
Duncan remains a steady defensive presence, but his offense, like Ginobili’s, has wavered at times. He scored just six in a blowout win over the Grizzlies, his scoring came and went against the Warriors and he got off to a slow start in Game 1, missing his first five shots. His postseason shooting percentage (45.8 percent entering Monday) was down more than four points from his season average and his 3-for-13 shooting (23.1 percent) in Game 2 was the fifth-worst outing he’s endured in his 206 career playoff games.
“I know I played awfully,” Duncan admitted afterward. “I look at my shots and they are the shots I want. They are contested shots, but they are shots I can make. … I’m getting the shots I want, I just have to knock them down.”
Much like the Heat can find success with or without major offensive contributions from Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, the Spurs can remain competitive in spite of unsteadiness on offense from Ginobili or Duncan. And just as James is Miami’s alpha and omega, Parker is an indispensable element for San Antonio. Again, just like James, that doesn’t necessary mean piling up points. Parker sliced and diced the Grizzlies in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals with 15 points and 18 assists, producing the same game-changing impact as James’ playmaking on both ends (only 17 points, but seven assists, three steals, three blocks) on Sunday.
“It’s going to happen sometimes,” Parker said of San Antonio’s Big Three’s Game 2 performance. “You have to give [Miami] a lot of credit. They played great defense.”
The Spurs, especially Parker, stuck tightly to that line after what was arguably their worst game of the postseason. Whether out of frustration or gamesmanship, Parker said little after the Heat pressured him into mistakes and kept him out of the paint, repeating again and again that he needs to protect the ball and match Miami’s aggressiveness. The Heat scored 19 points on the Spurs’ 16 turnovers.
“Every time you have turnovers, it’s a quick fast break,” Parker lamented.
San Antonio’s 19-point margin of defeat was its largest of the 2013 playoffs and its fourth-largest of the season. While some might argue that the Spurs were playing with house money after stealing Game 1 to take home-court advantage, they certainly didn’t view it that way, especially after feeling the force of Miami’s second-half burst.
“If you would have asked me before heading to Miami, I would say, OK, I’ll take it,” Ginobili said. “Winning one and losing the other by 20, not a big deal. I’ll take it. But once you win the first one, you forget about that. … Being 1-1, it’s not bad. But you don’t want to play like this in an NBA Finals. You don’t want to give them that much confidence, and you feel bad about yourself.”
Duncan added: “I think [the Heat] regained [the momentum]. … We have three [games] at home so we’re excited about that. But if we play like we did tonight, that’s not going to matter. It’s about getting refocused here.”
Momentum can be fickle in the Finals, and it can swing back in San Antonio’s favor as quickly as Parker reversed course on his game-sealing jumper in Game 1. For that to happen, though, Parker will need to keep a cooler head under pressure, collapse the Heat’s defense as he did on Thurday and find ways to make the Heat pay for overcommitting to him.
As an all-around point guard with the ability to shoot, drive, create, pass, improvise and lead, Parker is fully capable of covering up poor play from his teammates, future Hall of Famers included. But when Parker falters? There’s no hiding from Miami’s onslaught.