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Spurs’ strategy, built over years, falls one win short

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Spurs’ strategy, built over years, falls one win short

Post by Admin 18 on Mon Jun 24, 2013 5:58 am



After their grueling victory over the San Antonio Spurs, LeBron James and Miami Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra made sure to point out that this series, and these Spurs, were the toughest test they had faced in their three years together.
The Spurs actually outscored the Heat by 5 points over the seven games of the N.B.A. finals and seemed to have the title in their grasp during the closing minute of Game 6. But that opportunity slipped away, and the Spurs did not have enough in the tank to match James’s torrid shooting in the second half of Game 7 on Thursday.
Years in the future, it may seem odd that these Spurs were able to push the Heat to the very limits of their ability. After all, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, two of the Spurs’ best players, were injured and only occasionally effective. Tim Duncan was a lion under the basket, but at 37, he was bound to fade after playing so many minutes and making so many sprints up the floor. Danny Green was the presumptive most valuable player of the finals after five games, and his offensive skills hardly extended past catching and shooting.
What were the Spurs doing to largely neutralize James, the most dangerous weapon in the N.B.A., for games at a time? How in the world was Green so, so open?
It all comes back to Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich, who received enthusiastic hugs from James and Dwyane Wade as the confetti fell around the players and coaches on the court after the final buzzer.
Popovich’s effect on the league as an innovator and tactician is impossible to overstate. His Spurs were the first to design an offense that emphasized the corner 3-pointer, a shot that is now widely recognized as the most valuable shot in basketball this side of a simple layup. Years after implementing the corner 3-pointer in their system, they met a Heat team that likewise seeks it, and James hit a pair of crucial corner 3s in Game 7.
The Spurs showed uncommon tactical and personnel flexibility in nearly capsizing the Heat’s championship hopes. Eschewing convention, Popovich had his defenders apply almost no pressure to James and Wade. The Spurs forced the ball out of their hands only in certain situations and adopted a strategy to protect the paint at all costs.
This strategy clearly wrong-footed James for the first half of the series, and it was not until Game 7 that he finally gave in to the Spurs’ strategy and fired away from distance. James and Wade beat the Spurs, but they had to do it on Popovich’s and the Spurs’ terms.
Popovich deserves credit for manipulating lineups and strategies to frustrate the Heat in this series, as do his players for their faithful execution. But the snap adjustments made throughout the finals were really the result of work done over the course of years, not days.
Popovich has a pet phrase, adopted from Jacob Riis’s stonecutter analogy. He tells his men to “pound the rock,” because even when that stone shows no signs of cracking, you never know under which blow it will finally break.
The Spurs have been pounding the rock since their last N.B.A. title in 2007. They added small pieces here and there from the league scrap heap, like Green and Gary Neal, and they drafted intelligently to nab players like Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter. Most of all, when so many said their last chances came years ago, the Spurs stayed the course with Parker, Ginobili and Duncan.
 

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