Most of the talk surrounding Game 4 of the NBA Finals will likely center on Miami. And why not, they played like hot garbage. In an effort to speed past the bloated, one-sided analysis of last night’s game, click here for your Heat Check.
San Antonio played exceptional basketball. For purists, it’s a dream to watch. Crisp passing, balanced defense, perfect adjustments, inside-outside, high-low – they do it all. And they do it all really, really well.
Basketball is not as much about making shots, as it is about finding the best look. At the NBA level even the last guy off the bench can make an open jumper. Putting players in the right spots, creating spacing, maximizing the opportunity and then capitalizing: that’s basketball. The economics of the sport, if you will.
Each possession is an expedited boxing round full of punches and counterpunches. Feeling out the opponent and making them bend to your will. In this series, most notably in Game 4, San Antonio has kept Miami on its heels.
All the domination – everything, really – starts and ends with Gregg Popovich. He is putting on a clinic, and may be coaching the best series of his entire career. Every play is perfectly executed. Every substitution is perfectly calculated. Every move Erik Spoelstra makes is perfectly countered. Pop is playing the game seven moves ahead.
At times Popovich looks less like a coach and more like Max Cady in “Cape Fear.” It’s as if he has planned for this moment every single night since the final buzzer of last season’s Game 7 humbling. Diagramming by candlelight, formulating an impenetrable game plan, and waiting for the precise moment to exact his revenge. This is Pop’s moment.
Whereas elementary schools have fire drills, one gets the impression that the Spurs had “Heat Drills” throughout the season. That at least one segment of every practice was spent deconstructing Miami’s roster. Every game has begun with a Blitzkrieg and left Miami reeling. For a “boring” team, the Spurs sure are aggressive.
Just how masterful has Popovich’s plan been? He has turned a two-time defending champion into the 2007 Cleveland Cavaliers. It’s five on one – odds not even the world’s best player can overcome.
The Spurs aren’t playing against Miami. They’re not even facing a Big Three. San Antonio is going up against LeBron and whatever four guys happen to be on the court. LeBron leads the team in points, rebounds, assists and steals per game, yet his team is on the brink of elimination.
Popovich knows that LeBron will get his (19 of Miami’s 21 points in the third quarter of Game 4, for example), so he’s locked down on everyone else. Miami has not yet found the necessary balance to push back on San Antonio. Think back to every playoff failure in LeBron James’ career, and they all had the same recipe: James running everything from point down to the blocks, with four guys standing around the perimeter. Pop has shoved LBJ into an unwelcome time machine.
This series, where the Spurs have surgically dismantled a burgeoning dynasty, has been nothing short of fascinating. It has also shined the light on San Antonio’s biggest superstar. He’s the 65-year old guy with white hair, whose only highlights come when there’s a microphone pressed against his face.
The 2014 NBA Finals may be Gregg Popovich’s magnum opus.