In the 2014 NBA Finals, merely being ‘good’ isn’t good enough. The San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat possess a blend of talent, savvy, and cohesion that makes their offenses not just extremely efficient, but awesomely creative, too. It will take consistent greatness from both sides to win this series; minutes-long bouts of ‘average’ or even ‘solid’ won’t get it done. In their 110-95 Game 1 win, the Spurs – led by Manu Ginobili and Boris Diaw – exhausted the Heat with unrelenting offensive brilliance that the depleted visitors just couldn’t match.
San Antonio scored 36 points on 14-of-16 shooting (6-for-6 from three-point range) in a decisive fourth quarter, turning an early seven-point deficit into a runaway victory. LeBron James’ absence and Danny Green’s explosive shot-making has received the most attention so far, and rightfully so. In a game teetering on the brink since the opening tip, that it broke open with the world’s best player on the bench and the Spurs’ best shooter getting hot is hardly coincidence.
Except San Antonio’s scintillating 31-9 run over the game’s last 9:23 was far more layered than those headlines suggest. The Spurs racked up an incredible 12 assists on their 14 baskets in the fourth quarter; Ginobili had six of them and Diaw doled out a pair of his own, accounting for almost half of their 17 total dimes. That wasn’t surprising given their influence in the first half, or the unique court vision and passing flair that makes them ideal foils for a defense like Miami’s.
Ginobili and Diaw are two of basketball’s most effective and uncommon playmakers. In assessing this series before it began, though, not enough credence was lended to the state of their games with respect to the 2013 Finals. Ginobili was a shell of his current, vibrant self at this point last year, and Diaw started that series on the outside fringe of Gregg Popovich’s rotation. San Antonio, consensus agrees, is a better team now than it was then, and the vast improvement of its awe-inspiring reserve tandem in that interim is the chief, if less popular, reason why.
That’s especially true against the Heat. Poise and ingenuity is key to exploiting Miami’s defensive pressure and speed, and an offense can’t have enough of those rare attributes. Tony Parker and Tim Duncan are the Spurs’ steadiest forces on that end, and possess both traits in spades. But all great teams can rely on their two best players to perform up to par or even better when facing the Heat. Only San Antonio is equipped to do so on the periphery, too, a reality based as much on the precious talent of Ginobili and Diaw as it is on the brilliant offensive system implemented by Popovich.
Stagnance is death against Miami. We know that. Movement, though, means more than getting the ball to the next side of the floor and refusing to stand in a single place. More subtle means of offensive manipulation – head and ball fakes, eye contact, creating angles – matters as well. It’s the type of nuance Ginobili and Diaw preternaturally mastered long ago. More important to the present, it’s the kind that is uniquely suited – Ginobili-Diaw were a game-high +36(!) in 27 minutes last night – to beating the Heat’s funky defense.