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It’s Time For Gregg Popovich And The Spurs To Adjust

By John Schmeelk
(Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

(Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

By John Schmeelk
» More Columns

Before everyone overreacts to the Heat’s blowout of the Spurs on Sunday night, consider the big picture. The Spurs took one game in Miami and reclaimed home-court advantage despite having to deal with a 10-day layoff between series. Before this series started, it would have been blasphemy to suggest that the Spurs would beat Miami twice in their own building to start the series. Despite the asinine 2-3-2 format that puts the road team at a huge disadvantage by forcing them to win three straight at home, the Spurs are in a very good position right now.

That being said, Game 2 of the series was where we saw the Heat make a number of adjustments that gave the Spurs trouble. Due to LeBron James’ greatness, Erik Spoelstra rarely gets praise from the outside-the-basketball-writers-fraternity for his coaching ability. But it was his small adjustments that helped tip the scales towards Miami on Sunday. Before the series started, I wrote that the Heat would have trouble winning this series if they continuously trapped the Spurs’ high screen-and-roll with Tony Parker. They made an adjustment there on Sunday and mixed up their coverage, including switches and the classic hedge. The trap wasn’t eliminated, and when it was used it came with more ferocity than we saw in Game 1. It’s important to give a team like the Spurs different looks on defense, and the Heat’s ability to do just that helped force those 17 turnovers.

The second thing that the Heat did was adjust their usage of James. The Spurs have made a commitment to go under every screen set for the Heat’s superstar when he has the ball, forcing him into a jump shooter. They figure that if he makes it they will live with it, and that’s a far better result than letting him get into the lane and create for others. It’s the primary reason that James hasn’t had a high-scoring game yet, since he refuses to settle for the jump shot. They got James involved a different way on Sunday night, using him as a screener and as a finisher or passer when he gets the ball while rolling to the hoop.

The Heat changed things up, and now it is time for Gregg Popovich to adjust. Is there anyone else you would want in the film room and on the practice floor figuring out how to counter those moves more than Popovich? I don’t think so. I think the answer to James being used as the screener will result in simple switches, or a very soft hedge that will cut off the passing lane. The Spurs will put the onus on the ball handler to score. However, it will only be a matter of time before the Heat use Dwyane Wade as the ball handler and James as the screener, something that the Spurs’ defense will have to switch to and hope they can win those matchups.

On offense, San Antonio will just have to play cleaner basketball. This is far less scheme and much more execution. The one thing that teams cannot afford to do against the Heat is commit turnovers. It allows them to run the floor, and that’s when they are unstoppable. In Game 2, Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili combined for 27 points on 10-of-33 shooting with nine turnovers. The Spurs were still able to close for two-and-a-half quarters despite those horrid performances, which is a good sign. The fact that their role players — such as Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard and Gary Neal — don’t look scared playing in front of a hostile road crowd shows that the Spurs have reliable options outside of their “Big Three.” It is still an open question whether the Miami role players can do likewise in San Antonio.

One of the reasons that the Heat couldn’t win in Indiana was the struggles of their support players on the road, something not uncommon in playoff history. On Sunday, James, Wade and Chris Bosh only combined for 39 points. They will need to be far better to win games in San Antonio, where they probably won’t get 19 from Mario Chalmers, or 6-of-8 shooting from three from Mike Miller and Ray Allen. James will at some point have to become a lead scorer, and Wade and Bosh will have to be real secondary options. The output from the Heat’s role players in Game 2 was more of an aberration than a foreshadowing of the rest of the series.

Whomever loses Game 3 will have all the pressure in the world squarely on their shoulders in Game 4. To the Heat’s credit, they have won every must-win game that they have needed so far this postseason. But in Game 3, it’s hard not to think that Popovich will figure out a way around Spoelstra’s adjustments, and the Spurs will take care of the ball better. They are too good not to.

Schmeelk’s Snippets

- I think Jason Kidd to the Nets as head coach is fascinating, but extremely risky since the team is designed and pressured to win now. With Joe Johnson getting creakier and Deron Williams always dealing with aches and pains, can they afford to let Jason Kidd learn on the job? Or can a transition be avoided if he is surrounded  by enough veteran assistants, thus letting Kidd deal with player interaction, overall strategy and in-game decisions? If they do go with Kidd, I think it would be a fascinating experiment. One person it would certainly help is Deron Williams, who would have a coach that should be willing to trust his point guard to run the team. You can’t ask for more than that.

You can follow me on Twitter @Schmeelk for everything on the Knicks, Giants and New York sports.

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