Game 2 of the NBA Finals was about as close as they come. We would have had an overtime if a few free-throws had gone down for the Spurs. Both teams played exceptionally well. One team has LeBron James. Now we’re tied 1-1. This series has a better chance of going seven games than Kevin Love has of becoming a Boston Celtic.
- Motivation cannot be overestimated at the highest levels of sport. Too much unbridled emotion and the motivation can work against you. Not enough motivation and you’re toast…stale whole wheat toast. The Miami Heat are closing in on some serious record-book shit with their impressive streak of playoff games without two straight losses. NBA TV showed the graphic: Most games without consecutive losses NBA Playoff history: 1962-66 Celtics (54), 1990-93 Bulls (52), 2012-14 Heat (47).
- LeBron haters providing even more motivation: I wish all of the LeBron haters understood how much motivation they provide LeBron with. There is some serious irony going on: the people that want LeBron to fail the most are the people that keep providing him with reasons to stay supremely motivated. Some might argue that athletes “shouldn’t need motivation…especially in the Finals.” These are the people who refuse to acknowledge the impact of psychology. These people have trouble connecting. They have trouble dealing with other human beings. They don’t like the gray areas. I don’t doubt that LeBron would have come back with a vengeance in Game 2, after feeling that he let his teammates down at the end of Game 1 (even though he couldn’t have changed his body’s reaction to the extreme conditions). He may have performed just as well without the insane gossip-style criticism the lowest common denominator of sports scribes and moronic fans engaged in. Or not, we’ll never know. What we will know is that haters will hate on LeBron, and the sports world remains divided into two groups: 1) those that watch only to hate; 2) genuine fans.
- Numbers: Six Heat players received 25 minutes or more of playing time. Each of the six made over 50% of their shots. Much has been made of offensive efficiency over the last couple of years. Points per possession is tossed around ubiquitously. Listing points and field-goal attempts tells the efficiency story, because the ratio of points to shots improves with free-throws and three-point makes. Those 6 Heat players combined to shoot a ridiculous 36 of 62 (58%). LeBron’s 35 points on 22 shots were obviously enormous. The most surprising contribution came from the rejuvenated Rashard Lewis, who hit 3 of 7 from distance, going for 14 points on 9 shot attempts. Perhaps most impressive was the fact that Miami shot 53% with only 16 assists. LeBron’s 6-for-6 shooting streak in the third quarter was scintillating.
- Why Kawhi? LeBron’s determination to post-up nullified Kawhi Leonard’s perimeter defense. Kawhi ended up fouling out, played 31 minutes, and struggled to score inside the arc. Leonard’s much-improved three-point shot was dropping (2 of 3 from deep), but he clanged 5 of 6 attempts from inside. You can’t fault Kawhi’s defensive performance, but 9 points on 9 shots didn’t help the Spurs enough. It should be noted that Kawhi had to guard LeBron for most of Game 1. I don’t care how young and in shape a player is. Guarding LeBron is the toughest assignment in pro basketball, and the 90 degree conditions of Game 1 had to take their toll on Kawhi. He may not have shown it in a visible way, but I’d expect him to finish better around the rim over the rest of the series.
- Mario Chalmers’ dirty elbow and the Spurs missing four straight free-throws: I appreciate physical defense. I appreciate guys who make big shots. I don’t appreciate cheapshots. Mario Chalmers gave Tony Parker an elbow to the sternum that was as dirty as Polk Street (San Francisco reference anyone?) Parker slumped to the ground in pain. Chalmers received a flagrant 1 (2 shots and the ball). The way that Chalmers pulled his forearm up in order to plunge his elbow straight back into Parker’s chest had nothing to do with basketball. It’s a move you might see in a streetfight. I wanted Chalmers ejected (though it’s rare for any non-open-court collision to elicit an ejection). Parker went to the line in pain and missed both free-throws. Ten seconds later, Duncan was fouled. He followed with two more missed free-throws. One LeBron James three-pointer later, the Heat had a one-point lead. Duncan shot 4 of 8 from the line for the game. He’ll be angry with himself for those two misses.
- Extreme conditions continuing to cause impact: People may not want to hear about the impact of the exhaustion from Game 1 anymore, but I’d guess it played a part in Duncan’s late-game misses. Last year, Duncan shot 80.6% from the line in the playoffs. He came into Game 2 having hit 60 of 76 in this year’s playoffs (78.9%).
On to Miami and Game 3
As the series shifts to Miami, there isn’t a whole lot the Spurs can expect to do better. Make a few more free-throws. Get a little more offense from Kawhi and Belinelli. Hope LeBron doesn’t hit 65% of his well-guarded shots. Hope Rashard Lewis steps back into 2014, returning from his time-travel experience (he’s playing like 2004-2009 Rashard). The moronic LeBron criticism will now die down. The Heat have evened the series. The motivating factors may be closer to even. Perhaps Chalmers’ elbow will light a little extra fire under Tony Parker. And on we go…