During the Heat’s title runs of the previous two seasons, it was the positional mismatches and small-ball lineups that wreaked havoc on opponents, with LeBron James steering the ship.
But there wouldn’t be a third title, because this season’s version of the San Antonio Spurs had more versatility and more tricks in their bag than the two-time defending champions. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, veteran Tim Duncan and the young Kawhi Leonard dropped Miami in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, 104-87, on Sunday night to win the franchise’s fifth title since 1999.
There were some good signs early in the game for Miami though. Chris Bosh managed to subdue Boris Diaw and the massive impact he made since being inserted into the starting lineup before Game 3, and the idea to replace the ineffective Mario Chalmers with Ray Allen seemed to have a positive effect.
But after a hot start by the Heat, Miami’s attempt to exploit potential mismatches failed, and the home team’s offense finally got going. The Spurs figured things out, and the rotation changes Miami made lost any luster they might have had.
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There was less small-ball, and more Chris Andersen and Udonis Haslem. Five-out lineups were replaced with more traditional ones in an attempt to counter San Antonio’s interior game with a little more size. But aside from the Spurs’ offensive lull early in the game, it didn’t work.
“You absolutely have to credit their offense. It was exquisite basketball, ball movement, player movement, unselfish basketball, and exploiting a lot of the things we’re typically strong at,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Everything seemed to click at the right time for them.”
Haslem was a minus-17 for the game, Bosh was a minus-20 despite appearing to be effective against Diaw, and Allen was a minus-18 as a member of the starting lineup.
Without that extra level of floor-spacing for 48 minutes, Miami’s offense bogged down around James, and Haslem and Andersen provided next to no threat when the Heat had the ball. On top of that, each time Haslem was in the game, the Spurs isolated Duncan (14 points, eight rebounds) and allowed him to go right at the undersized forward. None of the shots were easy, but it was a lot to ask of Haslem to guard the Hall of Famer one on one.
Bosh’s defense on Diaw (six points, nine rebounds, six assists) over the course of the game was effective, but the Frenchman’s passing ability allowed him to remain effective without being a major scoring threat. Miami tried to pull out all the stops in a last-ditch effort to prolong the series, but the Spurs had an answer for everything, as had been the case since Game 3.
The Heat built its title runs on the backs of James, mismatched lineups and Spoelstra’s creativity. But this time, an aging roster ran out of fresh looks, and a two-time defending champion was overmatched. This time, the Heat will head into the offseason with more questions than it has had to answer since the Big 3 came together in South Beach.
“I trust the character of our group that there will be a benefit from this,” Spoelstra said. “At some point during the summer … I’m sure we’ll all be able to step back and realize it was a heck of a year even through the pain we’re feeling now.”