1. The Spurs can blow out an opponent, shocker.
Because of the Heat’s athleticism and explosiveness, the perception was that only Miami could blow out the Spurs and not the other way around. Well, the Spurs can do it too and even pointing it out seems rather dumb. But the Spurs had the fourth-best margin of victory (+6.4) in the NBA during the regular season and have the best margin of victory (+9.6) in the postseason.
In other words, the Spurs have proven they can beat teams handily. Probably no one expected the Spurs to outright dominate and embarrass the defending champions like they did on Game Three, but we shouldn’t be surprised that a team that plays defense, rebounds and hits a lot of three-pointers can blow out a team.
2. The role players have been more influential than each team’s “Big Three.”
Role players have now decided the outcome of two of the three games in these NBA Finals. In Game Two, Mario Chalmers, Mike Miller and Ray Allen turned the tide late in the third quarter. The trio combined for 41 points, including 8-of-12 from three-point range. Sure, the Heat played terrific defense throughout that stretch, but those unexpected contributions turned a close game into a blowout.
In Game Three, San Antonio’s Big Three combined for only 25 points, but the Spurs won by 37 points against the defending champions thanks to the sharpshooting of Gary Neal (24 points on 6-of-10 from three-point range) and Danny Green (27 points on 7-of-9 from three-point range). Just like the Heat in Game Two, when you are getting stops and getting in transition, you need someone to finish off those looks. This time the Spurs role players got the best out of the Heat.
Perhaps the rest of the series will closely resemble Game One, where each team’s Big Three went toe-to-toe right down to the wire. So far, whoever gets unexpected massive contributions has taken advantage.
3. LeBron James has not figured out how to score on the Spurs defense.
I’m not interested in talking about LeBron James’ aggressiveness or what he is doing to be effective on other facets of the game (assisting, rebounding and defending). The fact is that in three games this series, James has yet to break 20 points and is averaging 16.7 points per game on 38.9 shooting from the field. Throughout the regular season, James averaged 26.8 PPG on a career-best 56.5 percent from the field. How have the Spurs managed to keep him check?
For starters, Kawhi Leonard has done a tremendous job of staying in front of him. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a team so committed to the idea of just making sure James never blows by you, but that’s what the Spurs have done. Leonard will guard him one-on-one and gives himself enough room to recover if James uses his speed to drive. James can either take a jump shot (not his specialty) or drive the ball on a player that is not out of position. And if he decides to drive, then the Spurs have weak side help by either Tiago Splitter or Tim Duncan.
In addition to that, the Spurs are not fouling and James’ improved post-up game has been rendered obsolete because Leonard is a solid post-defender and much stronger than he looks. In Game Three, James went 5-of-7 when finishing by the rim and 2-of-14 from the rest of the court. So far, the Spurs have done a great job of staying in front of James, turning him into a jump shooter and a passer.
4. Kawhi Leonard is the second member of the Spurs’ Big Three after Duncan and Ginobili retire.
The assumption has always been that once Duncan and Manu Ginobili retire, the Spurs will only have Parker as their “Big One.” Now, it certainly looks like at the very least the Spurs will have a “Big Two,” with Parker and Leonard.
Leonard has been tremendous this series, not only doing a great job guarding James, but also being an absolute beast on the glass, specifically on offensive rebounds. Not to mention the fact that Leonard is always active, always cutting and always making plays around the ball. Leonard, who’s only 21-years-old and is in his second year in the NBA, is averaging 11 PPG and 12 rpg this series.
His offensive game is not a finished product (Leonard upped his scoring average from 7.9 PPG his rookie year to 11.9 PPG this year), but at the very least, you already have a guy that plays great one-on-one defense and who rebounds as good as anyone in his position. While his shot might look shaky at times, Leonard is a career 37.5 percent shooter from behind the arc and a 49.4 percent career shooter from the field. When you are 21-years-old and the biggest knock on your game is that you can still do more on offense, despite having those kinds of percentages, then you have a very, very bright future.
5. Regardless of the result of this series, Miami has to make a lot of changes to this roster.
Whether Miami ends up winning a title or not this season is irrelevant. This series has reinforced the same fear that many Heat fans were already feeling throughout the playoffs: this roster is just not as good as advertised. Not when Dwyane Wade struggles with injuries. Not when Chris Bosh plays so far away from the basket. If they’re healthy and engaged, the Heat are a monster of a team. But how can you believe that based on these playoffs? Throughout the playoffs, James has had to play more and more like Cleveland LeBron James than Miami LeBron James. Not to mention the fact that every single contending team in the Eastern Conference suffered major injuries (Tyson Chandler, Rajon Rondo, Derrick Rose, Danny Granger). The East will only get better and the road to the Finals for the Heat was as easy as it gets.
Trust me, there’s no way the Heat return to the NBA Finals next year with this exact same roster. For a team that was lauded for its depth, the Heat now find themselves having to rely on guys like Chalmers (the worst starting point guard in the NBA in my opinion; he finished 49th in PER for point guards this season), Miller (who has had 1,000 injuries) and Chris Andersen (who was signed on Jan. 20). Their rotation has been shaky at best throughout the playoffs and frankly, it shows James’ greatness that they’ve made it this far with such poor contributions.
The Heat might very well end up winning the championship, but that shouldn’t mean that they don’t have to make major alterations to this roster throughout the offseason.