Same song, different verse.
The San Antonio Spurs — after defeating the Miami Heat in Game 4 of the NBA Finals on Thursday night — are one win away from a title. The score wasn’t close, 107-86 — the second game in a row that San Antonio dismantled Miami. But in Game 3, it was the Spurs’ offense overwhelming the Heat’s defense with a cascading set of inside-outside and side-to-side actions. In Game 4, the Spurs’ offense continued to perform at a high level, but it also tightened the screws defensively.
The Heat scored at a rate of 99.1 points per 100 possessions in Game 4, more than 13 points lower than Miami’s playoff average. The Spurs controlled the middle of the floor, a factor that manifested in several ways.
According to the NBA’s SportVU Player Tracking Box Score, San Antonio had an enormous rebounding advantage, not just in actual rebounds — 44 to 27 — but also in rebound chances (defined as any time a player is within 3.5 feetof a rebound), 68 to 46. The Spurs were consistently the aggressor around the basket.
That aggressiveness also showed in Game 4’s shot-contesting stats. The Heat were 15 of 34 (44 percent) on shots in the paint. Coming into the game, the Heat had made 64 percent of their shots in the paint, by far the best mark of any team in the playoffs. The Heat — athletic and loaded with finishers — can score in the paint even when a defender is there to challenge a shot. But the Spurs have gotten more aggressive, and it is bothering the Heat in traffic.
Miami’s Shooting Woes
San Antonio contested a slightly lower percentage of Miami’s shots in Game 4, but the Spurs were extremely effective, especially around the basket. The Heat couldn’t get shots to fall.
The Heat have turned the ball over on 18.7 percent of their possessions in the finals, well above the 15.8 percent they had averaged in the regular season. Many of the steals the Spurs are generating have come close to the basket, stripping the ball from a shooter as he heads for the rim. On San Antonio, Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard have been particularly active in this regard, combining for 15 steals and seven blocks in the finals so far.
The Spurs have strung together two of the best performances of the playoffs — one offensive and one defensive. It will take massive changes from Miami to push this series toward a competitive finish.