The Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs are seven wins away from a rematch. In both of their semi-final games they obliterated their opponent. For each team it was a different method but the outcome was the same destruction. The defending champion Heat let the Brooklyn Nets hang around for a couple of quarters then disposed of them with their quickness and defense and inside play. The Heat went to the line 16 times, rarely were they touched as they cut through the lane. The Nets were bystanders, not exerting much defensive effort. It wasn’t enough that Joe Johnson and Deron Williams were efficient, both shooting 70%. They didn’t take enough shots for their proficiency to matter. Joe took 11 shots and Deron took 10. The rest of the team was mediocre and small. Their two big forwards, Andray Blatche and Kevin Garnett had a total of 4 points and 8 rebounds, not enough of an impact offensively or defensively. The Nets shot 47% from the field and lost. They shot 40% from three and lost. They had more steals than the Heat and lost. But they were outrebounded by five and they only had 11 assists. The ball didn’t move. Miami’s defenders were not chasing shooters. It was all so easy for the Heat, so casual.
The Spurs blitzed the Trailblazers from the beginning. They turned up the pace and their offense ran through the Blazers defense shredding it the way scissors cut up paper. As good as LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard are offensively and in big moments, they are both mediocre defenders. The rest of the team isn’t much better. They have the worst defense of all playoff teams, they give up 113 points. The Blazers beat Houston because they outscored them. Against the Spurs the Blazers shot 37%. They were miserable from the three point line, 25%. They had 9 assists. They had 20 turnovers. The Spurs, not surprisingly, shot 50% and 43% from three. It was a rout early. The Spurs are the best shooting team in the NBA and the best ball moving team in the NBA. No James Harden to stop the ball. The Blazers could not match the Spurs frenetic energy. It was as if the Blazers were still ecstatic about being in the second round. And the Spurs were trying to vanquish the enemy. They were playing two different games.
Both the Nets and Blazers, if they are to have any chance of winning tonight, have to adjust defensively. Energy on the defensive end all four quarters is a must. The Nets have a speed disadvantage keeping up with the Heat. But they still have fouls to give to interrupt the Heat’s offensive flow. The Nets are an old team yet-curiously- they did not play old school basketball. They did not punish whoever decided to come into the lane. Their only chance against Miami is to make shots on one end and slow the pace on the other. Joe Johnson cannot take 11 shots.
As for Portland their hero in the first round, Damian Lillard, cannot miss nine shots and he cannot take one three point shot. He has to be aggressive and his defense on Tony Parker has to include physicality. The Blazers bench is a huge disadvantage in this series so their starters have to be flawless, especially when contesting shots and guarding shooters. The burden rests on the perimeter defenders: Wes Matthews, Mo Wililams, Nic Batum, Damian Lillard to run the Spurs specialists off the three point line and force them into two point shots. Defense is not how the Blazers made it past the first round. They are going to need defense tonight.