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Why the Spurs Are Routing the Heat

Why the Spurs Are Routing the Heat

By Dennis Loo (6/14/14)

There's a basketball saying that "good defense wins games and great defense wins championships." In the 2014 NBA Finals, the saying applies but in a reverse sense. It's not that the Spurs' defense is so great. In fact, Coach Popovich has complained openly about his team's defense. It's that his Spurs' offense is moving the ball so rapidly that the Heat's normally championship-level defense cannot make adjustments quickly enough to be where the ball is.

Watching Game 3 of the series in which the Spurs set a first half team shooting percentage record of nearly 80% was like viewing an advanced clinic in team passing and play, with the time between passes sometimes only as long as a touch pass. When asked in an after-game interview on ESPN about what the single most important factor in their Game 3 rout was (the reporter didn't put it quite that elegantly), Tim Duncan replied "team play." Which is absolutely true. But the most precise answer to the question would have been "time between passes." I have never seen a team pass the ball around to each other so unselfishly and so quickly. There is always an issue in sports (and warfare for that matter) because the amount of territory that the defense can cover is less than what the offense could potentially exploit.[1] Offense has the distinct advantage of taking the initiative and defense always has to react after the fact to what the offense is doing.

What Greg Popovich did after Game 2 - playoff games are always about game-to-game adjustments - was apparently instruct his players to move the ball exceptionally quickly from player to player, overtaxing the Heat's players' ability to adjust to who had the ball, opening up opportunities for shots from the perimeter, drives to the hoop, and shots from around the key. Heat coach Eric Spolstra talks about "looking under the hood" to fix what ails his team. The problem, dear Eric, is not under our hoods but in our adversaries' game plan. As long as the Spurs keep to the game plan, the Heat are cooked.

In the post-game 4 articles that I've read, after the Spurs once again routed the Heat on the Heat's own home court, writers bemoan the Heat's ineffectualness as a team and predict a post-season breakup. What the articles fail to mention, however, is the specific key game strategy of the Spurs. (Perhaps some other commentators who I haven't read have mentioned this.) This is in keeping with a lot of sportswriting: the fine adjustments that teams or individual players make that can produce dramatic one-sided results or exciting upsets by huge underdogs are usually overlooked. Instead, you get stories that wonder about the futility of the losing side and the overwhelming power of the winning side. Most contests aren't so black and white but involve a very subtle modification on one side, producing a disproportionate difficulty for the other side. In other words, athletic contests, like anything else, are dialectical in nature and subject to very small alterations having oversized effects. Popovich has once again proven his value as the best coach in the game.

[1]That is why the US government's claim that it can and is winning the "war on terrorism" is impossible to do as a war. The US strategy is to "take the offensive" and "take the war to the enemy" by bombing and killings, but you cannot eradicate terrorism, first, because it's a tactic and therefore eliminating a tactic is like saying you can make everyone in the world forget that a given tactic exists, and second, because in their state terrorist actions, the US government is exacerbating, not alleviating, the danger of anti-state terror.


0 # Len Garden 2014-06-17 15:05
Dennis, I stumbled upon your blog while researching politicriminals . It's not often to find articulate analysis of game-as-war applied to other current events. Thanks for this. It is refreshing to read and inspiring to digest the intellect of another ordinary human being like me. I think I'll check back from time to time to see what else you have to say.
-- Len
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Elaine Brower of World Can't Wait speaking at the NYC Stop the War on Iran rally 2/4/12