By Brian Martin
The Playoffs are all about matchups, adjustments and trying to exploit any advantage you can find over your opponent. In putting together a commanding 3-1 series lead, the San Antonio Spurs have found some clear-cut advantages against the Miami Heat.
The disparity in play between the point guards of the Spurs and Heat is bigger than at any other position. Tony Parker and Patty Mills have dominated their matchup with Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole. And the numbers are staggering.
Spurs Point Guards
Heat Point Guards
The Spurs' point guards are averaging 20 more points per game than the Heat point guards and are shooting 20% better from the field and nearly 35% better from 3-point range. Parker and Mills have more 3-pointers made (13) than Chalmers and Cole have field goals made (11) in this series.
The Spurs' duo also holds an advantage in playmaking and ball security with a 2.43 assist-to-turnover ratio compared to 1.38 for the Heat point guards. The Miami point guards have more turnovers (16) than made baskets (11), while the Spurs have 41 buckets to just 11 turnovers.
Let's begin with the starters: Tony Parker vs. Mario Chalmers
Parker has been the reliable orchestrator of the Spurs' offensive machine. While he scores when he has to, his primary role is to get the ball to his teammates and keep the ball moving until a great scoring opportunity is available either for himself or a teammate. He is the Spurs' leading scorer in the series and is second in assists to Boris Diaw (more on him later).
Chalmers has struggled all series long. His teammates and coaches have tried to encourage him and boost his confidence, but through four games none of it has worked. Chalmers is not known for having a lack of confidence in his game, but he is clearly not comfortable on the court, often passing up shots he would normally take.
Next, let's look at the reserves: Patty Mills vs. Norris Cole
The contributions from Patty Mills in this year's Finals have been night-and-day compared to last year's series. In the 2013 Finals, Mills played a total of 13 minutes, scoring four points and taking five shots almost exclusively in garbage time. A year later, he's averaging 15 minutes per game and has provided a scoring burst off the bench thanks to his 3-point shooting (8-of-15 in the series). In Game 4, Mills scored 14 points on 5-of-8 shooting with four 3-pointers. It was the third-highest point total for the Spurs behind Kawhi Leonard (20) and Parker (19). And it was more than any Heat player not named LeBron James.
For the Heat, going to the bench has not been productive on the whole (more on that later) and at the point guard position specifically. Cole has been unable to provide any kind of spark for the Miami offense in place of Chalmers. Cole is averaging just 3.5 points and 2.0 assists and his shooting percentages (35.3 FG%, 16.7 3FG%) have been nearly as bad as Chalmers'.
We touched on this in discussing Patty Mills' contributions in this series, but it goes beyond the Spurs' backup point guard. San Antonio's bench has thoroughly outplayed the Miami reserves in this series.
The Spurs bench holds a significant edge over the Miami bench in all facets of the game: they are outscoring the Heat by 14 points per game; dishing out 6.7 more assists with 0.5 fewer turnovers; they are shooting nine percentage points better from the field and from three; and they have logged just five additional total minutes (70-65) through the first four games of the series.
Among the Spurs' top seven scorers in this series, three of them are coming off the bench -- Manu Ginobili (13.3), Patty Mills (8.5) and Tiago Splitter (7.0). By comparison, the Heat have two of their top seven scorers coming off the bench -- Ray Allen (11.0) and James Jones (3.7). Jones' numbers are skewed by his three minutes of play in Game 4 when both teams emptied their bench with the outcome of the game decided. Jones scored all 11 points that he's had in the series during that stretch.
Ginobili leads all players in plus/minus with a plus-62 through the first four games. The Spurs have outscored the Heat by 62 points with Ginobili on the floor in this series; and all 115 of Ginobili's minutes have come off the bench.
San Antonio's lineup of Boris Diaw, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker has played a team-high 43 minutes together and is plus-46 in that time. The production on both ends of the floor with this five-man group has been phenomenal. They are scoring 142.2 points per 100 possessions while only giving up 75.2 per 100. That's a net efficiency of 67.1, meaning this lineup has outscored the Heat by 67 points per 100 possessions in this series. And how about these numbers: this group has an effective field goal percentage of 65.6%, an assist rate of 69.4% and a rebound rate of 65.0% -- outstanding shooting, unselfish play and dominate the glass, that is a recipe for success.
By contrast, the Heat's most-used lineup is its starting five of Chris Bosh, Mario Chalmers, LeBron James, Rashard Lewis and Dwyane Wade, which has played 46 minutes together and is a minus-9 in this series. They are scoring 110.8 points per 100 possessions while allowing 115.7, a net efficiency of minus-4.9, as this group is outscored by nearly five points per 100 possessions while on the floor together. They have shot the ball well (their 64.4 eFG% nearly matches San Antonio's 65.6%), but their assist (50%) and rebound (50.9) rates fall well below the Spurs' top lineup.