The Spurs gained the top seed in the Western Conference and seemed certain to make one last run for an NBA title with the Tim Duncan/Tony Parker/Manu Ginobili core. San Antonio changed its identity in 2011 to better suit a changing NBA and Western Conference landscape while emphasizing the comparatively springy legs of Ginobili, Parker and Richard Jefferson compared to Tim Duncan.
It worked wonders in the regulars season. In the postseason… not so much.
The more youthful and athletic Grizzlies team was able to turn the tables on the Spurs. It was Memphis who was able to run and dictate the pace of games as San Antonio struggled to find an offensive rhythm.
“We’re all frustrated because we had a great regular season during which we dominated,” Parker told FIBA.com. “It was a tough match-up for us. They dominated us inside. … But that’s sport. It comes down to the smallest thing. It’s a case where everyone played well for Memphis.
“At the start of the season I said this was our last chance. Tim and Gino (Manu Ginobili) are getting old. It’s going to be tough to regenerate ourselves. We will always have a good team but we can no longer say that we’re playing for a championship.”
So how could a team that finished the season 46-36 and 15 games behind the Spurs score the upset? Parker said it best, it was a tough matchup for San Antonio. And with Memphis putting its focus squarely on San Antonio for that two week period, Memphis was able to score the upset. This after San Antonio and Memphis split their season series.
It shows what a different animal the postseason can be compared to the regular season. In the regular season, each team has one, maybe two days to prepare for any given opponent. Hardly time to install anything new or special to combat what the opposing team is doing. The regular season becomes more of a grind and which players can show up the most consistently on a night-to-night basis.
The Playoffs are different in that there actually is time to prepare and carefully craft a gameplan to attack specific weaknesses. To survive the Playoffs, you have to be both good and versatile. Every player on the roster has to have some advantage that the coach can use.
Take the Bulls-Heat series under closer examination.
Throughout the regular season, everyone seemed disappointed by the Heat’s progression. Miami had the talent to dominate any team, but consistently struggled to mesh offensively. On a night-by-night basis, things were a work in progress.
The Bulls seemed to be able to dominate every night. Derrick Rose was cutting and driving his way through the paint and dishing it out to Kyle Korver on the perimeter or to Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah in the post. Teams could not focus on specific strategies to slow down Rose’s onslaught to his MVP.
In the postseason though, it seems the two teams have seen their roles reversed.
Miami has the talent to slow down Rose, something neither Atlanta or Indiana could do. All three teams appeared to have a relatively similar strategy: try to keep Rose out of the paint and make Boozer and Luol Deng win it for Chicago. The Heat have “held” Rose to 23.0 points per game, 6.3 assists per game and 39.1 percent 3-point shooting. Rose averaged 21.3 shots per game in the three games of the regular season series.
Rose is 7 for 12 at the rim according to HoopData in the series after averaging 6.3 shots per game at the rim during the regular season. In this case it appears Miami has gameplanned for Rose and is doing a good job keeping him to the outside.
It is no wonder Rose has seen his usage rate rise from 32.2 percent in the regular season (already pretty high) to 34.9 percent in the postseason. He is literally doing everything for Chicago and Miami is forcing him to really press the matter.
The Heat lost all three games in the season series, but have shown they have some matchup advantages to use in a seven-game series. Miami has more shooters, more athleticism and more length to adjust to whatever Chicago throws. At least, that is what it feels like right now.
Versatility seems to be the most important attribute of all the remaining playoff teams. Lacking versatility might be something you can get away with in the regular season (see the Dwight Howard-led Magic this year), but not in the postseason. In the playoffs, your best players have to be able to play different positions and guard different positions.
The Mavericks are using Jason Kidd to guard Thabo Sefolosha while DeShawn Stevenson takes Russell Westbrook. Dallas turned that mismatch into an advantage defensively.
Similarly, the Heat have used LeBron James at every position but center. Dwyane Wade has been at all wing spots at points. The Heat have been able to hide Mike Bibby on Keith Bogans. Bogans is a good defender, but hardly has the quickness or strength to battle Dwyane Wade for an entire game.
Chicago is looking very much like a regular season team right now down 2-1 heading into tonight’s Game Four. Miami, a team that struggled for consistency in the regular season, looks like a postseason team. The Heat look like a team that can play any style and adjust on the fly without changing their rotation too much. They look like a playoff roster.
Photos via DayLife.com.