There will be an NBA champion crowned Thursday night as a series full of adjustments and execution between the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat comes to an end. Game 6 was a classic, with the Spurs just 30 seconds away from surviving the Heat's fourth-quarter comeback to take the title.
Tim Duncan put on a first half for the ages, but struggled down the stretch in the loss. Duncan finished the game with 30 points and 17 rebounds, but 25 of those points were in the first half. It may be a lot to ask at this point, but the Spurs need Duncan to be excellent from wire-to-wire in Game 7. His individual greatness is critical for a Spurs offense facing the Heat's aggressive team defense.
When Miami's defense is performing at its peak, their players are able to move with the Spurs through multiple actions. Here, LeBron James does a great job of navigating around the screens set for Tony Parker off the ball before interrupting the passing lane from Kawhi Leonard, cutting off the Spurs' first option. Leonard drives and kicks out to Boris Diaw, but Diaw isolated on the perimeter against Mike Miller is a win for Miami. Hence, the Heat controlled the first 18 seconds of the possession.
But at the end of the play, Diaw passes to Duncan in the low post, and he scores over Chris Bosh with only three seconds to spare.
That last action was enough to erase a great Heat defensive possession. This series has featured great team execution on both ends of the floor, but Duncan's scoring ability remains an individual talent that San Antonio can lean on in critical situations. Great offense can overcome great defense, and San Antonio must continue involving him as much as possible.
The Spurs have to read the amount of pressure Miami's defense is putting on the ball-handler and passing lanes. In the first quarter, the Spurs run a pick-and-roll with Duncan and Manu Ginobili. Ginobili is patient with the ball and finds an open lane to sneak a bounce pass between James and Bosh. Duncan drains an easy jumper.
It's that kind of patience which will be required in Game 7. Also, more of these need to be on target:
Miami shows different defensive schemes throughout each game, which creates turnovers when the opponent fails to adjust. Ginobili had eight turnovers total in Game 6, four occurring while attempting to pass to Duncan.
On this play, Duncan and Ginobili run a pick-and-roll, but Miami is going to put pressure on Ginobili.
The defense crowds Ginobili instead of dropping back to block the passing lanes to Duncan. Ginobili tries to pass over the top of the defense while jumping away, but Mario Chalmers tips the ball and forces a turnover.
When Miami aggressively traps, as they did above, the Spurs' ball-handlers must be patient with the ball and resist trying to force tough passes. Alternatively, they can use their spacing and ball movement to find the cracks in Miami's defense.
Here, Tony Parker and Duncan run a high screen to start the possession.
Instead of trapping Parker or using their length to disrupt the passing lanes, the Heat rely on Bosh to cover Parker in isolation. James tangles up Duncan as their defense begins rotating.
James rotates to the perimeter and helps block the passing lane to Duncan while Bosh slides to the post. The Spurs are prepared for this type of defensive movement and have the floor spaced in a "triangle." Parker passes to Ginobili in the corner, and he passes to Duncan in the low post.
The Heat played flawless defense through that possession, but in a "worst-case" scenario for San Antonio, Duncan has Bosh isolated deep in the low post. Duncan gets a good look at the rim and misses, but it was a quality shot attempt for the Spurs.
If the Spurs can't use the pick-and-roll or their ball movement to find creases in the Heat's defense, Duncan is still a great target when San Antonio's ball-handlers are able to beat Miami's defense in isolation.
Here, Parker drives past Chalmers and Miller, forces Bosh to rotate and finds Duncan for a slam.
If the Spurs can't probe Miami with pick-and-rolls because of their defensive pressure, they can break down Miami's defense by using Parker to dribble and drive, forcing Duncan's defenders to help away from him.
San Antonio was able to sit on Duncan's shoulders while he dominated the first half of Game 6, but the Spurs' offense looked rattled and rushed through the end of the fourth quarter and overtime. Duncan, the "Big Fundamental," only scored five points on 2-of-8 shooting in the second half. The Spurs struggled to get the ball to him when he had great position, and the Heat's defense did just enough to force misses when he did.
San Antonio needs to continue attacking Miami with pick-and-rolls, off-ball movement and passing -- everything they've been doing through the series. Duncan's ability to pop out for the mid-range jumper, roll to the rim or create out of the post make him the centerpiece to the Spurs' success.