The 2013 NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs get underway on Thursday night and the stage is set for an exceptionally entertaining series. There are storylines galore, ranging from seeing if the Heat can repeat as champions to LeBron James facing the Spurs in the Finals once again after meeting them in 2007 as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Setting storylines aside, though, this is going to be a series that features some great and incredibly entertaining basketball being played. There’s a reason these two franchises are powerhouses in the NBA and that many people gave both teams a good chance of getting to this point: they are, simply, two of the best teams in the league.
One of the things that has made both of these teams successful this season is the pick-and-roll. 18.9 percent of the Heat’s offensive plays in the regular season were out of the pick-and-roll, behind only transition and spot up plays; 22.3 percent of the Spurs’ offensive plays were out of the pick-and-roll, the highest percentage of any offensive set. These two teams don’t just run their offense through pick-and-rolls often, but they are also two of the best in the league at doing so. Miami ranked second in the league this season at 0.94 points per possession and San Antonio wasn’t far behind at 0.92 points per possession, the fifth best mark in the league.
There’s no doubt that both teams are going to look to the pick-and-roll in this series to put points on the board. However, it’s how both teams will defend those sets that may be the biggest key in the series. During the regular season, the Heat were the second-best team in the NBA in terms of defending the pick-and-roll, allowing just 0.78 points per possession. Meanwhile the Spurs ranked just 16th in the league in pick-and-roll defense, allowing 0.85 points per possession in those situations.
Their regular season numbers don’t tell the entire story, though, particularly with the Heat defending the pick-and-roll of San Antonio. Miami’s primary defense against the pick-and-roll is to swarm the ball handler right off the screen, which will mostly be Tony Parker in this series. In most cases, the long defenders of the Heat cause problems for the ball handler and force them to make poor decisions. However, that’s not as likely to happen with Parker and the Spurs offense. With the array of shooters on the wings and Tim Duncan in the post for San Antonio, it’s going to be difficult to cause problems for Parker and the Spurs in those situations.
Though there are many other factors like the game in transition that will determine the outcome of this series, the pick-and-roll is going to play an enormous part in who comes away with the title. If the Spurs are able to play average defense on the Heat’s pick-and-roll and solve Miami’s defense, it will likely swing the series in their favor. However, if the Heat are able to succeed at a good rate from those sets and their defense causes problems for San Antonio, LeBron and the “Big Three” could be on their way to becoming back-to-back champs.