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Why the Spurs' Depth Was the Difference in Game 1

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The focus of the NBA Finals will be on the superstars, but San Antonio's bench really made the difference in Game 1.

The biggest headline coming out of Game 1 was the fact that LeBron James couldn't handle the heat...literally. All bad puns aside, LeBron's muscle cramps were a huge factor in San Antonio's Game 1 victory over Miami. The Heat looked tired and lost down the stretch without the reigning NBA Final's MVP on the floor, particularly on the defensive end. Meanwhile, the Spurs made Miami pay for their laziness by continually knocking down wide open jumpers throughout the final minutes of the game.

Gregg Popovich has always made it a priority to limit his starter's minutes both during the season and throughout the playoffs, and this year is no different. The Spurs didn't have a single player who averaged more than 30 minutes per game during the regular season, and although three Spurs' players - Tim Duncan (32.6), Kawhi Leonard (31.2) and Tony Parker (30.5) - have averaged 30-plus minutes in the postseason, Pop has done a tremendous job staggering his superstar's minutes in order to maximize their on-court output by strategically using his bench.

Although Erik Spoelstra did his best to rest aging superstar Dwyane Wade as often as possible during the regular season, unlike the Spurs, the Heat relied heavily on their Big Three to play a great deal of minutes, particularly in the postseason. LeBron has averaged a monstrous 37.9 minutes per game so far in the playoffs (sixth among all playoff performers), with Wade (34.6) and Chris Bosh (33.6) also averaging more minutes per game than any Spurs' player has in the postseason.

Much of the reason why Miami has needed James, Wade and Bosh to play so many minutes is because of they lacked consistent production from their role players. The Heat's Big Three have accounted for 61.8% of their scoring this postseason, which is absolutely absurd.

Contrarily, the Spurs are one of the deepest, most balanced teams in the league. San Antonio's top three scorers - Parker, Duncan and Manu Ginobili - have only accounted for 45.4% of their postseason points per game. That's a whopping 16.4% less than James, Wade and Bosh.

The Western Conference champions' advantage in depth was on absolute display in Game 1, particularly when it comes to contributions from off the bench. Here is a look at how each team's starters matched up:

Game 1 StatisticsPointsAssistsReboundsStealsBlocks
Spurs Starters76121943
Heat Starters7571971

As you can see, the Heat starters put up numbers that were nearly identical to the Spurs' starters, with the Heat sporting a slight advantage in steals and the Spurs with a slight advantage in assists and blocks. Take a look at how each team's benches matched up:

Game 1 StatisticsPointsAssistsReboundsStealsBlocks
Spurs Bench34182041
Heat Bench2091071

Other than the Heat's slight edge in steals and a tie in blocks, the Spurs' bench absolutely dominated Miami's bench in every facet of the game. San Antonio's reserves doubled Miami's in both dimes and boards, and nearly doubled them in points as well. In fact, the Western Conference champion's bench was so good in Game 1 that they actually outperformed their starters in assists and rebounds.

Much of San Antonio's Game 1 bench success revolved around two players, Manu Ginobili and Boris Diaw. The Argentinian star has built a Hall-of-Fame career off of providing energy off the bench, and Game 1 was a perfect example. Ginobili scored 16 points of 5 of 10 shooting, adding 5 rebounds, 3 steals, 1 block and a team high 11 assists while turning the ball over just twice.

While few were surprised at the spark Manu gave the Spurs' off the bench, many people were shocked by just how effective Diaw was in Game 1, despite Brett Weisband's article explaining why Diaw could be the x-factor in this series. Although he only scored two points, the Frenchman was a huge part of the Spurs' victory. Diaw grabbed 10 rebounds and dished out 6 assists with only a single turnover. What's even more impressive is that the Spurs' big man was able to have such a big impact on the game even though the Spurs' rarely ran plays for him - Diaw actually had a team low 8.7% usage percentage

The stat that truly shows you how effective Ginobili and Diaw were is plus/minus. Ginobili finished Game 1 with a +22, while Diaw posted a ridiculous, game high +30. Just to put those numbers into perspective, other than LeBron (even) and Ray Allen (+1), every single Heat player had a negative plus minus in Game 1.

The Heat are an experienced team led by the best basketball player on the planet. Over the last two years, we've seen Miami overcome below-average bench production with huge production from their Big Three and timely three-point shooting. It's hard to say whether or not Miami will be able to overcome this obstacle to win their third straight title, but one thing is for certain: it won't be easy.

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In This Article

Tim Duncan
FC, San Antonio Spurs

Manu Ginobili
GF, San Antonio Spurs

Kawhi Leonard
GF, San Antonio Spurs

Tony Parker
PG, San Antonio Spurs

Tiago Splitter
C, San Antonio Spurs

Ray Allen
SG, Miami Heat

Chris Bosh
FC, Miami Heat

LeBron James
F, Cleveland Cavaliers

Dwyane Wade
G, Miami Heat

Boris Diaw
FC, San Antonio Spurs

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