When you get to this point in the NBA Playoffs, all of the remaining teams are incredibly talented, so it’s the little things that will decide who wins a title and who doesn’t. Coaches play a crucial role in each game.
From the four remaining teams, we get four unique coaches. Gregg Popovich is the veteran coach who has done nothing but win for 17 years. Erik Spoelstra is the young genius who has created a small-ball lineup unlike anything we’ve ever seen. Scott Brooks is beleaguered for his play-calling, while Frank Vogel is the young hotshot who has had to try keeping his team together during what was nearly an epic collapse.
While the players get credit for wins and losses, each of these coaches plays a key role in the outcome of their games. Let’s take a look at how their squads fared in the opening games of each series.
Indiana 107, Miami 96
Game 1 in what is expected to be a long, tough series, was taken rather handily by the Pacers. Indiana jumped out to a quick 20-10 lead behind hot-shooting from Paul George and David West and controlled the tempo and score for most of the game.
Frank Vogel did a great job of mixing in pick and rolls with post-ups when the Pacers had the ball, keeping the Heat guessing at all times.
On plays like this, David West acts like he is going to set a pick before sliding down into the post before Lebron James can front. When James goes for the steal, Roy Hibbert’s man has to come over to help on West, leaving Hibbert for the and-one.
Both teams shot over 51% for the game, with the Heat making five more total field goals than the Pacers.
But Indy was a much more aggressive team throughout Game 1, taking advantage of their size and forcing Miami into 26 personal fouls, 11 more than the Pacers were called for. This lead to Indy having a +19 advantage from the stripe.
No matter what Heat coach Erik Spoelstra did, the Pacers took the ball to the basket repeatedly. Spoelstra even started Udonis Haslem in the second half to no avail.
While Miami shot a better overall percentage in the paint (16/23), Indiana took six more shots in the restricted area (15/29) setting the tone for officials that they would be going to the basket often.
The whistles ultimately began to frustrate Heat players.
While one game does not make a series, it will be interesting to see how Miami adjusts to Indiana’s aggression on offense. The Pacers are not known as a team that comes at you when they have the ball, so watching if they can keep this up will be fun.
Spurs 122, Thunder 105
In what was a close game for nearly three quarters quickly turned into a blowout as the Spurs eventually ran away with Game 1 122-105.
The Thunder got exactly what they wanted, a shoot-out. The only issue for them was the Spurs were much more efficient in their execution, maximizing the beautiful ball movement they are well-known for to continuously get baskets in the paint.
The Spurs finished with a NBA playoff-high 66 paints in the point, shooting a ridiculous 33-49 (67%) inside.
Another key difference between the teams was the in-game battle between Scott Brooks and Gregg Popovich. It’s well-documented that Brooks struggles with his play-calling out of time outs, and Game 1 was no different.
The Thunder only scored on two of eight opportunities following a break in the action. They had two made field goals that were both in the paint, and all five of their misses were contested jumpers.
By comparison, look at what the Spurs did with their possessions out of a break.
While the Thunder struggled to get good looks, the Spurs shot 100% out of such breaks. They also assisted on every made basket, all five of which were open jumpers.
The differences between the two offenses were startling. In what ended up being a 17-point game it may not seem like much of an issue, but the Spurs still outscored the Thunder 11-4 in such situations, a number that if more even could have made this a whole different ballgame.
It will be interesting to see what types of adjustments the respective coaches make as the series’ go on. Expect a battle on the court and on the sidelines in each game.