There was a lot of talk in the 2011 NBA Finals that Mavericks' coach Rick Carlisle out-coached Erik Spoelstra during the series. Carlisle made a change in his starting lineup in the middle of the series, inserting J.J. Barea who caused a lot of problems for the Miami Heat. Spoelstra waited until Game 6 to insert Mario Chalmers into the starting lineup over the never ending struggling Mike Bibby, who had one of the worst postseasons ever.
The Heat lost the NBA Finals 4-2 to the Mavericks.
Now, Spoelstra finds himself against one of the greatest basketball minds this game has seen in Spurs' coach Gregg Popovich, and in Game 4 it was Spoelstra who was dictating the terms in a decisive game.
Spoelstra made the decision to start the hot shooting Mike Miller, who had hit eight consecutive threes going into Game 4. He again sat Udonis Haslem to make this possible. The change not only made the Heat's rotation different, but caused the Spurs to make changes.
For Miami, it meant there was more time for Shane Battier. Battier had played only scrub minutes the last 5 games, he got in 9 minutes, which was an improvement for him. It also meant less time for Chris Andersen, who is on pace to set a playoff record for field goal percentage. The Birdman didn't even play in Game 4.
But more importantly, Spoelstra's change dictated what Popovich did. Popovich tried to remain the same and cross match and put Tiago Splitter on the struggling Dwyane Wade. Splitter immediately committed a foul on a Wade pump fake and was taken out in less than a minute into the game. Gary Neal, although highly effective, was inserted and changed the complex of the game.
It meant that the Spurs were trying to match Miami's speed, and it meant it was eliminating the Spurs' size advantage. Splitter played only 14 minutes and had 3 turnovers and no field goals. Because Spiltter played so little, the Heat were able to limit San Antonio's rebounds. The Heat won the rebound battle overall by 5, and didn't give up an offensive rebound in the first half. Boris Diaw hasn't played much recently and he got 11 minutes.
Now, much of the credit for this win goes to Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, and Chris Bosh for their mentality and their effectiveness. But, something has to be said of coach Spoelstra's willingness to change things before they were too late. Miller didn't even score in Game 4, but his presence took another big off the court and opened things up for Wade and James to attack.
Erik's adjustments weren't just limited to his lineup change. He also instilled a faster paced offense in Game 4, which found James pushing the ball more in transition. It found LeBron on the low block more often as well. Spoelstra didn't stick to his rotations as usual. He inserted Norris Cole sooner to try and slow Tony Parker, and he gave the players the chance to create on their own, and they stepped up.
Much of the credit will go to Wade, James and Bosh who played spectacular, but Erik Spoelstra dictated who the Spurs put on the court by making changes. This type of coaching, especially against a legend like Popovich, is what turns a good coach into a great coach.
With two days off before the pivotal Game 5, I would suspect that Gregg Popovich will come up with some plans to make Spoelstra adjust or learn to play better against the lineups - probably not putting Spiltter or Boris Diaw on Dwyane Wade.
In a series, each team knows all the plays and sets of the other team. It's a matter of who can execute the best, and the between games and in-game adjustments that each coach can conjure up that will be the difference.
What other adjustments do you see coach Spoelstra making in Game 5 or moving forward? What would you like to see done differently?