The NBA's in-game coach interviews are mostly worthless but took on a bit of intrigue in the Finals as ESPN's Doris Burke and the Spurs' Gregg Popovich staged a bit of haberdashery. Burke meticulously tried to come up with a question that Popovich might actually answer. Popovich clearly tried his best to not answer while not coming across as a thoroughbred's caboose. Sometimes with success.
Great theater. But the Pop/Doris waltz was upstaged in Games 6 and 7 this week. Miami coach Erik Spoelstra let us all in on the secret to the Heat's success.
Using different terms, Burke asked the same question of Spoelstra going into the fourth quarter of both games. “What will it take?” (down 13 in Game 6) and “What will the final 12 minutes come down to?” (up one in Game 7).
Same question. And same answer.
Game 6: “We need our best defensive quarter of the playoffs to take us home.”
Game 7: “We have to defend and finish our defense. We have a one-point lead in our building right now. The best defensive quarter of the series.”
You know the rest. The Heat rallied to win Game 6, held off the Spurs in Game 7 and next comes a victory parade Monday morning down Biscayne Boulevard.
But lost in the drama of those games that beefed the NBA brand, from LeBron's takeover to Popovich's curious substitutions to Ray Allen's shot for the ages, was Spoelstra's quick and ready television proclamations. And how they were dead on.
The Heat won those two games, and thus a second straight league championship, not just because LeBron is a South Beach Superman. The Heat won because it did what its coach wanted. Miami turned up the defensive Heat.
And that's very instructive for the Thunder, the Heat's victim in the 2012 Finals, when Miami did much the same thing to OKC.
In some ways, the Miami roster and the Thunder roster are similarly constructed. Two or three extraordinary offensive players, surrounded by role players, many of them defensive specialists. Focus on defense, let the offense take care of itself.
Isn't that what the Heat did down the Finals stretch? No elaborate offense. Let LeBron's transcendent skills and power carry the offense. Focus on stops. Don't let Tony Parker weave in the paint. Don't let Tim Duncan dominate the middle. Don't let Danny Green or Gary Neal shoot an open 3-pointer.
The last two fourth quarters of the season went stunningly as Spoelstra wanted. Against a Spur offense that shot 60 percent for the entirety of Game 5, Miami's defense completely took over.
In Game 6, the Spurs scored nine points the first 9 1/2 minutes of the fourth quarter. A 13-point deficit became a three-point Miami lead. Duncan, who had 30 points through three quarters, didn't score the final 21 1/2 minutes of the game. During a six-minute stretch, the Spurs scored just two points.
In Game 7, the Spurs managed just 17 fourth-quarter points. They had just six points the first seven minutes of the quarter. No points in the final two minutes.
That's how championships are won. The Birdman played big-time in the post. Chris Bosh, who didn't even score in Game 7, also played tough in the interior. Mario Chalmers and Shane Battier and Dwyane Wade took turns hounding the Spurs. And of course, LeBron is a defensive freak, able to stop the penetration of Parker, who in the final two games made just nine of 35 shots.
The Thunder doesn't have a LeBron, not on defense at least, but it does have the same framework. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to provide offense. Defensive-minded starters in Thabo Sefolosha, Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka. Nick Collison off the bench to bang in the paint. The Thunder could use some perimeter defensive punch off the bench, and maybe it already has that in DeAndre Liggins, who deserves more minutes, as far as I'm concerned.
Sure, the Thunder has to find more offense, particularly if Kevin Martin is gone as it seems. But come playoff time, when the game slows and points are at a premium, the Thunder needs to be able to throw a two-minute shutout here, a three-minute shutout there.
OKC's defense already is tough. The NBA's fourth-best this regular season in points per possession, the most reliable stat. But it must be even better.
That's what Spoelstra's message was to his own team going into the final two fourth quarters of the season. And the Heat heard him.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.