If Thursday night’s Game 1 of the NBA Finals between the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat was the cleanest game you can remember in a long time, well, you’re not wrong. The Spurs and Heat combined for 24 personal fouls, a new record for fewest total personal fouls in a playoff game. The old record of 25 just turned 20 years old last month, though it came in a game that featured roughly half a dozen more possessions than Game 1. In fact, that particular game between the Cavs and Nets saw only .09 made free throws per field goal attempt, whereas the Spurs and Heat drew an astronomical (by comparison) .17 free throws per field goal attempt. The record for combined personal fouls in a regular season game is still safe at 21.
It’s little wonder the Spurs would be involved in setting this record; they had the third lowest defensive FT/FGA ratio during the regular season. Miami, on the other hand, was just about league average. Yet for all those generalities and trends, the specifics of Game 1 made for fertile ground for free-flowing basketball. These two teams pride themselves on crisp rotation and movement on both ends of the floor; when they execute the process as well as both teams did Thursday night, fouling almost becomes impossible. After all, there’s no need to foul if one is already in position. And when either of these offenses performs at their peak, there’s no time or room for the defense to grasp at straws. The ball stays in place for half a second before moving on to the open man, swung about like a game of hot potato played by heavily caffeinated jugglers. It’s rather difficult to foul a ghost, especially when you bit on his pump fake.
There’s little predictive value to this performance; Game 2 could just as easily be a statistical outlier in the other direction, a boggy mess through which we all must trudge. For at least one night, though, the Spurs and Heat showed just how beautiful this game can be when it’s left to its own devices. So the next time someone tells you that the playoffs are their best when there are no easy baskets and everyone is the ultimate tough guy, politely smile and nod. Let them have their rugged, manly playoff basketball. Give me the rhythm and the boogie that only a fast and loose high-stakes contest like this can provide.
Image by nosha via Flickr