True Hoops

True Hoops

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Men Of Steel

There comes a time, in every journey, where things look bleak.
Down 13 towards of the end of third quarter, with Tim Duncan already scoring 30 and LeBron James only with 12 points, would qualify as such a time for the Miami Heat.

And there comes a time when those moments have to be overcome.
Perhaps the night is darkest before the dawn (Perhaps that's the wrong DC movie quote).

If ever you want to equate a basketball player's performance with that of a superhero's, LeBron's performance at the end of game 6, in a do or die situation, might be your chance.

18 points in the 4th + overtime, finishing with a triple double, blocking Tim Duncan at the rim, and guarding Tony Parker for good measure. Was he perfect? No, of course not. Did he get help? Of course he did.  But how many times have you seen someone put his team of his back and do everything, in an elimination game?

Take a look a this sequence, it sums it all up:

A Good look 

LeBron minus headband with the fist pump swag going.

Everybody Loves Ray
You want to talk about super friends?
I mean, HOLY S*%@!:

Take a look at Norris Cole jumping in the opposite corner - throughout the entire play and then as Ray Allen releases the ball, before it even goes in. That dude knew.

The look of confidence

Yes, that's essentially all 5 Spurs running out at Ray Allen in the corner.
Yes, that's team savior LeBron James WIDE-OPEN calling for the ball at the top of the key.

Question: Ray "when you caught that pass from Chris, LeBron was at the top of the key screaming. Did you ever consider kicking it out?"

Ray (shaking head): "No."

By the way, I love how Mario Chalmers has his hands up in the opposite corner calling for the ball as well. You can do nothing but admire his confidence. Truth be told - he came up BIG in game 6 with 20 points as Miami's second leading scorer.

What breeds confidence
Question: Ray, "even for someone whose work ethic is as historic as yours is, to backtrack, get your hands set, get your feet set, take that pass and then have the momentum going forward to shoot, how tough is that even for you to do all that in the span of maybe about a second and a half?"

Ray: "It's tough, but believe it or not, I work on it quite often. I try to put my body in precarious situations coming from different parts of the floor, different angles to try to get my momentum moving forward. I honestly can say that I gave myself a great opportunity, a great chance to make that shot. And it wasn't unfamiliar to me positionally. When it went in, I was ecstatic. But at the same time I was expecting to make it."

So, you're saying that practice makes perfect?
Yes Ray Allen has a historic work ethic - he gets up 300 shots before every game.
Take a look for yourself.

A much needed look 

Chris Bosh finished the game with 10 points, 11 rebounds, and 2 blocks.
One of those rebounds came with less than ten second to go in regulation that lead to the kick-out to Ray Allen. One of those blocks came on Tony Parker with just over 30 seconds to go in OT and Miami up only one. And the other block was pictured above - on the last play of the game to prevent Danny Green from getting off a game tying three.

After game 5, in which Danny Green set a record for most three pointers made in an NBA Finals, everyone wondered aloud: "how is he still open?"

Before game 6, Chris Bosh said of Danny Green: "He won't be open."
Kind of fitting for him to live up to his word on the lat play of the game.

No Looks
Speaking of Danny Green, after averaging 18 points by shooting 66% from three (making 25 of them) through the first 5 games of the Finals, he went 1-5 from three (1-7 overall) for three points in game 6.
So did the Heat switch something up?

A biomedical scientist/NBA correspondent asked coach Spoelstra about this after the game (go to 5:15 minute mark):

For the Spurs:
Game 1: 7 threes made (30%) - Green = 4/9
Game 2: 10 threes made (50%) - Green = 5/5
Game 3: 16 threes made (50%) - Green = 7/9
Game 4: 8 threes made (50%) - Green  = 3/5
Game 5: 9 threes made (41%) - Green  = 6/10
Game 6: 5 three made (28%) - Green = 1-5

Lowest percentage and makes for the team and for Green. I guess you can say Miami had "better awareness."

Of course a consequence of Playing Parker and Duncan straight up is that those guys will have big games. After averaging 15.6 points through the first 5 games of the series, Duncan broke out (in single coverage) for 30 points in game 6. He was 11-13 at the half and had everyone practically handing him the Finals MVP trophy before the second half begun.

But, is 30 points from Duncan acceptable over open threes?
And to Spoelstra's point about not accepting "trade-offs" but rather doing "both," Miami cut down San Antonio's threes and held Duncan to 5 points in the second half (0 points in the 4th + OT). Miami also placed LeBron on Parker in the 4th + OT.

Maybe they can do both.

Speaking of big games, big shots, great performances, and practice, I though this was a great comment from Tim Duncan regarding how to prepare for the pressure of a winner take all game 7:

"I prepare for every game exactly the same. That's why I feel every game is exactly the same. Obviously the pressure is there, the stage is there, the energy is there. But preparation doesn't change."

I guess that (and playing with your kids at halftime) is a way to remove pressure.

A different look

No sneaker, no problem.
Mike Miller can bang threes regardless.

So where do we go from here?
In series where both teams have taken and received their best shots, have made adjustments, are evenly matched, and pretty much know what the other team is going to do - it may not be about skill as much as it is about will. On the grandest stage how amazing is it that it may be as simple as throwing it all out there and laying everything on the line.

And as simple as that is, let me restate what I said last time:
LeBron guards Parker
Wade matches up with Ginobili (both have been resurgent and bot struggled last game)
Bosh guards Duncan
Allen matches up with Green (forget the record - who makes more/bigger shots this game)
And then it's Chalmers/Miller/Battier against Leonard/Neal

Maybe Diaw or Birdman gets some run here or there, but the match-ups above will decide the game and the championship. And each one of them is as fascinating as it is important.

Both teams are playing small.
Forget the plays and adjustments.
Why don't we just have everyone play straight up one on one, switch on screens if need be.
DON'T LEAVE SHOOTERS - no matter what!

So with that I pose to you:
1) Which team has better one on one players that can break down the defense?
2) Which team has better on the ball defenders?
3) Which team can score more in transition?
4) Which team has more versatile defenders that can guard on switches off screens?
5) Which team has shooters that can shoot better off the dribble or coming off screens?
6) Can Bosh or Duncan outplay one another substantially?

Maybe we got some of those answers last game.
Perhaps we'll get all the answers tonight.

Final thoughts
The reality is BOTH teams deserve to win this game.
And both teams can win this game. I'm sure both teams want it as much. But who will do more, when it maters most.

Duncan's legacy vs. LeBron's legacy.
Sheesh - does it get any better than this???

So Timmy, what do you think???
Duncan: "It's all about just winning the title. It's not about situation or what has led up to it......we're here for one reason. One reason only......We're just going to leave it all out there and see what happens."

So LeBron, what do you think???
LeBron: "I want to go down as one of the greatest. I want our team to go down as one of the greatest teams..... It's the hardest thing..... Last year don't even come close to what we've gone through in this postseason and in these Finals. So I'll be there......I'm going to give it my all. I'm going to leave everything on the floor. Whatever happens happens. I'll be satisfied with that."

As a basketball fan, can anything be more satisfying than watching all of that...... with everything on the line???

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Manu on a Mission

What's this?
The resurrection of two opposing shooting guards in two successive games?

The return of Dwyane Wade in game 4 followed by Manu Ginobili's come back in pivotal game 5? Like the former event, Ginobili's revival propelled his team to victory. The difference is that it also pushed his team one win away from an NBA championship

After averaging 7.5 points through the first 4 games, Manu got the start and was instant offense, scoring or assisting on 13 out of San Antonio's first 15 points in the game. Ginobili ultimately finishing with 24 points and 10 assists.

No, he didn't take the ball over anyone's head and dunk it. But htis was a pretty impressive step-back on one of the league's best defenders:

Well, so much for all the talk about not making adjustments or the fact that this isn't a chess game between coach Popovich and coach Spoelstra. You may recall down 2-1 in the series, Spoelstra inserted Mike Miller into the starting line-up (he was 9-10 from three in the first three games of the Finals, but oddly is 0-2 since starting) to enable Miami's bread and butter small line-up with LeBron at the 4. Not only did it space the floor out, but it created several mismatches, most notably starting Tiago Splitter on Dywane Wade. While that match-up didn't last long - it was enough to get Wade going.

So, to counter Pop put Ginobili in the starting lineup and thereby not only took away Miami's advantage on the perimeter but also enabled Ginobili to play off Parker and Duncan - being more effective as the team's third option.

And after Miami's big three went off for 85 points in game 4 (only 66 in game 5), the Spurs were able to counter with their big three going for 74 points in game 5. Oh, and Tim Duncan wasn't that bad either, contributing 17 points and 12 rebounds.

The Trajectory of a player
Of course I'm referring to Danny Green replacing Tim Duncan as a member of the Spurs big 3. And why not? If the Finals ended today, would he not be Finals MVP? Yes, say it out loud to hear how crazy that sounds.

But after scoring 24 points in game 5 he is now averaging 18 for the Finals - tops on the Spurs. It gets better: Green is shooting 57% from the field and 66% from three.
But wait, it gets even better than that: He just set the NBA record for most three pointers in an NBA Finals - with 25 made through 5 games.

What does Ray Allen, former record holder, think about this?

It's okay Ray, I'm sure you're teammates (other than Juan Howard) are equally as distraught.

Dig this:
Green's first two years in college (at North Carolina) he shot 33% from three (it was l9'9").
His last two years in college Green shot 39.5% (after it was moved to 21'9").
His last two years with the Spurs, the first time he received consistent playing time in the NBA, he shot ~43% (23'9"). In this year's conference Finals, 47% from three.

Seems like a steady climb (longer is better?).

Keep in mind, Green was drafted in the second round (46th overall) and had stints in the D-league. But perhaps as LeBron, a former teammate of Green's, said "all he needed was an opportunity."

And that's what great players and great franchises can do for someone looking for a home in the league - they can provide you with an opportunity to become a role player and develop a speciality that enables you to become successful. The Spurs have a history of doing this.

How does Green compare to another one of the Spurs former speciality players, Bruce Bowen? Coach Popovich: "I guess they both are similar in the fact that neither one of the has any moves; they just shoot it. They don'y really dribble or do anything else. They just shoot it ."

So if all he does is shoot it, and is shooting 66% from three, how the heck is he so wide open?!?

Forget plays
Tony Parker destroyed Memphis in the conference finals by averaging ~25 points and ~10 assists. He hasn't been spectacular in the Finals but last game he scored 26 points and had 5 assists. Combine that with Ginobili's 24 and 10. Now you have two perimeter guys on the floor at the same time that can break you down off the dribble and get to the basket. Doesn't this sound like LeBron and Wade?

As per this piece, Parker was 10-10 in the paint in game 5 and seven of those buckets came off isolations. So, sometimes you just give your best player(s) the ball and get out of the way. They will create the offense. As per coach Spoelstra: "at times they were just picking one guy out at a time and going mano y mano."

Much like LeBron and Wade, having Parker and Ginobili on the floor at the same time presents the defense with a a pick your poison situation. Do you guard Parker and Ginobili straight up and let them penetrate/score? Or, do you help and leave three point shooters open?

And this is the real beauty of putting Ginobili into the starting lineup: It enables the Spurs to present Miami with some of the same problems they usually dish out. Playing small ball they have two penetrators that get to the basket at will, a big, and either two shooters or a shooter & slasher (Leonard). And because San Antonio's penetrators were more efficient in game 5 and they got more production out of the shooters/slasher, the Spurs were able to beat Miami at their own game.

In game 5, Miami: Wade & James were 18-44 with 18 assists, Allen had 21 points (4 threes)
In game 5, San Antonio: Parker and Ginobili were 18-28 with 15 assists, Green had 24 points (6 threes)
Bosh and Duncan canceled each other out.
Leonard had 16, no one else on Miami had double figures.

The good news
For Miami:
Might be tough for the Spurs to shoot 60% on the road in a closeout game.
Perhaps they themselves can shoot better than 43% in elimination games at home.

For the Spurs:
Apparently their strategy of "hope they don't shoot as well" worked.
Either that or they decided who cares how they shoot, we'll score more.

Now what?
How about this:
LeBron guards Parker
Wade guards Ginobili
Bosh guards Duncan
Allen guards Green
Miller/Battier guards Leonard/Neal

Perhaps Chalmers can guard Parker or Neal in stretches - or Battier can guard Parker as well.

Those are the match-ups.
Both teams are playing small.
Forget the plays and adjustments.
Why don't we just have every one play straight up one on one. If need be, switch on screens.
DON'T LEAVE SHOOTERS - no matter what!

So with that, I pose to you:
1) Which team has better one on one players that can break down the defense?
2) Which team has shooters that can shoot better off the dribble or coming off screens?
3) Which team has more versatile defenders that can guard on switches off screens?
4) Which team can score more in transition?
5) Can Bosh or Duncan outplay one another substantially?
6) Which team has better on the ball defenders?

How to eliminate the pressure of the big game(s)

Yes, that's Tim Duncan playing with his kids during half-time of game 5.
Forget the NBA, that's amazing.

The Odds
Since the 2-3-2 Finals format, there have been 7 instances prior to this series where a team down 3-2 has gone home for the last two games. 3/7 of those times has the home team come back to win.
The last time the home team did it: 2010 when the Lakers beat the Celtics in 7.

The last time a home time didn't do it? Why, that would be the 2011 Miami Heat when they lost to Dallas in 6.

The Heat have faced many challenges during their big three era. They have overcome most.
So how fitting is it that to accomplish the rare feat of going back to back they re-face one of challenges they have actually failed at before. Kind of ironic?

Maybe Dwyane Wade said it best: "We challenge ourselves to see if we're a better team than we was. We're in the same we're going to see if we're a better ball club and if we're better prepared for this moment."

Don't think he and the Heat are the only ones waiting to find that out.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Where There's a Will, There's a Wade

So, are we back to a state of normalcy in these Finals or are we still stuck in some sort of time travel vortex? I can't tell.

Dwyane Wade games 1-3 of the Finals 14.3 points (44%), 1 rebound, 4 assists.
Game 4: 32 points (56%), 6 rebounds, 4 assists, and 6 steals (!)

Where did that come from?
Apparently I wasn't the only one amazed.
LeBron James on Wade's game 4 performance:

"That dude was amazing.......he was the '06 Flash tonight."

'06 Flash? You mean the dude that won Finals MVP by averaging 35 points and 8 rebounds???
That guy is back???
Let's find out......

Question 1: "Do you feel like 2006?"
Wade: "No, I don't feel like 2006. But it felt good."

Question 2: "Can we call you Flash again, just for this one night?"
Wade: "If I keep playing like that, you can call me whatever you want to call me. I'm already getting called a lot of stuff......."
(Like what? I wonder)

Question 3: wait, "Flash right there in the house?"
Wade: well, "I knew I was on when I took the ball over the guy's head and dunked it on the break. That was a little vintage."
(by the way, all of these quotes are for real).

You mean this play????

If that's vintage, I don't want contemporary.
By the way, look at "the guy" after Wade takes the ball over his head.
And by the way, how funny is it that Wade referred to Garry Neal as "the guy?"
I guess vintage Wade is such a bad dude - he doesn't even know who he dunks on.

But wait, how bad is vintage Wade???
LeBron: "to have a game like this, it let's you know you're still one bad -- know the next two words. I can't say, my kids are watching."

Okay, that's bad.

On the Flip side
One might have guessed the team that got more out of their respective struggling two-guard might have the upper hand in this series. Well, while Wade has found his groove, Manu Ginobili is still struggling.
For the Finals: 7.5 points (35%), 3 assists, 1.5 rebounds.
So what's wrong with Manu?
Popovich: "If I knew, I would have fixed it."

And while Wade going back into his "bag" (or in time?) to channel his first Finals is good for Miami, Manu going back to his first Finals isn't such a good thing for San Antonio
'03 Finals: 9 points (35%)
'05 Finals: 19 points (49%)
'07 Finals: 18 points (37%)
'13 Finals: 8 points (35%)

Random obersvation
Compare the physical stature of LeBron James and Dywane Wade to that of Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker.....and even Tim Duncan. Is it me or do the guys from Miami look like body builders and the guys from San Antonio look, for lack of a better word, look skinny?

Random question about the random observation
Do you think that's because Parker and Ginobili are international players?

Not-so random observation
Danny Green is 19-28 (68%) from three in this series.
He is also 3-10 (30%) from inside the three this series.
So you're saying if you close out hard on his spot ups and make him put the ball of the floor to shoot a two-pointer, he is less effective?

Another not so random observation
Ray Allen is shooting 62% for the Finals, 54% from three (averaging 11 points a game, 13.5 points in Miami two wins).

Three for all
Chris Bosh is averaging 14.3 points (48%) and 9.5 rebounds this series.
That's pretty much the same as first team All-NBA Tim duncan: 15.3 points (42%) and 11 rebounds.
The difference is Duncan is the Spurs 1/2 option. Bosh is the Heat's third.
And with Bosh having 20 points and 13 rebounds in game 4, Miami's big three accounted for 85 points and 30 rebounds!

The good news for the Spurs
LeBron has outplayed Parker.
Wade has outplayed Manu.
Bosh has neutralized Duncan.
How is this series even tied?

The good news for the Heat
After averaging 17 points on 39% through the first three games LeBron took 25 shots and scored 33 points (on 60% shooting). He was aggressive from the jump.
More on this below.

For the second straight game, San Antonio seemed content to go under screens and give LeBron and Wade open mid-range jumpers. This time they took advantage of it.
So after 85 points from the big three, do you think the Spurs will change anything tonight for game 5?

Parker: "We have to try to slow them down and hopefully they're not going to shoot like that. We'll keep the same strategy and then we'll go from there."

Duncan: "Get in front of them, let them see as many bodies as possible and then continue to play the way we have and hope they don't shoot the way they did."

So, if I understand correctly, the Spurs plan for game 5:
1) Keep the same strategy
2) Hope Miami doesn't shoot well

Wait, really?
Seriously, Coach Pop, "is it possible you may do something different?"
Popovich: "I'd hate to sound trite and say anything is possible. Your question demands my triteness."

Well, who needs adjustments anyway?
Coach Spoelstra, for game 5 "are you anticipating or previewing adjustments coming from the San Antonio Spurs?"
Spoelstra: "Who knows? The most important thing is we're trying to do the things that are most important for we'll see what they do. But we have a pretty good idea of what we'll do."

Wait. I'm confused.
Wait. These guys are geniuses!!!

But then two hours after the media session, this quote had sufficient time to marinate:
Spoelstra: "The most important thing is to understand that you're not playing chess; it's a basketball game. Can you win the competitive skirmishes in the game? That's the most important thing for us. Yes, you do have to make adjustments......but the competitive part of it, that's been the tale of this series."

So, in other words......with three games to determine who wins the whole freakin' thing, forget about the adjustments, you just have to grab your balls and go!

Or in other-other words:

Good to have you back
As I have said over and over (and over again), if you have the best player in the world on your team, that's a good thing. So sometimes, yes, really do forget about the adjustments and just give LeBron James the ball and get out of the way. Who cares what defense the Spurs play? Have LeBron attack and shoot early and often.

This has to be known right???
Seems like LeBron is back on the right track after game 4.
But will he continue this for the rest of the Finals?
Sometimes you have to take the opportunity to not only find out, but also suggest.
And that's what I did:

Yes, that is an official transcript of an NBA Finals media session.
Yes, that is my question to LeBron (by the way, I said "wide open mid-range jumper.") and that is his response (not unlike last year - I guess you can say he is consistent).

Listen LeBron, you will probably get 6 assists just by stepping on the court.
But there is a difference between being a pass first facilitator that runs the offense and an attacking scorer that creates the offense.

And let's look at your claim about playing a certain way to get to the Finals.
'11 ECF against Chicago: 26 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assist (led team in every category)
'12 ECF against Boston: 34 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists (didn't lead in assists)
'13 ECF against Indiana: 29 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists (led team in every category)
(my goodness, those numbers are even more spectacular than I remember!)

Seems like you got to three straight Finals by being the leading scorer and attacking.

So what are you doing about it??????

Nice to see the preparation.
How many times do you see a 6'8", 250 ib player that can handle outside, go between the legs, bang threes and go into the post???

For goodness sake, please LeBron, don't pass!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Advantage: Bizzaro

Welcome to the 2013 NBA Finals, other wise known as bizarro world.

Here you will find that the most incredulous, no matter how outlandish, is the reality. 
In this place anything is possible – including role reversals, ironies, physical and mental transformations, as well as time travel…….

......The best two-way player in the world, Danny Green, continues to produce at a historic clip. Through three game of the NBA Finals, as expected, he leads the Spurs in scoring (~19 points a game on 63%). But astonishingly, he has also managed to set a Finals franchise record for most three pointers made – already - making 16. And it only took him 23 attempts - that's almost 70%!!! 
Equally as impressive is his ability to lockdown Miami Heat's stellar role player, LeBron James. Having blocked him in the post, and on drives:

(as well as staying in front of him on fast breaks), Green has held the aspiring LeBron in check - 17 points a game on 39% shooting (23% from three). As these two battle, one has to wonder how good Cleveland, who had both Green and LeBron, could have been if they played them together more.

            But in terms of the present, Green and Garry Neal (~14 points a game in the Finals on 45% shooting) continue to display themselves as one of the most potent 1-2 punches the league has ever seen in terms of shooters. It's no wonder that during the Spurs-Warriors conference semi-finals match-up, coach Mark Jackson suggested that his two young guns (Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson) aspire to be like Green and Neal one day. And for good reason, back to their winning ways in game 3, the Spurs are undefeated all-time when Green and Neal combine for 50 points or more in a game. And as much talk that was made about Miami's big three coming into this series, the emergence of Khawi Leonard (11 points and 12 rebounds a game in the Finals while helping lock down LeBron) has shown that the the Spurs, thus far, have the bigger three.
            Star play aside, perhaps more troublesome for Miami is that San Antonio continues to get solid support from their role players. After his scoring outburst in game 1 (20 points - 12 in the second quarter alone), Tim Duncan's offensive production has returned to normal (10.5 points per game on 33% over the last two games). But it's his rebounding (12 a game) that continues to make him a thorn in the Heat's side.  And speaking of rebounding, Duncan, Leonard, and front court mate Tiago Splitter helped the Spurs to out rebound Miami in game 3 by 16 (52-36). Long gone are the days when Miami can get away with playing teams that have softer interior front lines - such as Indiana's Roy Hibbert, David West, and Paul George. Additionally, Tony Parker and reserve Manu Ginobili continue to contribute, averaging 13 & 8 points a game in the Finals, respectively.

           Defensively, the Spurs have brought it also. After his 19 point performance in game 2, San Anotnio has decided not to let Miami’s most assertive perimeter player, Mario Chalmers, beat them. In game 3, they held Chalmers to 0-5 shooting and forced him into 4 turnovers. Although expect him to come out looking for his shot tonight in game 4. And while Miami's best shooter, Mike Miller, continues his torrid stretch from downtown (5-5 from three in game 3, 10-16 for the Finals) he can’t do it all by himself. As expected, Chris Bosh has essentially matched Duncan's production (12 points & 8 rebounds a game in the Finals) but any hopes Miami had of Bosh being 8 years younger serving an advantage have not come to fruition. Dwyane Wade, for his part, has matched Tony Parker - averaging 14 points on 14 shots a game.

One surprise, and perhaps demise, thus far in this Finals has been the inability of LeBron and Wade to get to the foul line. Often credited and lauded for their ability to absorb contact from defenses and gain the attention of officials, Wade and LeBron are a combined 10-14 (in three games!) from the line. LeBron himself didn't attempt one foul shot in game 3.

Perhaps this is owed to a secret defensive strategy being employed by the Spurs. So secret, that the normally verbose and media friendly coach Popovich was forced to stay mum on the subject:

But it's fairly obvious to anyone watching, the Spurs have decided that they are going to make LeBron James beat them if Miami is going to win the tittle. Further more, they have decided to enforce this strategy by leaving LeBron wide open everywhere on the floor outside of the paint - daring him to shoot.

Look at how they go under the screens on the ball!

And look how much space they give him to shoot!

If only LeBron would take (forget make) mid-range jumpers - early and often!

If Miami's success was built around individual otherworldly star power, rather than team balance, this approach might prove fatal for the Spurs. But fortunately for them, the Heat do not possess a player capable by himself to will them to victory by shooting 51% from the field and 44% from three in the conference finals. Heck, if the Heat had someone that shot 57% from the field and 40% from three during the regular season that might suffice.

In any event, perhaps this is asking too much from LeBron. After all for someone to do what the Spurs are daring him to do would be like asking someone to earn 4 MVPs in 5 years. And that is just incomprehensible.

Not for a lack of trying, LeBron has morphed into various players this series in attempt to increase production. Most notably there was the Magic Johnson transformation with his triple double in game 1. And despite his shooting woes, give LeBron credit, after acknowledging that he has "done more and lost," LeBron has taken the "less is more" approach and transformed himself into a perimeter oriented facilitator - getting his teammates looks throughout the first half and then looking to take some shots himself in the third. Most amazingly, LeBron has managed to travel back in time to recapitulate his performance/demeanor in the 2011 Finals - perhaps the only other playoffs series in his career where he has averaged less than 20 points a game. It is his hope that a return to that sort of performance will drive his teammates to produce more - as it did then - enabling Miami to be more successful as a whole. 

With his hands tied due to the Spurs strategy, Coach Erik Spoeltra has decided not to feature LeBron in the offense early and has kept running plays for him to a minimum. It's obvious he has to get his other guys going. Because of Danny Green giving LeBron trouble in the paint - Spoelstra is pretty much prevented from running any sort of screen off the ball - allowing him to curl to the rim for an easy bucket. In addition, to prevent LeBron from shooting too much and play into Popovich's hand, Spoelstra has decided to counter by often placing LeBron in the corner, away from the ball, on offensive possessions. Brilliantly, Spoelstra still keeps LeBron active – and takes full advantage of his physical prowess - by having him occasionally set screens on the ball for Chalmers or Wade. Perhaps next year, with an improved post up game, Spoelstra can use LeBron more in the post.

So what sort of changes are made for game 4?
Does LeBron try to do the unthinkable and try to score 40 or more in a must-win playoff game - on the road - so his team can win? Un heard of! Is it possible to get another game decided by less than 20 points? What are the chances!

Many fans of the NBA will lament the overall quality of play this Finals. But seeing 33-5 and 29-8 runs can be really exciting also! And this is to be expected anyway. It’s obvious that the lack of experience on the big stage for both of these teams have hurt their performance level. It's really hard to expect anything else when the two best teams in the league, OKC and Chicago fell prey to injuries. But if all goes well, there is always next year!

Close your eyes and picture what that will be like!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

All Even

Might have guessed that Miami was going to tie things up in this series - They haven't lost two games in a row sin the last 5 months!
And as the Finals move to San Antonio, did you know that in the 28 years of the 2-3-2 format, the home team has won all three games only three times? So for San Antonio to close this thing out at home, they're going to have to break both recent and historical trends.

So What have learned from after game 2???

Miami has good defense
Coming in to this series San Antonio averaged 102 points a game for the playoffs (ranked 3rd). They are averaging 88 in the first two games. Perhaps that's a reason Miami can still win by 20 points when LeBron and Wade score 17 & 10 points, respectively

LeBron James gets up......
Didn't we know that already?
Well, now Tiago Splitter knows it too:

......and it makes him as exciting on defense as he is on offense
You can never really get enough of this, can you?

LeBron James is a flamboyant passer 
Oh wait, we knew this already too.
But it's still fun to marvel over it:

1) LeBron doubled in the post

2) Elevate over the double

3) Over the head pass

4) Over Bird-man's mohawk & Garry Neal's out stretched hand!

5) Gravitating towards Mike Miller's hands......

6)......right into his shooting pocket!

7) Enabling him to go right up into his shot before the close-out

So, just to be clear, that's a cross-court pass out of the double team to the perfect location for a shooter to go into his shot before the defense can contest. You got all that?

NBA correspondents/biomedical scientists don't know ish about basketball
After, claiming that Miami can't win with LeBron scoring less than 20 and playing like Magic......
Miami wins with LeBron scoring less than 20 and playing like Magic (evidenced by the plays above).

Can Miami win the series like this?
I would say no. It certainly seems like it would be tough to win on the road.
Food for thought:
Before 33-5 run, 33 minutes of play, LeBron was 2-12 for 6 points & 4 assists
During that run, which lasted all of ~8 minutes, LeBron was 5-5 for 11 points & 3 assists.

But hey, what do I know?
Every time I implore LeBron to shoot more, he defends his teammates and his teammates come through.

Chris Bosh is more efficient when not spotting up for three
Game 1: 6-16 (0-4 from three), 13 points & 5 rebounds
Game 2: 6-10 (0-0 from three), 12 points & 10 rebounds
(I think the Heat will trade one point for 5 rebounds).

Super Mario
I'll just say, Mario Chalmers perhaps is the type of player where most of the time when he looks to score or do too much you just roll your eyes and say "what is he doing?"
But the fact that the confidence required to sometimes look-off LeBron, Wade, and Bosh is genetic and therefore permanent, I guess it always be there and come in handy when he's actually needed to score.

He did it last year in game 4 of the Finals. And he had another crucial performance in game 2 - leading MIami in scoring! After going 3-10 in game 1 for 8 points (never good to have more shots than points), he went 6-12 for 19 points in game 2.

Confidence is such a huge part of being a professional basketball player (well, really in anything). And I guess you'd rather have a guy that has too much than not enough.

Having LeBron set screens on the ball is better than having him receive them 
It gets LeBron moving.
It prevents a double team on LeBron.
It allows other players, like Chalmers, to become an active participant in the game.

Truth is, Miami has run this before - many times with LeBron screening for Wade at the top of the key.

San Antonio can make Miami tired?

So what's the good news???

For Spurs:
1) despite the 33-5 Heat avalanche, the Spurs were winning with three minutes to go in the third.

2) This has not been a series dominated by super-star play. After two games:
Duncan: 14.5 points (34%) & 12.5 rebounds
Parker: 17 points (44%) & 5.5 assists
Ginobili: 9 points (35%)

LeBron: 17.5 points (42%), 13 rebounds, 8.5 assists
Wade: 13.5 points (43%) & 4 assists
Bosh: 12.5 points (46%) & 7.5 rebounds
If this series is not going to be determined by super-stars, but rather team depth, role players, adjustments, and coaching - shouldn't that favor San Antonio?

3) Case in point: Danny Green

Game one: 4-9 from three
Game two: 5-5 from three (6-6 overall)
And a block on LeBron in the post???

For Heat:
1) LeBron is averaging 17.5 points, and yet the series is 1-1

2) It's good to have a couple of shooters in a knife fight:
Ray Allen last 3 games: 11-18 form the field, 9-14 from three.
Mike Miller last 4 games: 7-11 from the field, 6-10 from three

For the Spurs:
Defending the LeBron James screen......go under the screen to stay in front of Chalmers and make him shoot long jumpers!

Trying to fight over the top allows Chalmers to turn the corner and attack. It also forces the man guarding LeBron to leave him......leaving leBron open! This enables him to score or make a play for his teammates. All three examples below:

1) Screen for the Chalmers drive/bucket.

Result: Mario Chalmers and-one lay-up to start the 33-5 run (look how open LeBron is at the elbow.

2) Screen for the LeBron roll to the basket

Result: Leonard helps on Chalmers, leaving LeBron open for his first bucket of the second half.

3) Screen for LeBron to make a play for Mike Miller

Result: Leonard helps on Chalmers, leaving LeBron open

LeBron drives to paint forcing Garry Neal to help, leaving Mike Miller open for the kick out.

Don't fight over the screen, make Chalmers beat you on long jumpers off the dribble!
Or, get up in Chalmers space and prevent him from using the screen at all.

For Miami:
Adjust to the inevitable Popovich adjustment.

Can't wait to see what that is tonight!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Advantage: Old School

So, after winning 27 games in a row during the regular season, did you ever think that Miami would go 8 games in the playoffs without being able to win two in a row? That's a span of over 3 weeks!
Conversely, the Spurs have won their last 7 games in a row in the playoffs.

What have we learned from game 1?

Tony Parker is the master of non-fundamental shots
For our younger readers, learning the basics of the game - look away!

The wrong-footed lay-up & jump shot:
Right hand shot jumping off the right foot?

The Spin cycle:

So dizzyingly amazing was this move that LeBron James, known on occasion to come from the weak side and block even the likes of 7'2" Roy Hibbert, had to stand and watch:

The clutch shooting form:
With one of the best defenders in the league closing out on you, make sure you get down low.

Tim Duncan was the best player on the floor
For the 2nd quarter at least.
He had 12 point in the quarter on 5-7 shooting.
And how critical was that 2nd quarter? With 8 minuted to go in the half the Heat were up 38-29, on the verge, with Duncan on the bench with two fouls. After subbing Duncan back in the Spurs go on an immediate 7-0 run to cut the lead to two.
He also had four rebounds and two blocks in the quarter.
You could argue his numbers in the second were more important than Parker's in the 4th.

Danny Green will make open three pointers, even clutch ones
3 for 5 from three in the first half.
He finished 4 for 9 from three (all of his shots) for the game - including one with 2 minutes to go that put the Spurs up seven. Not bad for a role player playing in his first NBA Finals game on the road (reminiscent of Battier last year?)

Ray Allen has found his shooting touch
First 15 games these playoffs: 46-123 from the field (38%), 24-69 from three (35%)
More specifically, first 6 game against Pacers: 13-46 from the field (28%),  7-24 from three (29%)

Last two games: 6-10 from the field (60%), 6-9 from three (67%).

What a basketball travesty is:
Having the best player in the world, stand in the corner on offense in the 4th quarter as a spectator. And this happened on more than one occasion.
Similarly, having the best player in the world feed the post on offense, in the 4th quarter.

Chris Bosh is a good mid-range jump shooter:
But maybe not a three point shooter.
6-12 from inside the three.
0-4 from three.

The good news???

For the Spurs:
They were out-rebounded 46-37.
They shot only 30% from three (7-23) & 42% overall
And they still won on the road.

For the Heat:
The Spurs tied a record for fewest turnovers in a Finals game (4).
LeBron scored only 18 points.
LeBron/Wade/Bosh combined for 8 points in the 4th
And they only lost by 4, with Parker needing to hit a crazy shot to seal the deal.


For the Spurs
Why make adjustments? You played the the game plan to perfection:
1) Take care of the ball
2) Have your two best players dominate the end of each half
3) 5 players in double figures, with solid play from role players (Leonard: 10 points, 10 rebounds)
4) Turn LeBron james into Magic Johnson (more on this below).

For the Heat
1) Keep Chris Bosh in the mid-range/paint area
For many reasons. It's obvious the Spurs are going to clog up the paint and double LeBron when gets there. If LeBron wants to pass out of a double team that's fine.

But look at this play with a minute to go in the 4th:

Duncan left Bosh to prevent LeBron from getting to the rim. But look how open that leaves the paint, with only Ginobili form the weak side and Green on the strong side to protect the rim if need be. I think the Spurs will live with Bosh shooting threes. But if Bosh situates himself in the paint (or cuts to the basket) he has a lay-up off this double team or a good chance for an offensive rebound/lay-up on a LeBron miss. And if Green slides over to cover Bosh, then LeBron has a open Mike Miller on the strong side corner.

The Heat need to do a better job of taking advantage of this.

2) Have LeBron play like LeBron
One of the biggest concerns for Miami coming into the Finals was having this series turn into a reversion of the 2011 Dallas series. A Texas team motivated in a "win one for the gipper" mode, that doesn't back down or make mistakes, but does makes big plays. Additionally, LeBron deferring to become a spectacularly well balanced role player.

Well, that was game 1 in a nutshell

You heard LeBron say the other day:
"I've done more and lost"


In the Finals, the biggest stage in professional basketball, LeBron has three career triple doubles.
He is now 1-2.
2011 game 5 loss triple double: 17 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists, 8-19 shots, 1-2 FTs
2013 game 1 loss triple double: 18 points, 18 rebounds, 8 assists,  7-16 shots, 3-4 FTs
2012 game 5 win triple double: 26 points, 13 assists, 11 rebounds, 9-19 shots, 8-9 FTs

While this is a small sample size, there seems to be a bit of a difference in terms of his scoring output in the triple double win and loses, no? And check out his 2012 near triple-double win:
26 points, 12 assists, 9 rebounds, 10-20 shots, 5-8 FTs.

Additionally, LeBron James is 1-2 in the NBA Finals.
So, let's look at his career NBA finals averages:
2007 Finals 22 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists on 36% shooting (lost in 4)
2011 Finals 18 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists on 48% shooting (third on team in scoring - lost in 6)
2012 Finals 29 points, 10 rebounds, 7 assists on 47% shooting (won in 5)

So you're telling me, when LeBron scores more, when it matter most, his team wins??????
Or that when the best player in the world dominates the game offensively, his team wins??????
This comes as a complete shock.

It's not about LeBron doing "more". He already does everything.
It is about him doing what he does on a regular basis.

Regular season average: 27 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists
Playoff average: 26 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assist
Conference Finals average: 29 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists.

If he wants to (or allows himself to) become Magic Johnson (Career playoff average: 19.5 points, 12 assists, 8 rebounds), Miami will lose. Plain and Simple

After all if the well rounded approach didn't work two years ago in the Finals when Wade averaged 27 points, 7 rebounds, & 5 assists and Bosh averaged 19 points & 7 rebounds, what makes you think it will work now when they are at 14, 5, & 5 and 12 & 7, respectively?

Now is not the time to get tired. Neither is it the time to get cute and show the whole world how well rounded you are. Now is the time to show everyone in the world what a bully you are.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Final Legacy

You should know that last year's NBA Finals match-up seemed like one made in heaven. The league's two best players vying for their first NBA championship as well as undisputed supremacy over the basketball world.

Well, you should know that this year's match-up will be even better.

We're talking past dynasty against a burgeoning one that is trying to take those reigns with a another chip. We're talking perhaps the best power forward ever vs. perhaps (already?) the best small forward ever - at the height of his powers. Oh, and that best power forward ever, he's not even the best player on his team right now.

Last year there was talk of perhaps a Jordan vs. Magic comparison.
I felt, best case scenario it was more a Magic/Bird (worst case for Durant: MJ/Drexler).
But this year may be more fitting for Magic/Jordan. Does Duncan relinquish (finally) his staying power in the league and formally hand over the keys to LeBron? We never had a fitting passing of the torch from Kobe to LeBron. So will a Duncan (now making people reconsider if he is the best player from his generation) pass off suffice?

Or, will Duncan and co. write their own script and ride off into the sunset on their own terms?

Here is a question for you:
How many teams have gone to the NBA Finals three years in a row?
After the Celtics 8 peat in the 60's, only 4 franchises. The Lakers four times, The Pistons, The Bulls twice, and now Miami (3 out of 8 of those resulted in a three-peat). Only three years since it's inception, does this already grant Miami a significant place in NBA history?

Another question:
How many teams have gone to the Finals 5 times within 14 years (keeping at least one of their major stars throughout)? After the Celtics 8 peat, only three franchises have done that. The Lakers (you can pick from the 70's, 80's and 00's), the Bulls, and these Spurs.

The Spurs previous match-ups: New York, New Jersey, Detroit, & Cleveland. With the exception of perhaps Detroit, they were heavy favorites in all of those series. Kind of feels like this time around they might have met a team of equal of greater stature. How does that play out?

And how about LeBron? His first trip to the Finals he was swept by the same big three he'll be facing this time around. Throw in the Dallas series and he is 0-2 against teams from Texas. Three times the charm?

Since that Spurs/Cavs match-up we have seen three Kobe Finals (including two lakers/Celtics) and three LeBron Finals (including a LeBron/Durant and now this). Safe to say the NBA has hit the jackpot these last six years.

So what are some fo the more intriguing things to look out for?

The Bigs
Ponder this. For their respective conference Finals:
Roy Hibbert = 22 poins & 10 rebounds
David West = 17 points & 9 rebounds
Paul George = 19 points & 6 rebounds

Tim Duncan = 18 points & 9 rebounds
Tiago Splitter = 9 points & 3 rebounds
Kawhi Leonard = 11 points and 7 rebounds

So you're saying the Heat faced a collective 58 & 25 from the Pacers starting front court and now will go up against a collective 38 & 19 from that of the Spurs. Yeah...... something tells me the Heat are gonna be jumping for joy with this one.

No 7'2" center to prevent anything easy at the rim?
No one to beat the crap out of Chris Bosh and consistently push LeBron around in the post?

For all the talk about how the West is a better/deeper conference. Let me tell you what the East is: A beat-you-up/grind it out nightmare of physicality. For a team built around small ball, with no dominate post player, getting through that - two years in a row -  is an achievement.

Chris Bosh
With the physicality less demanding, can Bosh return to form?
He averaged 15 points and 9 rebounds last year in the Finals.
He's coming off 11 & 4 in the conference finals.  How big would it be for Bosh to put up big numbers? Especially if he can rekindle his shooting touch as the Spurs converge on LeBron and Wade.

The Shooters
Speaking of shooting, every big three needs supporting players that space out the floor and make the defense pay for doubling the stars right? Well compare the 3pt % (and for fun, age) from those of Miami to those of San Antonio:

Ray Allen (38) = 42% regular season, 37% playoffs
Shane Battier (35) = 42% regular season, 23% playoffs
Mike Miller (33) =  41% regular season, 28% playoffs

Matt Bonner (33) = 44% regular season, 50% playoffs
Danny Green (26) = 43% regular season, 43% playoffs
Kawhi Leonord (21) = 42% regular season, 37% playoffs
Garry Neal (28) = 40% regular season, 25% playoffs

Seems to be a concerning trend for the Miami shooters. Essentially, the Heat have gotten to this point without their offense firing on all cylinders. But not sure if they can get away with it in the Finals. The Bulls were ranked 10th (out of 16) in offense during the postseason and the Pacers 11th. Both averaged ~92 points a game. The Spurs? They ranked 3rd offensively and averaged 102 points a game!

Therefore the Heat might not be able to get away with struggling to put points of the board, they are averaging 97 for the playoffs. You can say that they struggled against the potent defense of Indiana and the Spurs should be a relief in that area. Well actually the Spurs rank slightly higher than the Pacers this post-season in defense.

What is a good sign for them is that Ray Allen hit four three during in their game 7 win over Indiana - 3 in the second is what really broke the game open. Additionally, while Miller hasn't made a ton of shots, he has been aggressive on both ends of the floor and seemed to provide a spark in the last two games of the conference Finals.

You may say: "will the supporting players/shooters really make a difference in the Finals?" They absolutely did last year with Battier, Chalmers, & Miller each having games where they scored 20 or more points in Heat victories.

Tony Tone Tone
Can you believe Tony Parker has been in the league for 12 years?!?
It's interesting, when you think of the top 5 point guards in the league his name doesn't come to mind. He is not the best statistically but he wins the most, when it matter most. In the 6 years since the Spurs last won the chip Parker has averaged 19 points & 7 assists a game in the regular season. In the last six post-seasons his numbers are 22 points & 6 assists per game.

Oh, and the Last time The Spurs won it all? Parker averaged 24.5 points (on 58% shooting) to go along with 5 rebounds and 3 assists per game for Finals MVP.
(FYI, Duncan averaged 18, 12, & 4 and LeBron, a pedestrian 22, 7, & 7).

There is no doubt that this is Parker's team.
But do you want to put his value into perspective?
During the conference Finals Parker averaged 24.5 point and 9.5 assists a game. That's accounting for 43.5 total points. LeBron, who carried Miami in the conference finals, averaged 29 points and 6 assists a game accounting for only 41 total points.

Perhaps LeBron is more valuable to his (and everyone's team). But Parker is putting up numbers just as good. LeBron will get his during the Finals, but can anyone prevent Parker from doing his thing?

Okay, it's Parker 's team. But Tim Duncan made first team All-NBA at 37 (his 16th year in the league)? Who does that?
I remember watching the '99 Finals when he destroyed the Knicks (he was 23!). His bank-shot jumper was automatic.

The Heat were overwhelmed physically last series. Will Duncan's skill set this series be able to impact as much damage?

The Best
During the first quarter of game 7 against Indiana my brother texted me (in so many words):
"WTF....why isn't LeBron shooting?"

Miami took 28 shots in the first quarter (making 8 of them).
LeBron only took 5 of those shots - his first not coming until 4:45 to go in the quarter.
Indiana led 21-19.

LeBron only took 4 shots in the second quarter.
But Ray Allen had 3 threes and 10 points, Wade & Bosh were a combined 4 for 5, for 9 points.
With Miami up 15 at the half, my brother texted me again:
"LeBron with a quiet 18?"

So playing a reserved role and allowing his teammates to get involved early on, LeBron was sill able to lead the Heat in scoring at the half? For the game? 32 and 8 on 8 of 17 shooting.

That's what this guy does.
He keeps everyone involved and still scores 25-30 by default.
He dropped 45 against Boston last year and then told me directly after that he'll still pass the ball to teammates when they are open because he trusts them and knows how essential they are. He followed that up by closing out the Finals with a triple double and 13 assists.

For the heat to win, LeBron has to be the best player in the world and score, especially if Wade and Bosh, and the Miami shooters don't return to form. But I don't want the 25-8-8 guy. I want the 30-9-6 guy. I'm not too worried about him getting 30. It seems he'll do that regardless. The question is, will he have to go for 35-40 at one point in this series? I'm not sure, but I'm fairly confident that he'll know when it's time.

As these games go by, it seems more apparent that LeBron has learned when to pick and choose his spots. If anything, I think all the injuries the Heat suffered during their last two playoff runs have actually been somewhat of a blessing in disguise as they mandated LeBron to take over in so many of these games. There is a big difference between deferring then trying to find your way in the offense at crucial moments and knowing you have to dominate/can score when you want but have to take your foot of the gas at times to keep your teammates happy. For the all the Point Guard Project stuff I've done and asked "How do you determine when to pass vs. shoot?" Can it be that LeBron has mastered this better than anyone?

My one request - as hopefully LeBron continues to attack the rim.
Rather than always leading with his body and keeping the ball inside to draw the foul, I would love to see him extend his arm as the contact comes then finish over the top of the defender. He will still get the call.

The deciding factor
Could it possibly be Manu Ginobili vs. Dwyane Wade???
Remember the day when Ginobili would recklessly drive to the basket and hit those lefty lay-ups over Shaq? Or when he led Argentina over the US for the '04 olympics? Or when the euro two-step was all his before Wade and Harden co-opted it? Remember when he scored 25 points in game 7 of the 2005 Finals?

Remember when Wade averaged 35 points as the '06 Finals MVP?
When he averaged 30 against Boston and Dallas in the playoffs two year ago? Or when he dropped 40 to close out the Pacers last year?

Those days seem long gone. Now, everyone wonders if these two are on their last legs.
For the Playoffs:
Ginobili is at 11.5 points (38%), 5 assists, and 5 rebounds a game.
Wade is at 14 (45%) 5 & 5.

What better way to prove everyone wrong than by matching up against one another?
This might be the most fun to watch!

So what's it gonna be???
I'm not going to make a prediction, but I will say a few things that may make it apparent what I'm thinking.

The danger for Miami is facing a team this deep with superb ball movement that can put points on the board. Yes, Chicago and Indiana were physical, but they both didn't have more than a 5-6 man rotation. That makes a difference. And while the teams they faced had Thibodeau and Vogel, they didn't have Popovich. And when you have an all time great coach - that maximizes his team's potential and makes adjustments on the fly (not to mention ridicule the media) - you'll always be in the game and have a chance to win.

And that's the thing - if the games are close at the end, the Spurs can execute and have the star power as well as pedigree to close games out.

But, are the Heat really worried about playing an uptempo/perimeter oriented style of play?
Miami's defense isn't too shabby - they are ranked 2nd for the post-season. And the reason Indiana gave them so much trouble is that they owned the boards and got so many second chance points/lay-ups (while beating them up in the process). That is Miami's achilles and I don't envision that happening in this series.

Think about last year, Miami was pushed to 6 by Indiana then 7 by Boston. They then faced the supposedly deeper and more offensively potent Thunder yet still ran away with the thing in five games.
This year, they got beat up by the Bulls and Pacers, but survived. You don't think they'll thrive against the supposedly deeper and offensively potent Spurs?

Now think about what the Spurs have faced. Last year, after going down 0-2, Oklahoma won four in a row with their athleticism and perimeter play. This year the Spurs swept the Lakers and grizzles. Two half court teams that find their strength in their bigs. Who gave them the most trouble? The Warriors - a run and gun team that finds their strength in their perimeter play/shooting. I'm gonna say that Miami will provide more of a challenge on the perimeter than the Warriors did - especially if Wade is healthy and Bosh can make shots. And as good as Golden state was offensively, they ranked 13th (out of 16) on the defensive end. So, combine Miami's defense and their transition/athleticism/perimeter play (either shooting or breaking down the defense to get to the paint) and it might be tougher to combat.

And I'm gonna say that this guy LeBron is going prove more challenging to contain than Stephen Curry. In every facet of the game.  And not only offensively. What sort of impact will LeBron have defensively? We spoke about the numbers Tony Parker is putting up. Well, by now everyone in the world is talking about a potential showdown with LeBroan guarding Parker. And why not - for stretches, perhaps during the 4th quarter? He was able to keep Derrick Rose in check coming off his MVP season. Actually, what are the chances that we literally see LeBron guard positions the same game?

The bottom line? When you get into these sorts of high stakes-street fights, you want to be the team that has the best player in the world on your side. That's what Miami has. And while the Spurs are 4 games away from furthering their franchise's legacy, don't you think LeBron relishes the opportunity to cement his own as well???

Not much more to say!
Let the Finals begin!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Defeat the Repeat?

Can lighting strike three times for the Indiana Pacers???
You might recall that I sarcastically congratulated Indiana after their game 4 victory over Miami and pretty much implied that they couldn't duplicate that effort two more times in this series.

Well, it seems as if they managed to duplicate it in game 6. Compare their last two wins:

Game 4 points:                                                            Game 6 points:
1) Lebron shoots under 50% (45%)                               1) LeBron shoots under 50% (48%)
2) Hibbert shoots over 60% (63%)                                 2) Hibbert shoots 55%
3) Indy out-rebounded Miami by 19!                              3) Indy out-rebounded Miami by 20!
4) Wade held to 16 points                                             4) Wade held to 10 points
5) Bosh held to 7 points & 3 rebounds                           5) Bosh held to 5 and 4
6) Indy hits miraculous three pointer to end third             6) George hits big three late in 4th
7) LeBron fouls out of game                                          7) LeBron gets offensive foul & tech in 4th

Eerily similar.

Can it happen again tonight?
It's possible!

And here is why. For the series:
Wade has averaged 14.5 points (45%) to go along with 4.5 rebounds & 4.8 assists a game.
Bosh has averaged 11.3 points (41%) to go along with 3.7 rebounds per game.
Indy has out-rebounded Miami every game this series - a total of 61 rebounds (average 10 per game!)
Hibbert has averaged 23 points and 11 rebounds on 55% shooting.

Are you ready for a reality check?
Indiana is the better overall team this series.
No, seriously.

With all of those numbers above, how is this thing even close you might ask?
Well there is that guy LeBron James. And in each of Miami's wins he has had huge performances.
Game 1 - triple double (30-10-10) with the game winning lay-up as time expired.
Game 3 - 12 points in the second quarter (18 in the first half) to demoralize the pacers.
Game 5 - 16 points in the third quarter to demoralize the Pacers.

For the series his numbers are 28.5 points (on 52% shooting) to go with 7 rebounds and 5.5 assists a game.

But here is another crazy reality check:
LeBron's stats aren't that much greater than that of Indy's two stars. As great as LeBron has been, Hibbert has been as dominant and Paul George has been almost as good. George's numbers for the series: 21.5 points (on 50% shooting) to go with 6 rebounds and 5 assists. And in his last two games he has pretty much equaled LeBron: 27.5 points (on 58% shooting) to go along with 9.5 rebounds and 5 assists.

George also happens to have the two best plays of the series and three incredibly clutch plays (his three pointer last game to put Indiana back up by 7 might have been the biggest play of the game).

Okay, okay you get it. Indiana is a good team.
But here is the scary thing for the Pacers:
If they don't win the boards by at least 10 and if anyone besides LeBron has a decent game, then Miami is going to win. Plus they have no depth. If one of their starters gets in foul trouble then they are in trouble. And for all their front court dominance, in 2/3 games they have won, they needed all 5 starters to score in double figures.

So do you want some Game 7 keys and possible adjustments???

For Miami:

1) LeBron needs to get 10-12 rebounds. 
And this might be more important than him getting 45 points. They can't afford to get killed on the glass. Perhaps getting Birdman back will help in this regard.

2) Someone, and it can be anyone, has to support LeBron.
The Heat are 3-1 in games this series where 3-4 players other than LeBron score double figures, even if it's less than 20 points. In games where only two other players score double figures they are 0-2.

3) Play Mike Miller more?
Shane battier is 2 for 16 this series (all three point attempts).
Ray Allen is is 13 for 56 (7 for 24 from three).
Mike Miller has only played 18 minutes this series. But he is 3 for 3 (all three point attempts). He can rebound and pass better than the other two. Plus he provided a spark last game in the 4th quarter.

4) Get easy looks for Wade/Bosh.
Run Wade off of down screens so he can curl to the basket for either easy buckets or drop off passes to a big for lay-ups. Also, run him off of some more screens on the ball. He shouldn't necessarily take 20 shots but he won't do you any good taking 8-11 shots. He shouldn't necessarily look to create for himself one-on-one but he is a rhythm player, so he won't do you any good on spot-ups. Especially now with his injuries, he has to get moving to get going.

Spot Bosh up in the corner for threes & and involve him in pick and pops. Bosh is a spot up shooter and he can he can draw Hibbert away from the basket. Keeping him involved in the offense may also motivate him to get some more rebounds.

5) Double Roy Hibbert in the post.
If not to prevent him from scoring, then to prevent him from getting offensive rebounds. Front him and get weak side help - put two bodies on him to block him out! They should probably look to double off Lance Stevenson and make him make spot-up jump-shots. They could also look to double off of Hansborough and even West at times when they are situated on the high post.

6) Zone defense? 
Paul George has been able to get to the basket at will and Hibbert owns the paint. Why not turn the Pacers into a jump shooting team and have 5 guys in the paint when the shot goes up? Miami won't do this becuase it isn't true to their identity - but they have the speed and athleticism to make the adjustment on the fly. Could Indiana make the appropriate adjustments on the fly, especially when facing a zone would be a super surprise and place them further out of their comfort than it would Miami by playing it?

7) LeBron has to have another amazing performance in game 7.
Yes, this is obvious. So lucky for Miami, this is more than likely to happen!
He has played three game 7's in his career. His averages:
34 points (46% shooting), 8 rebounds, 3 assists a game.

And also lucky for Miami, LeBron has already saved Miami by himself! Remember last year, when he   had to Drop 45 & 15 in Boston? Wade was the only other player in double figures that game with 17. Does he have to do that this time? Perhaps a performance like last year's ECF game 7 will suffice, 31 points with 12 rebounds. Wade scored 23 that game and Bosh had 19. That would be welcomed tonight.

Whether he goes for 30 or 40, forget all of that talk that going back to "Cleveland mode" has been a  detriment to his team. The most shots he has attempted in a game this series is 26 - and that was in their game 5 win. He is averaging less than 21 shots a game. I would hardly say that is too much. He needs to attack and shoot - maybe not the whole game but certainly during crucial stretches. In fact, their were times when Indiana was on the ropes in game 2 and 4, but were able to get back into it because LeBron wasn't as involved offensively. 5-6 minutes really can make the difference between winning and losing. LeBron scored 12 points in 6 minutes to close out the third in game 5 and put the Pacers away.

He will get his teammates involved, but there will be a time when he has to take over. And in general,  his dominance opens things up for his teammates, not the other way around.

And as a minor note, I don't know if putting him in too many in pick and roll situations is a good idea. He'll either face a hedging defender or get doubled. Instead, maybe use him as the screener, especially with Wade - this will force Indiana to chose between letting Wade turn the corner or helping off LeBron. Also, LeBron in the post and running him off of down screens is a good look.

For Indiana:

1) Feed the bigs
Go with what has got you here. Let Hibbert eat offensively. And let West continue to bully.

2) Isolate Paul George on the top of the key.
At this point it seems neither LeBron or Wade can stay in front of him. He has been able to get by his man consistenly to finish at the rim. If a help defender comes at him then it opens things up for Indiana's bigs.

3) Double LeBron and make him a passer
Especially off pick and rolls. Remember those two turn overs at the end of game two? They came by throwing another defender at LeBron and turning him into a passer. Besides, has anyone on the Heat shown they can consistently make plays and/or open jump shots? If Udonis Haslem beats you, then hey, what can you do?

4) Guard play
In Indiana's wins, George Hill's stats: 17.6 points (48%) with 4 rebounds and 5 assists.
In Indiana's loses, George Hill's stats: 8.3 points (30%) with 1.7 rebounds and 4.3 assists.
Pretty self explanatory, no?

5) How critical will Lance Stevenson be in this game?
In how many aspects of the game?
How about taking turns guarding LeBron - to give George a breather? Think about this, in Miami's game 5 win LeBron scored 16 points in the third quarter on 7 for 13 shooting. In the 4th quarter with Stevenson mostly guarding him, LeBron went 1 for 7 scoring three points. I'm just saying.

Also, if Miami does double off Stevenson, leaving him open for three, he shouldn't settle for long range jumpers! Rather, attack the basket for a dunk or foul. Or at the very least drive to the basket to draw a defender off Hibbert/West to open up a pass or the offensive glass. Furthermore, if the Heat send an extra defender to block out Hibbert/West - that leaves plenty of opportunities for Stevenson to crash the offensive glass himself for second chance points.

6) Keep the game close
Games in which Miami led by double figures going into the 4th, Indiana is 0-2.
Games in which the score was within single digits, either way, Indiana is 3-1.

So you're saying if the game is close going into the 4th, Indiana has an excellent chance of winning?

7) Cognizant or ignorant?
You could argue experience is important for these pressurized game 7's.
Miami has faced an elimination game on the road before as well as last's year's conference Finals game 7  at home.

This is Indiana's first elimination game on the road and first game 7.
But sometimes, being naive to the significance of the moment can be a blessing.
I guess we'll find out tonight.

How about some game 7 history for you???
Other notable game 7's, with super stars, that ultimately led to a championship:

1992 Bulls vs Knicks game 7
Jordan: 42 points (52%), 6 rebounds, 4 assists
Pippen: 17 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists
Grant: 14 points, 6 rebounds
Armstrong: 12 points, 5 assists

1998 Bulls vs Pacers game 7
Jordan: 28 points (36%), 9 rebounds, 8 assists
Pippen: 17 points, 12 rebounds
Kukoc: 21 points
Kerr: 11 points

2005 Spurs vs Pistons game 7
Duncan: 25 points (37%), 11 rebounds
Ginobli: 23 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists
Horry: 15 points, 5 rebounds

2008 Celtics vs Cavs game 7
Pierce: 41 points (57%), 4 rebounds, 5 assists
Garnett: 13 points, 13 rebounds
Rondo: 8 points, 8 rebonds, 8 assists
PJ Brown: 10 points, 6 rebounds

2010 Lakers vs Celtics game 7
Kobe: 23 points (25%), 15 rebounds
Gasol: 19 points, 18 rebounds
World-Peace: 20 points
Fisher: 10 points

2012 Heat vs Celtics game 7
LeBron: 31 points (43%), 12 rebounds
Wade: 23 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists
Bosh: 19 points (on 10 shots), 8 rebounds
Battier: 12 points

So, very rarely does the team with the superstar (or at least more than one star) lose a game 7 at home.
But very rarely is it a one man show. And while the superstar leads the way, it's not always done efficiently.

Interestingly enough, there are two game 7's I can think of in which the home team with the superstar did in lose (although these games didn't lead to a championship).
1995: When Indiana beat the Knicks at the Garden. New York had Ewing and were the favorites
2005: When Detroit beat the Heat in Miami. The Heat had Shaq and Wade (ironically, Wade was also injured for that game).
Does it mean anything that both cases involve Indiana and Miami?

Make no mistake, this is a LEGACY game for LeBron.
He will go down as a top ten player all time.
But what kind of player will he be?

Oscar Robinson and win 1 championship?
Wilt Chamberlain and win 2, several years apart?
Bird or Duncan and win multiple, but never two in a row?
Or Jordan, Magic, Jabbar, Shaq, & Kobe  - Winning 2-3 tittles in a row?

As per - in the last 50 years (since the Celtics in the 60's) only 4 franchises have won two or more titles in a row (Lakers three times, Bulls twice, Pistons once, and Rockets once).
Winning it this year puts LeBron in elite company champions wise and gives him an opportunity to do something even rarer next year.

So what will it be???

Well, ask yourself these questions:
Do you really think Wade and Bosh and Miami as a whole will put up another collective dud?
Do you really think Miami will get out-rebounded by 15 or more at home?
By default, LeBron will get 25-30 points. Do you think he won't focus more on rebounding tonight and go for more than 30 if the game is close (and it will be close)?

I'll tell you what. If Indiana can enforce the first two scenarios and overcome the latter - on the road - then bless them, they would have earned it.

But the real question is, what did we as fans do to earn such a potentially amazingly fantastic game 7?!?
So much drama, physicality, distain, pressure, and x factors and so much of the future at stake!
The only thing left to do now is to sit back, relax, and enjoy the show!