True Hoops

True Hoops

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!


  1. I think the biggest thing about this series is the Spurs have 3 young able body players (with size) in Green, Neal & Leonard that aren't afraid to go at Lebron on defense when it comes to seeing Lebron in the post or on a fastbreak, or popping a jimmy dead Lebron's grill. Those cats are fearless. The key to locking Lebron down is making him uncomfortable, attack him before he attacks you, don't let him get his spot or move in, after you do that a few times it's all mental. Even in game 2 when MIA won James had a bad offensive game, he's def been struggling. With that said it's still series and CAN go the distance, there are plenty of wild cards in this scenario, almost every player is a wild card, due to age, injury, hunger or just plain rhythm (or lack of). It'll be interesting to see who shows up. My money is on the team that plays the best team ball.

    1. Dude, if you would have told me that Danny Green would be averaging the most points per game in the series after three - I would have said you are crazy.
      Him, along with Neal and Leonard are role players - not the stars. And say what you want about defense and going at LeBron - I find it hard to believe they do this better than Paul George and Lance Stevenson. But then again, perhaps you are right about the jump shooting part. Jason Terry hit up LeBron a couple of years ago.

      Speaking of a coupe of years ago - it's been gut wrenching to see LeBron revert back to the Dallas series style of play. No rhythm or aggression what so ever - 17 points a game?!? As I felt back then, I still think he can turn it around, but he has to come out attacking and continue throughout the whole game. If he doesn't do that - Miami is in trouble. Big trouble