|Posted on June 13, 2013 at 6:50 PM|
What I don't like from the 2013 NBA Finals Thus Far:
Lebron James – You had to know this was coming, so let’s just get it out of the way. James attempted 0 free throws in Game 3, the first time he’s done that since 2009, and at the same time is getting the Rajon Rondo treatment with his defender playing three feet off of him.
First let’s deal with the outside shooting difficulties, which we have seen many times before from James. In 2011 he shot 40% outside the paint in the regular season, 37% in the first three rounds of the playoffs, and just 35% in the Finals. This year, those numbers experienced a similar drop from 42%, to 38%, to a horrid 23% in the Finals. Even last season, Lebron shot only 18% outside the paint during the Finals, and in the 2007 Finals, shot 17%. This is a recurring theme. More interestingly, every round of this year’s playoffs, his average shot distance, in feet from the rim, has increased from 8.5 to 10.7 to 12.3 to 13.3. The Spurs are letting him shoot all he wants, and are letting him pass to Dwyane Wade (shooting 6/21 on post-ups and 9/29 on isolations thus far in the postseason) all he wants, but they are not going to let him take over the game, and that’s messing up his rhythm, just like it did when he played San Antonio in the 2007 Finals, and just like it did in Lebron’s LeDisappearance in the 2011 Finals.
The inside struggles are a little more puzzling, but it’s fairly simple as well: Tiago Splitter is helping out on him close to the rim, and Lebron really can’t score from between 2 and 10 feet. That’s right, Lebron James cannot score from between 2 and 10 feet. He doesn’t have a floater, a teardrop, a turn-around jumper in the paint, or an up-and-under move. It’s the single major flaw of Lebron’s game and it’s being exposed by the Spurs’ wily defense, and, to an extent, was exposed by Roy Hibbert against the Indiana Pacers in the Conference Finals.
James has received much criticism for being too passive in the first three games of this series, but I think, conversely, he has been stopping the ball on offense way too often, as seen in this play:
The Miami Heat have gotten away from the screening and cutting from its 27-game winning streak and are playing like a rich man’s New York Knicks on offense, with everyone standing around watching Lebron. What I would like to see more from the Heat tonight is using James as a screener, which allows him to catch the ball on the move, at the foul line, so he can make a quick decision instead of holding the ball. Miami didn’t use Lebron as a pick-setter very much until the 33-5 run in Game 2, and then didn’t stick to it enough in Game 3. Just notice how many of these plays from the Heat’s amazing second half in Game 2 involve James setting screens.
Miami’s Boxing Out – The big question for Miami going into the season was whether or not they could survive on the boards against the bigger teams, and it’s not helping matters that Chris Boshasaurus, the only player on the roster above 6’10’’, is now hallucinating an electric fence around the painted area like the ones in Jurassic Park (seriously, look at that picture and tell me with a straight face that Chris Bosh doesn’t look like a dinosaur), and refuses to set foot within 15 feet of the rim.
The Heat barely survived on the glass against Indiana, and their issues have only worsened in the Finals. The Spurs, second to last in the league in offensive rebounds during the regular season, have rebounded 31% of their misses in this series, an extraordinarily high number. Check out Dwyane Wade’s most embarrassing attempt at a box-out through three games.
The PJ Carlesimo, Kurt Rambis, Stuart Scott trio on SportsCenter – The perfect demonstration of the quote, “Everything has been said, but not everybody has said it”
Metta World Peace’s Tweets – Before Game 2, he tweeted, “Miami is bringing the lettuce!!!!!!!! No matter good the spurs burger is, if Miami brings the lettuce, they win!!” Then, after the game, he tweeted once again, “The bench players are the lettuce but they are important!! Cheese is for looks. Mike miller, ray, cole all brought it. 1st team all lettuce.”
(a) I don’t know what he’s talking about because cheese is really, really, good, (b) I don’t understand the analogy whatsoever, (c) He tweeted the same thing out twice in a three-hour span, (d) I’m confused as to whether the Spurs are the burger, the cheese, or both, and (e) He’s implying that this NBA Finals isn’t Kosher, which is upsetting. These tweets get a 0/100 on the “Amnesty That! Tweeting Scale” that I just made up five seconds ago.
What I like from the 2013 NBA Finals Thus Far:
The Spurs’ Defense on Lebron James – Since the 2011 Finals, Lebron had scored at least 19 points in 39 consecutive playoff games coming into this series. The last three games he has turned in 18, 17, and 15 points, respectively, because the Spurs have done an excellent job sending help defense his way while still preventing Miami’s best shooters from getting open outside shots. In this play, watch how Tim Duncan meets Lebron directly as he comes off the pick and Tony Parker slides over from Norris Cole to make Lebron see a third body in front of him, yet Gary Neal stays locked in on Dwyane Wade and Manu Ginobili never leaves the NBA’s all-time leading three-point shooter, Ray Allen:
Also notice in the above play how Kawhi Leonard chases Lebron off a pick-and-roll, doubles Dwyane Wade, quickly closes out on Lebron again, and then deflects a pass to come up with the steal, all in one play. Leonard has been the key to San Antonio’s successful defense on Lebron, using his 7’4’’ wingspan (longer than Andrew Bynum’s) and 11.5-inch hands to his advantage. If you told a scientist to go into a lab and create a basketball player to guard Lebron James, he’d create Kawhi Leonard. Speaking of Kawhi…
Kawhi Leonard’s Corn Rows - He’s definitely on the 2013 All-NBA-Hairstylist Team (Allen Iverson and Ben Wallace each made 10 All Hairstylist Teams… Scott Pollard, Drew Gooden, Chris Kaman, and Ronny Turiaf battled it out year after year in the 2000s for the center position on the “I should probably go to the barber shop before the next time I appear on national television” Team). Leonard joins Norris Cole, James Harden, Iman Shumpert, and Kenneth Faried on this year’s team.
The Kawhi Leonard for George Hill Trade – On the day of the 2011 Draft, the Spurs and the Pacers swapped these two players, and both have taken off since. Leonard, only 21 years old, has emerged as one of the three or four most important players on a potential championship team, and Hill was the starter on a team that came within one win of the Finals. Do the Spurs guard Lebron effectively, or even make the Finals at all, without a true small forward on their roster? Do the Pacers even get past the Knicks with DJ Augustin as their starting point guard? I don’t think so. Take into account that Leonard’s being on the Pacers may have prevented the blossoming of Lance Stephenson and Paul George, and you could argue (I just did, actually) that this trade is the most impactful non-blockbuster trade of the millennium.
The Spurs’ Ball Movement – It’s so beautiful to watch when these guy start playing hot potato with the basketball, and it starts with spacing, which they accomplish by simply placing Leonard (52/131 on corner threes) in one corner and Green (73/169) in the other, allowing Parker and Duncan, two exceptional passers to the corners, to operate a pick-and-roll without having to worry about help defenders.
I also love when San Antonio makes it look like all the action is happening on one side of the court, when really, a critical back-screen or cut is about to occur on the other side of the court, creating a misdirection that fools everyone:
The Spurs beating the Heat’s traps – When opponents set high pick-and-rolls, the Heat love to send their big men out to trap ballhandlers. In Game 2, San Antonio struggled immensely to beat this aggressive defense, as Tony Parker repeatedly tried to bounce it between the two defenders, which led to stolen passes, deflections, or balls bouncing off the defenders’ feet. Chris Andersen, who played more in Game 2 than the two other contests, made the trap effective because his long arms and quickness closed off passing angles. However, in Game 3, the Spurs’ guards got back to the two ways they beat the trap in Game 1 (in which they had only four turnovers): Passing over the defense, or, passing to another wing player who can then get the ball to the roller from a nicer angle:
Lebron James’s crosscourt passing – I’ve never seen any player throw faster crosscourt passes from a wider variety of angles. According to ESPN’s Sport Science, he can hit a target in the corner from the opposite elbow faster than NFL quarterback Tom Brady could. This play is a great example of Lebron’s bullet passing, and also of what he can do as a screener in a pick-and-roll situation.
Shane Battier on his Decreased Playing Time – “Lebron’s got a slight basketball advantage over me. If this were Jenga, I’d be kicking his ass.”
Danny Green - If Cleveland Cavaliers’ fans thought these past three years since “The Decision” couldn’t get any worse, Danny Green, once cut by the Cavs, could legitimately win Finals MVP this year (leading all scorers in the series so far). Just look at this shooting video!
Tim Duncan - It’s easy to forget that he’s older than guys like Antoine Walker, Chauncey Billups, and even three years older than the one and only Tracy McGrady, who can now add outrebounding Dwyane Wade in a Finals game to his résumé, but he could also legitimately win Finals MVP (averaging a not-too-shabby 13 points, 13 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 blocks per game so far) 14 seasons after he won the award for the first time.
My Favorite Plays From the Finals So Far
3. Tim Duncan's halftime buzzer-beater in Game 1
2. Tony Parker's spin move in Game 1
1. Lebron's block on Tiago Splitter, which defied everything I learned about conservation of momentum in AP Physics this year. However, it's still not the greatest block in NBA history... that belongs to LaPhonso Ellis!
Enjoy Game 4 and check back for more analysis after the Finals are over!