I think we've just witnessed the formula to stopping the Miami Heat. The San Antonio Spurs have found a way to exploit Lebron and the Heat's weaknesses. "But Jason, Lebron doesn't have a weakness...HE'S DA BEST PLAYER EVAHHHHH!!!" Yes, Lebron is by far the best player in the NBA. But there are a few weak spots in his game. Its OK, even Jordan had areas of improvement. The Death Star had that thermal exhaust port thingy. The chink in Lebron's armor is his jumpshot. It's streaky. I've said this many times in the past and I always get harsh backlash. Usually hordes of Heat fans screaming, "WHAT??? LEBRON CAN SCORE FROM ANYWHERE. UR JUST A HATER!!!" wildly tossing their heads back and forth in the air while frothing at the mouth. I'll say this, when Lebron's shot is falling, there is no man or beast that can slow him down. The problem is that it isn't consistent enough to make teams fully respect it. Most players will sag off him in anticipation of the drive. Not saying Lebron is like Rajon Rondo where defenders just look at him standing outside the paint and start laughing. He can shoot obviously. But you'd rather give him a few feet because you know he wants to drive and kick or drive and score. As a defender you'd never do that with a Kobe or a Durant for example.

Pictured: My head after the wrong people read this blog

Normally if Lebron's jumper isn't clicking it isn't a big deal because he'll drive to the lane for the much higher percentage shot. (This is exactly what he should be doing.) The problem now is that the Spurs have packed the paint and aren't letting him get to the rim. So far through three games Lebron has averaged 16.6 points per game on 38% shooting. That’s pretty far off from his regular season average of 26.8 points on 55% shooting or 26.2 points on 51% shooting for the first three rounds of the playoffs. Lebron isn't even getting to the free throw line anymore. Just two attempts per game vs. a bazillion against any other team. The most glaring stat is the fact that Lebron is 7 of 30 on shots from outside the paint. It’s a very small sample size. But I don't think it's an anomaly. The Spurs are starting off playing man to man, and whoever is covering James is forcing him into a double team after a few dribbles which is making him pass it out to a teammate. I can't give Popovich all of the credit however. Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green are really smart defenders. They're making James run into the double team, they know when to sag off on the perimeter, and when he does get to the rim, they jump straight up to contest the shot without fouling. Those things are hard to coach and take instincts that a lot of players lack.

big 3
And then Lebron said, "Hey Manu, I cant wait to drop 30 on your old ass."

So, the first step in extinguishing the Heat is turning Lebron into a jumpshooter. The second step is to close out on the perimeter shooters. If Lebron runs into a high double team, his first instinct is to pass. The problem for most defenses is that Lebron is able flick a laser beam of a pass to a teammate so fast that no defender could possibly recover. There really isn't much you can do about that other than make sure a guy like Birdman isn't sliding along the baseline for an easy dunk. (This really hurt the Pacers.) Last night Matt Bonner left Mike Miller wide open for a three. Gregg Popovich called timeout on the next possession and ripped Bonner's head off for missing his assignment. That’s because if you can't close out on the Heat's role players or they just happen to be on fire like Mike Miller has been, then you'll have a hard time beating them. In game one Miami shot 30% from beyond the arc. In game two, they shot 52% and blew the doors off of San Antonio. Last night they shot 50% but thats because Mike Miller went 5 of 5. Other than that, Lebron made one, Cole made one, and James Jones made one in garbage time.

james jones
 "Yeah, keep laughing. At least I have more points in the Finals than T-Mac."
The next step is to use size to your advantage. Miami doesn’t have a center so it shouldn’t have been a surprise to see Roy Hibbert and the Pacers dominate inside. Battier pretends to be a power forward, Bosh and Birdman pretend to be centers, and Joel Anthony pretends to be an NBA player. Tim Duncan averaged a little over 9 boards a game for the first three series. Now, against Miami he’s snatching down 13 per contest. Kawhi Leonard was a modest rebounder prior to this series. 5.9 a game for the playoffs. Have you checked the box scores lately? Miami is allowing him to get 12 rebounds per game. He’s like the Klumps at an all you can eat buffet. Didn’t catch that reference? He’s like Eddy Curry at an all you can eat buffet. James, a small forward, is the Heat’s leading rebounder. I don’t care how great a player is, it’s never good thing when one player is forced to be the best scorer, rebounder, passer, and defender.

bosh begging
 "C'mon bro. Lemme get this next rebound. Bron keeps yelling at me"
The last key step is something very few teams are able to pull off. Even when not playing Miami, they seem to struggle with it. Passing the ball. San Antonio knows how to swing the ball around the perimeter until they find an open man. When they do this, not even an athletic team like Miami can keep up. One of the first lessons you learn when playing organized basketball as a youngster is “The ball will always move faster than the man.” The Spurs unselfishly shares the ball at the tune of a league’s best 25 assist per game during the regular season. Ball rotation is simply a must against the Heat defense. They’re lethal at pick n roll defense and it shows. Parker had a good game one, but failed to make an imprint during the next two. The picks would leave him still outside the lane. And his drives would result in wild flails at the rim. Passing is one of the key weapons Dallas used to take down Miami in the 2011 NBA Finals. Danny Green and Gary Neal feasted on open three pointers yesterday. Those shots will be there as long as San Antonio stays the course.

green u mad
Other than the standard things that teams need to do in order to win games, (Cut down on turnovers, don’t allow second chance points, and make open threes) the Spurs have found a solid four step process to beat the Heat. This isn’t a prediction that San Antonio will win the next two games and actually beat Miami. In fact Lebron could (and probably should) channel his inner Kobe and shoot himself into a good rhythm despite how many mid range shots he misses. It’s the only way he’ll be able to consistently score 25 or more against this team. With Tony Parker apparently questionable for game 4, the series could be knotted up 2-2 after tomorrow. I still can’t tell which way this tree will fall. But if San Antonio wins the championship, I hope the narrative will be about what the Spurs were able to do rather than what the Heat weren’t able to do.
Anonymous Anonymous said...
Awesome post Jason.

But rabid bawful fans still want your head - just to be able to see more zombie pics ^_^

Vive les spurs

Anonymous Istvan said...
Nice analysis, Jason. I like it. Even the pictures ;-)

Blogger Baldwinternet said...
I'm calling it now Lebron scores 50 in game 4. Thanks Jason.

Blogger Passives Abseits said...
Is it just me or did the Dallas Mavericks basically beat Lebron the same way 2 years ago? So much for the big steps forward James has taken since then...

Blogger vanjulio said...
Spurs are just too great a team for anyone to challenge them this season. My Grizzlies failed and the Heat are on their way out. I could see this going 7 simply because of the incredible hall of fame talent on that roster, but the team has too many weak points and uneven distribution between back court and front court. They're the "small ball" philosophy and I love seeing it squelched.

Anonymous Stockton said...
Spurs are amazing! I f####ing HATE THEM! DAMN!!

They should have been in this position last year, if not that wacky game by Ibaka. They are beyond doubt the best basketball TEAM around.

It is amazing how they pick garbage guys like Green (who was he ion Cleveland?) and turn them into starters in a title contender. Got to respect that.

I'm a Jazz fan, and I learned to hate the Spurs with all my heart, but also to respect the crap out of them. In some ways, they are similar franchises, like two siblings who are alike, but one had success and the other one lost a title because of MJ and some %$%&$%& stern button moves, saw the best player run away and force an HOF coach to quit and... oh well, you get my point.

Blogger Barry said...
Our local (The Netherlands) commentary thought LeBron just wasn't used to people slouching on him on D and daring him to shoot.

If anything he should be getting to the line a lot more, and maybe a little less focus on passing. Some of those passes coulda/shoulda been shot attempt> fouled > FTs instead of Chris Bosh or Chalmers 3pt attempts.

I´m not saying he should be a black hole a la Kobe but a little bit more selfish when going to the hoop would be good for Miami.

Blogger Wormboy said...
Everybody talked about how LeBron had exorcized his demons. Maybe not. Maybe his demons are only evident in the really rare instances when he gets outplayed. I look forward to further non-heroics and fingernail biting. Only bad foul trouble for the Spurs will allow him to romp tonight, because even in game 2 he wasn't scoring.

Blogger Unknown said...
Well written, love the insights....interesting how both teams will BOUNCE from game 3...

Blogger TeamD said...
HOF article, you make me come back here with joy not just lust and sadness for what was once the best bball blog ever.

Blogger Wormboy said...

Too bad inside the NBA doesn't cover the Finals. If so, we'd have heard Barkley saying this. The Argentine rises from his crypt and steals a game from the cHeat.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
The thing is, LeBron is SO good at passing and is a very unselfish teammate that it's in his DNA to pass to the open man when he's doubled. That's how he plays, you can't fight nature.

Kobe and Jordan, on the other hand, had the shooters mentality and would basically dominate the game by scoring even with 2,3,4 guys in front of them.

The problem is, you can't just switch and make LeBron play like that coz the team isn't built like that. At least if you're a Laker, you know coming in that you're gonna be playing next to the NBA's biggest ballhog and your best chance at scoring is rebounding his misses followed by a putback (aka the Kobe Assist). If LeBron starts chucking shots, his teammates won't know to go for the rebound coz they're stuck outside the 3 point line waiting for the kickout pass.

I predict LeBron gets a triple double on Game 6 but Wade will have a mediocre performance, Bosh will have a 5 rebound game, Ray Allen will go 1 for 7 on threes and no contribution from all the other scrubs. Danny Green will go 4for 10 on threes but still win Finals MVP

Rich Muhlach

Anonymous Anonymous said...
@Rich, good point. I wonder what LeBron would look like on a team like this Spurs (where passing to find the best shot is the core of the offense).

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Rich Muhlach's Game 6 Predictions:

Correct ones:
LeBron triple double
Wade mediocre

Incorrect ones:
Bosh 5 rebound game
Danny Green MVP

Half Correct:
Ray Allen going 1-7 on 3s
No contribution from other scrubs

My bad on thinking Bosh would stink it up again, he did step up and was a big reason for the win. Danny Green obviously got checked and would no way win Finals MVP after that performance even if Spurs win Game 7.

My point on Ray Allen going 1 for 7on threes was that he wouldn't make an impact throughout the game. Unfortunately, the one 3 that he did make was the one that forced overtime. Also, the Heat did get some form of contribution from Mike "No Shoes" Miller so I'm giving myself half a point for that one.

so.. prediction for Game 7:

Another LeBron triple double
Wade gets injured, sits out 4th q
Bosh mediocre performance
Spurs win by 10
Parker Finals MVP

Rich Muhlach