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.
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.
"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.
"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.
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.