Truth be told, although he ended up with a triple-double in Game 1, the four-time MVP still wasn’t the LeBron James we are used to. He seemed lethargic, passive and just mentally out of the game. Nonetheless, despite the lack of high scoring outputs, James still contributed by doing the other things thus far in the NBA Finals.
After starting 14-for-33 from the field, the King has racked up 26 rebounds and played facilitator with 17 dimes so far. However, in the third quarter of Game 2, he turned it up and was instrumental in Miami’s 33-5 run on the way to the Heat’s 19-point blowout to level the series at one game each.
Defensively, he contributed massively in the second contest, recording three steals and three blocks, the most emphatic coming against poor Tiago Splitter.
The “other” guys
When James and/or the rest of the “Big 3” are on point, Miami is tough to beat. When the role players are chiming in and taking advantage of the open looks, the Heat are almost impossible to stop.
That was the case in Game 2 when players not named LeBron, Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh combined for 64 points. Ray Allen, Mike Miller and Chris Andersen were the standouts, scoring 13, nine and nine points respectively. Mario Chalmers was the cream of the crop as he led all scorers with 19 points, more than double his Game 1 total of eight points.
He may be the Big 3s little brother, but Rio stepped up and had himself a great game, leading all players with a game rating of plus-30.
Danny Green has been excellent in the past two meetings, especially from 3-point range, making 9-of-14 attempts from deep. That includes a 100 percent shooting performance in Game 2 as the Spurs Big 3 struggled.
Defensively, Green has shown some savvy, particularly in Game 2 when he single-handedly stopped the freight train that is LeBron James on two fast breaks. First, he pulled the chair on James to cause a miss and then later on forced a turnover in what seemed to be a nightmare two-on-one scenario against both Wade and James. There could have easily been a third stop, though on that occasion, he was called for a blocking foul in play that could have easily gone either way.
He did manage get some shred of justice as he blocked James when he appeared to have an easy lay-up.
Kawhi Leonard has been huge for the Spurs. The former San Diego State Aztec’s ability to play multiple positions and stick with LeBron James has allowed coach Gregg Popovich to match Miami without difficulty when they go their small lineup.
In addition to being a great defender, thanks to his athleticism and unique physical features, Leonard is also a great rebounder, grabbing boards left, right and center against Miami in the Finals. In the two games in South Beach, he has 24 boards, eight of which were on the offensive end, while doing what he can scoring-wise with 19 points so far.
Center Tiago Splitter has to improve massively on the boards if Spurs are to win their fifth NBA championship in franchise history. The Brazilian is averaging a pathetic 1.5 rebounds a game against the league’s worst rebounding team.
One on one, Kawhi Leonard cannot stop LeBron James. You know that, I know that and the Spurs definitely know that. Due to this, Tim Duncan and Co. have made it a priority, more so than any other time this season, to play as much help defense as possible.
Kawhi Leonard is the first line of defense against King James, trying to make it difficult for him by contesting every shot. Even though LeBron James shot a career-high 40 percent from 3 in the regular season, Leonard was daring him to shoot from deep and he hit just one of his five attempts beyond the arc. And when he decided to force his way through to the paint, James was met by a wall of black shirts, including the third-best shot blocker in 2012-13, Tim Duncan (2.65 a game).
For Miami, as expected, James guarded Tony Parker in the closing stages. However, in Game 1, Parker got the last laugh as he hit a circus, buzzer-beating shot to seal the game.
The Frenchman scored 10 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter, taking advantage of every matchup he saw, whether it was Chalmers, Norris Cole or one of the unfortunate bigs who came against him on switches.
As we all know, Miami is a great defensive team, but it’s one thing for the bigs to help out on defense. It’s a completely different another to be on an island, going toe-to-toe against Tony Parker, and he made them pay.
Game 2 wasn’t so cheerful as not only Parker but the rest of the Big 3 didn’t show up. Ginobili looked like he was trying to hold on to a bar of wet soap when handling the ball, while Duncan and Parker combined for just 22 points on 8-of-27 shooting, in addition to the latter having five turnovers.
The Miami Heat’s bread and butter is a fast-paced defense, penetration into the paint and a litany of shooters to space the floor. However, maybe the Indiana Pacers’ dominance of the glass during the Eastern Conference Finals spooked him a little, because Erik Spoelstra has not been playing his small lineup as much recently.
In an effort to stay big, Coach Spo has been rotating Chris Bosh, Udonis Haslem and Chris Andersen while occasionally throwing Joel Anthony into the mix in order to counter the Spurs‘ height advantage, essentially blinking first and dangerously allowing Gregg Popovich to dictate the lineups.
As they showed in Game 2’s explosion, Miami is at their best when utilizing their small lineup with James playing at the 4 spot and surrounding him with shooters. He is a great inside scorer but also a great and willing passer who can pinpoint the open man; the same can also be said about Dwyane Wade, too.
Effectively, that makes San Antonio pick its poison because they wouldn’t be able to efficiently stop both the penetration of Wade and LeBron while blanketing the outside shooters.
Spoelstra needs to return to the winning formula in order to repeat as champions. After all, even if San Antonio can match up against the Heat, it’s basically suicide to try and match Miami. Although, having said that, Popovich is flexible and wacky enough to try the weird and unexpected.
Sure, Game 2 was a blowout, but these are two veteran teams with a short memory and rarely does the result of the previous game carry over to the next with such experienced teams at this stage. Plus, after splitting the first two games in Florida, San Antonio now has home-court advantage.
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