2013 NBA Finals Game 3 – WTF Happened?

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I missed the whole game last night due to a work outing that kept me out until after midnight. So, uh, what did I miss?

As far as I can tell from watching one viewing of the NBAtv playoff postgame show and a review the boxscore, this is what happened in the game:

My pretend take on this game is that the Heat got complacent and decided to take it easy. LeBron fell into a trap of taking and missing open jumpers, while Wade took the night off from fighting on the glass. Meanwhile Neil and Green had amazing shooting nights to compensate for the lack of Parker. Or something completely different may have happened.

But if that is what happened, I think it validates a certain criticism of LeBron. For the most part I think people who get all bent out of shape about every little thing James does or doesn’t do are just obsessed with finding fault. The guy is phenomenal. But he does have a tendency towards trying to outthink the opponent instead of trying to impose his will on the opponent, and as smart as James is on the basketball court, a great coach is probably going to win the chess match. With his physical gifts, he doesn’t have to take what the defense gives him. Even Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, who thought the game as well as anyone and countered defenses on the fly, knew when it was time to play bully ball and force the action. James has the physical tools to play a Shaquille O’Neal brand of basketball and completely ruin a standard defense with his aggressiveness. But he’s got to actually be aggressive and not get thrown off by the hedging semi-zone that teams like to show him.

It’s the opposite of the problem that Jordan had to overcome against the Pistons. Joe Dumars would force Michael one way or the other, and the Pistons bigs would open up a hole for Jordan to drive, and then they’d converge on that open space and swallow him up, putting him in position to have to either force a shot through a forest of physical defenders or kick the ball to a teammate. As his younger or less talented teammates failed to step up (often because the Pistons would physically pound them when they got the ball), Jordan became a less willing to pass and more apt to force the action. Chicago still did well, taking the eventual champs to 6 games in the 1989 ECF and 7 games in the 1990 ECF, and losing without the services of 2nd best player Scottie Pippen in both elimination games (Bill Laimbeer gave Scottie a concussion in the opening minutes of the ’89 game, and Pip had a migraine in ’90), but the strategy effectively tempted Jordan into playing overaggressive ball and negated his ability to raise the games of his teammates.

What the soft-zone with the hedging backline does to LeBron is tempt him to be less aggressive. He sees no direct line to drive to the basket or to even really improve his position on the floor, but he does see the open jumper or the lateral passing lane, and he makes the “smart” play. It’s hard to fault him for that. However, he’s also letting the defense off easy when he takes the options that it shows him. This is the strategy that Dallas used when James flamed out in the 2011 Finals. It seemed like getting him the ball in the mid-post area would eliminate this tendency to not impose his will, since when he starts with the ball in a dangerous position on the floor, the defense has to react to him, sort of an aggression built into the system approach. However, it looks like the Spurs are treating James’s post game the same way the Celtics did Kobe’s in 2008. Put a long defender on him, get a second defender in his sight lines, and keep a big close enough to the paint to help out if there’s a breakdown. Try to convince him to step back and shoot the J over the top.

I have no idea if that’s what happened last night. For all I know, James failed to get to the foul line because the Spurs got the benefit of the biggest home-job in the history of officiating. And far be it from my 9-5 butt to recommend strategy to basketball lifers like Spoelstra and LeBron. But I do know one thing. If Greg Popavich sets up a defense that shows you an obvious course to take, you should probably do something else. He’s kinda good at this whole coaching thing.

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3 Responses to “2013 NBA Finals Game 3 – WTF Happened?”

  1. boyer Says:

    Parker’s hurt now, that’s going to be the big story going forward. He wasn’t great in game 3, but was effective and not as sloppy with the ball and got others involved.

    James has now been more-or-less complacent for the 3rd straight game, other than very brief stretches. The spurs just played an awful game 2, even though they were ahead with 16 min. left, or less they should be up 3-0.

    James is the most confusing player I’ve ever seen. He’s probably the most athletically-gifted player in nba history. And while he’s not a great outside shooter, he’s improved in this area. The spurs aren’t really double teaming him much, unless maybe when he’s in the post, though I can’t remember seeing him in the post even once in game 3. He was even hesitant to shoot wide open jumpers. His stats often look good, but his impact has been minimal throughout the entire series. We’ve seen this with him many times, and for most of his finals appearances. The all-time greats, even if they’re struggling, remain aggressive constantly usually. James doesn’t do this on a regular basis in the playoffs.

    Wade again starts off well, and then quickly fades. He is injured some, but who isn’t at this stage of the season? His lack of skill set is a huge detriment. His outside shot is awful.

    I wouldn’t say Bosh is doing great, but now that he seems to mostly stop setting up behind the arc for open shots, he’s in better spots to succeed. He rarely touches the ball and isn’t allowed to post up much, not sure what else he can do. When your teammates barely let you see the ball, you can’t really score much, can you? He’s stayed aggressive and is rebounding better. And Miller is playing out of his mind. Chalmers is doing fine. Miami’s role players are doing more than enough to help Miami win this series, if only James remained aggressive constantly. To say that he has been tentative is an understatement. Sure, the defenses can try to limit jordan, kobe, or james, but jordan and kobe remained aggressive, and allowed their teammates the best chances to succeed. Miami’s role players are pretty much completely lost when james isn’t aggressive. It’s the same with any team.

  2. jpalumbo Says:

    I’m not seeing any definitive info on how hurt Parker is yet. That may be determinant of the outcome of this series.

    On the whole the Heat are much more effective when they are forcing the issue at both ends, and that all starts with James. He needs to not let the defense off the hook, and I agree that it is perplexing when he does. My honest read on the situation is that he’s trying to make the smart basketball play, which would be great in most circumstances. Some defenses just require that a player of his caliber impose his will, and he certainly can do so (like against Boston in games 6 and 7 last year or even going all the way back to 2007 against the Pistons). He just needs to get into that relentless mindset and do it because this team’s whole identity is built around him, and the supporting players are less effective when he’s less effective.

    • boyer Says:

      It’s so weird, he plays aggressively during the regular season on a consistent basis and finally did it in last year’s playoffs, after becoming very complacent against certain opponents in previous years. But, he’s back to what he did before in 2010 and 2011. He’s just deferring to his teammates, and he’s not doing this by being aggressive and passing, he’s mostly passive and passing, or just bailing out and shooting jumpers. And then after struggling, he just dribbled pointlessly around and shot several ugly jumpers, finally making a few. He was aggressive for a short time during a late 3rd quarter heat run, and he was aggressive for a brief time when the heat when on their crazy run over 3rd/4th quarters in game 2, but that’s about it, and game 2 was more about the spurs playing awful. They had no business leading with 16 min. left.

      This is not the way superstars are supposed to perform. Let’s even look at Harden, who is clearly not a superstar. Harden shot awful during the thunder in the 1st round, but he remained aggressive and still scored a lot of points. And harden doesn’t have the all-around game that james have. James, while still learning to play int he post, should almost never be out of the paint on the offensive end. He just lets defenses off the hook.

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