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:
- Tony Parker got hurt.
- Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard decided to pretend that they were Dave Cowens and Paul Silas on the glass.
- Danny Green and Gary Neil decided to pretend that they were Reggie Miller and Chris Mullin from the three point line.
- LeBron James decided to pretend that he was Antoine Walker by ruining a nice all-around game with 4 missed three point attempts and no free throws attempted (is that right?!?).
- Dwyane Wade decided to pretend that he was the nega-Rodman, unable to rebound the ball under any circumstances.
- Chris Bosh continues to pretend that he is a rookie version of himself (nice blocks though).
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.
Tags: 2013 NBA Playoff, Bill Laimbeer, Chris Bosh, Danny Green, detroit pistons, Dwyane Wade, Game 3, Gary Neil, Kawhi Leonard, Larry Bird, lebron james, Magic Johnson, Miami Heat, Michael Jordan, nba finals, San Antonio Spurs, Scottie Pippen, Shaquille O'Neal, tim duncan, Tony Parker