After dealing a crushing blow to the Miami Heat in Game 3 of the NBA Finals, the San Antonio Spurs head into Game 4 with a 2-1 series lead.
With two more games at home, the Spurs find themselves in a very auspicious position. Assuming the Spurs don’t win both of their remaining games at home, they have already shown that they’re capable of beating the Heat at home when everything is clicking.
To assess whether the Spurs can win the title, we need to assess what they’ve done to the Heat thus far, and what they need to continue to do.
1. The Big Three and The Little Three
Since they joined forces in 2011, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have been referred to throughout the league as “The Big Three.” The intention of this blueprint was to produce multiple championships for Miami and while they have already won one, standing in their way of a second, thus far, are three Spurs.
Besides the fact that LeBron makes more than Green, Leonard and Neal combined in just 30 games, not much. The Big Three, through three games in the Finals, have scored 130 points combined, which is the exact same number of points that the Spurs’ three have scored.
Sure, part of this can be attributed to the fact that an APB has been out for DWade’s game since the end of the regular season, but a side-by-side comparison of this year’s MVP to Danny Green reveals something potentially a bit more frightening. Take a look at these numbers.
Danny Green in the Finals: 56 points, 18.7 ppg, 19-for-30 – 63% FG, 16-for-23 – 69.5% 3pt% 16.37 Game Score
LeBron in the Finals: 50 points, 16.7 ppg, 21-for-54 – 39% FG, 3-for-13 – 23% 3pt%, 16.2 Game Score
In Game 3, Green, Leonard and Neal hit 15 of the 16 3-pointers that the Spurs made and combined for an astounding 62 points while shooting 57 percent from the field.
There is no doubt that at the end of the day, I want LeBron on my team, if I had to pick. However, what the Spurs have been able to do to LeBron defensively is unprecedented.
2. Defending LeBron
Prior to the start of the series, LeBron told reporters that the Spurs would not be able to force him to do anything that he did not want to do.
LeBron said Spurs dared him to shoot jumpers in 07. Said he’ll hit them now, and no one dares him to do anything he doesn’t want to do.
— Al Iannazzone (@Al_Iannazzone) June 5, 2013
Unless LeBron wanted to, in Game 3, only make two of his 14 shots that weren’t within five feet of the rim and unless he wanted to only take two shots in the first quarter, Kawhi Leonard might have something to say in response to that.
Part of the blame certainly rests in LeBron’s hands. Take an example from the second quarter of Game 3. The Heat run a high pick-and-roll for LeBron with Ray Allen, giving LeBron a few options:
A. He can be aggressive and drive to the basket for a dunk, or in an attempt to draw a foul.
B. He can kick it out to Allen for a 3-pointer.
C. He can drive into the lane and if the defense collapses on him, shoot a mid-range jump shot, which he has had decent success with this season.
Here are some examples of the Heat’s success when LeBron goes with one of these options.
Which choice does James go with?
D. None of the above. Instead, LeBron decides to pull up from behind the arc and shoot a shot that has only fallen for him 36 percent of the time in the playoffs and a paltry 23 percent in the Finals.
The ardent LeBron supporter might argue that this isn’t the Spurs preventing LeBron from doing what he wants because that is the shot that he wants to take. However, if you look at how the Spurs are choosing to defend LeBron off the pick-and-roll, it seems like LeBron pulling up for a long jump shot is exactly what the Spurs want.
Contrary to how almost every other team has decided to defend LeBron in the playoffs so far, instead of trying to stay within inches of LeBron on every possession, the Spurs have opted to play off of him. In the above example, Leonard doesn’t try and fight over the pick and instead goes under it, in essence coaxing LeBron to take this shot.
Popovich has decided that if LeBron is going to beat his team, he’s going to have to do it by hitting his jump shots. Through three games, this bet seems to be paying handsome dividends. The Spurs have given LeBron enough space to shoot the ball anywhere from 16 to 23 feet from the basket, but the moment he takes it into the paint, as Dan McCarney of Spurs Nation depicts, a swarm of Spurs collapse on him.
If the Heat are going to bounce back and win this series, LeBron is going to have to be the LeBron that strikes fear into the heart of defenders when his 6’8”, 250-pound self barrels through the lane and finishes on Tim Duncan like this:
3. Offensive Rebounds
According to Teamrankings.com, in the regular season the Spurs were ranked 29th in the league in offensive rebounds, averaging 8.4 per game.
In Game 2 of the Finals, Kawhi Leonard alone grabbed eight offensive boards and in Game 3 the Spurs had 19 as a team after playing 82 regular-season games during which the most they ever had was 14 against the Milwaukee Bucks.
This series, the Spurs have outrebounded the Heat on the offensive glass 40-27, which poses a bit of a problem for a Miami team whose offense gets its spark from the fast break.
One of the main contributing factors that lead to rebounds is effort and the Heat’s effort on the boards has been about as consistent as Dwyane Wade’s jump shot in the playoffs. In the Eastern Conference Finals, the Heat might have been able to use the Roy Hibbert excuse, but neither Tim Duncan nor Tiago Splitter are rebounding machines like Hibbert.
The difference at this moment in the Finals has been the hustle players like Kawhi Leonard and the rest of the Spurs have put forth. They may be old, Parker and Ginobili may be held together by thin strips of Velcro, but the Spurs are giving it everything they’ve got on every single possession.
The Heat are an incredibly talented team and had no problem coasting through the regular season or even the first two rounds of the playoffs. Against the Spurs, however, this level of intensity, or lack thereof, simply won’t do. If the Heat are going to win their second title of the Big Three era, a little of what Popovich calls “healthy fear” would serve them well.
If the Spurs continue with this intensity and if the role players continue to step up as they have done thus far, Tim Duncan just might end his career with his fifth ring.
Topics: Danny Green, Danny Green Three Point, Dwyane Wade, Gary Neal, Gary Neal Three Point, Kawhi Leonard, Kawhi Leonard Defense, Lebron James, Manu Ginobili, Miami Heat, Nba Finals, San Antonio Spurs, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker