Tag archive

Chris Bosh

A Little Help Here

in NBA by
NBA: Finals-Miami Heat at San Antonio Spurs

SAN ANTONIO — The San Antonio Spurs outscored the Miami Heat 16-3 in the final four minutes of Game 1 of the 2014 NBA Finals.

They did so by rediscovering the precision and the ball movement that had escaped them in the game’s previous three quarters, when they were turning the ball over like it had a bunch of splinters lodged in it. Manu Ginobili was threading the needle to Tim Duncan on pick-and-rolls, Danny Green broke out of his shooting slump with a trio of Tar Heel triples, and Tony Parker had a pair of big shots. After turning it over 21 times in the first 44 minutes of the game, San Antonio committed just one possession-ending error down the stretch, and it allowed their collective brilliance to shine through.

Also playing a role: The fact that LeBron James didn’t play during those final four minutes.

Thanks to a broken AC, everybody in the arena was forced to deal with an unrelenting, literal heat throughout the night. Interestingly enough, San Antonio’s cast of foreign players pleaded that the playing conditions weren’t that bad given their experience playing in inferior conditions overseas.

Nonetheless, for a player that has had documented issues with cramping, the combination of heat and humidity, which was so bad last night that the corridors of the AT&T Center glistened like a freshly mopped floor, caused muscle contractions in LeBron’s left thigh, rendering his left leg motionless late in the game.

And because it is LeBron, this has to be about more than a rare physical malfunction for the game’s greatest player. Forget the fact that LeBron dealt with a very similar issues in Game 4 of the 2012 Finals, only to come back into the game and nail the game-changing three, no, LeBron’s “cramps” last night were clearly a manufactured effort by James to bow out of a close game. If not, LeBron not checking back into the game, despite his own intentions to do so before his coach shot down his efforts, must mean that he’s not as tough as Jordan or Kobe.

We’ve come to expect some level of dismissible discourse when it comes to LeBron, but placing any of the blame for last night’s result on him robs us of the opportunity to examine the real issue with the way the Heat lost Game 1.

Miami’s meltdown without LeBron is understandable, but not totally excusable. We are not even two full years removed from people criticizing LeBron for having to get help from other stars to win a title, and now we’ve reached a point where the Heat couldn’t muster more than three points with LeBron off the floor down the stretch.

James is obviously the center of the Heat’s universe and things are going to change drastically if he’s not on the floor. But why does that mean that Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh get a free pass for what was a punchless effort from them after LeBron exited the game? Would LeBron get the same treatment were it Wade that went out with an injury, leaving James with some added responsibility?

Why does Wade, whose campaign to be known as the third greatest shooting guard of all-time was recently kickstarted by Mark Jackson, get away with a two point fourth quarter, without a single point in the final four minutes? Wade and James have never been a perfect match offensively, and yet, when Wade was put in a position where the offense was relying on him, he failed to deliver anything at all. How does that go unnoticed while talking heads blab about LeBron not being superhuman enough to overcome an ailment that would sideline anybody?

Wade was an astounding minus-21 in the final nine minutes of the game, which is when LeBron’s issues starting flaring up. Bosh was a minus-15 in his six fourth quarter minutes. Individual plus/minus is a very hit or miss stat, but in this case it clearly illustrates just how poor an effort the Heat got from Wade and Bosh when they needed it the most.

It’s fitting that this whole thing played out against the Spurs, a team that has won two decisive games this post-season against the Blazers and Thunder with Tony Parker missing the entire second half. A popular narrative about this series may be about the battle of the big threes, but San Antonio is way more capable of operating sans one of their stars than Miami is when James has any kind of ailment, which is ironic given how Wade and Bosh are often portrayed as LeBron’s crutches by those that belittle his accomplishments.

People will use last night as an example of James’ imaginary issues in big moments, but I see what transpired in Game 1 as further proof of his greatness. That the team completely collapsed in his absence is nothing if not a statement on how integral he is, even on a team with two other superstars.

The main reason LeBron went to Miami was so that he could offset some of the unreasonable burden that he carried with him in Cleveland. Wade and Bosh were supposed to be the other pillars that prevented such a disaster from taking place if LeBron was off his game.

But last night they were buried in the rubble.

Heat Waves

in NBA by
NBA: Finals-Miami Heat at San Antonio Spurs

SAN ANTONIO — With nine minutes left in Game 1 of the 2014 NBA Finals, San Antonio seemed to be facing a nightmare scenario. They were down seven after a Chris Bosh AND-1 three, Miami was hitting everything from deep, Danny Green had ironically gone cold at home as the temperature in the arena kept getting hotter and the Spurs had an unthinkable 20 total turnovers, which led directly to 28 Heat points.

Then LeBron’s Herculean body succumbed to debilitating cramps, which may be his only kryptonite as an athlete, and Miami suddenly looked lost without their leader. James asked out of the game after a couple of long jumpers around the seven minute mark, and upon returning after a few minutes on the bench, his thigh promptly cramped up again following a made lay-up. His second bout with those muscle contractions was devastating enough to lock up his entire left leg and keep him out of the game for good with four minutes to go.

Meanwhile, sensing blood in the water, the Spurs finally broke out of their turnover trance, Green got a couple of huge shots to go down to boost his confidence and in the blink of an eye, the Spurs had regained control of the game and taken what was a prime opportunity to steal a road game from the Heat.

During the final nine minutes of the game, the Spurs outscored the Heat 30-9, turning the ball over just twice while getting back to the selfless, efficient and effervescent style that has defined their team over the past few years. Getting Green on track was huge in mounting a comeback, even with James in peril, and after tailing him without error for the first three quarters of the game, Miami made fundamental mistakes that sprung San Antonio’s most lethal long-range shooter wide open for two big threes in the fourth.

And Green wasn’t done. A vintage Duncan outlet pass off of Dwyane Wade miss at the rim got Green out into transition, where he outran Rashard Lewis and threw down a dunk that capped off a personal 8-0 run for the slumping sharpshooter. That run turned the game from a 4-point Heat lead to a 4-point Spurs lead in the span of two minutes. James reentered the game after Green’s spurt, but he only lasted one possession. Following James’ permanent exit for the evening, the Spurs went on a 16-3 run fueled by the brilliance of their big three as well as their budding superstar.

First Ginobili found Green for another three, then he lofted a pass to Boris Diaw, who was being fronted by Chris Bosh, that I still can’t comprehend which resulted in an easy lay-up. Next Parker found Leonard for an open three before a Ginobili/Duncan pick-and-roll produced some tic-tac-toe passing from Manu to Timmy to Tony for the dagger corner three that appropriately came with Parker drilling the shot just a few feet away from where a bent over James watched from the bench.

What has to eat at the Heat even more than the fact that they lost their best player in the final four minutes of what was a two point game when he checked out for good is that they squandered a game that the Spurs were quite literally trying to give to them. You don’t see the Spurs play games this sloppy very often. The most recent time that San Antonio had a 22 turnover performance was in the first round against the Dallas Mavericks, and the result of that game was a 21-point loss on their home floor to an eight seed. On top of that, this was the first time the Heat have ever lost a game in which they forced 22 or more turnovers in the LeBron era, which is an even bigger sign that this is a game they should have had.

You have to credit Miami for most of San Antonio’s careless play; their chaotic defensive style forces opponents to make poor decisions and nobody works harder – or smarter – to prevent post entry passes. But once San Antonio started each possession with a clearer idea of their intentions, the ball started moving on a string and the offense developed that rhythmic flow that makes them so fun to watch.

Ironically, after his plague of turnovers in last year’s Finals, Ginobili was the Spur who looked most comfortable with the ball in Game 1. Manu spent the whole night dissecting the same Heat defense that made it seem like his career was over last season, slicing up Miami’s pick-and-roll coverages to the tune of 11 assists, with a couple of hockey helpers thrown in there as well. Ginobili started off the game with three three-pointers in the first quarter and slowly started to get others involved as the game when on, racking up four assists during the game’s deciding stretch.

Parker, whose health was still a question mark coming into this game, was just as good when getting others involved. Other than an occasional limp, Parker seemed to have his full array of sharp cuts and ravishing dashes to the cup available in this game. Miami’s speedy defense can contain him at times, but he was able to get a clean path towards the basket a few times in this game, and he made sure to get his teammates the ball when he saw the help come over. And somewhat surprisingly, Parker was also killer from the corners in this game, knocking down a pair of triples from there, which gives San Antonio the valuable ability to have Ginobili, who is a better three-point threat on the pull-up, handle the ball on the majority of high screen-and-rolls.

And Duncan was so key, as he always is, in making everything click. Duncan struggled a bit protecting the rim, but other than that, he was so solid in every facet of the game. He cleaned the boards, he dove to the basket and made tough finishes against pesky and often smaller defenders, and he did a good job of moving the ball when he was doubled in the paint. Duncan did struggle with turnovers, coughing it up a team high five times, but a lot of those could be solved with better set-ups from the perimeter.

Unlike the AT&T Center crowd, the Spurs weren’t always feeling hot in Game 1. They had patches of brilliance here and there followed by other stretches when the Heat put their stamp on the game with a unique blend of maniacal defense, a cornucopia of long-range options and LeBron’s individual greatness.

But when the game was on the line, San Antonio rode a heat wave to victory while the Miami Heat wilted away.

The Problematic Pacers

in NBA by
NBA: Playoffs-Indiana Pacers at Miami Heat

I’m not sure that Game 6 of the 2014 Eastern Conference Finals could have been more predictable.

A rousing Miami Heat blowout wasn’t expected because of anything that happened in Game 5, it was just that, after these past few months, this was exactly how everyone envisioned the Indiana Pacers’ season coming to an end. Following all of the drama and the stretches of incompetence, watching Indiana helplessly standby as LeBron James ripped them to shreds, their offense wilting under Miami’s pressure, seemed like a fitting end to a season that had been progressively building towards a massive letdown.

For a team that had already shown signs of mental weakness, being defeated in that fashion has to be indefinitely crippling.

The Pacers talked all season about the importance of having homecourt advantage for a Game 7 and they spent all season saying that they were built to take down the Heat. They had to survive a couple of scares just to get to this point, being taken to seven games by the paltry Atlanta Hawks in the opening round and losing Game 1 against the Wizards in Round 2, but they made it to the Eastern Conference Finals and they had the homecourt advantage that they desperately wanted. After everything they went through on and off the court, they ended up right where everyone expected them to be as June approached.

But on Friday night, the Pacers were once again met with the devastating truth that has haunted them over the past few years: The Miami Heat are a lot better than them.

Indiana was an awesome team for most of this season. As hard as their style can be on the eyes, they deserve appreciation for their brilliant defensive work. Credit for the Pacers’ success could be spread amongst all of their starters and to their head coach. Armed with a smart scheme that took advantage of the individual defensive abilities of Roy Hibbert, Indiana had the best defense in the league, which is something to be proud of even with their offensive ineptitude.

In the Eastern Conference, which is littered with a number of teams that struggle mightily offensively, that defense was enough to make them dominant on most nights, and they even proved to be a problem for Miami during the regular season. Thus, even with minimal adjustments to their roster outside of the additions of Luis Scola and C.J. Watson, the Pacers gained confidence regarding their eventual post-season matchup with the Heat.

And yet, this series wasn’t all that competitive. Looking back, perhaps that is not all that surprising. In 2012, the Pacers put up a tough fight, but Miami was also missing Chris Bosh for most of that series, and last year it was Dwyane Wade that was not totally healthy when Indiana took the defending champions to seven games. But still, with Miami looking like they took a small step back this season, there seemed to be hope for Indiana in this series.

Instead, Indiana ran into the team that is perfectly constructed to belittle their biggest strength, a team designed to destruct the rigid defense that acts as their sole lifeline. As odd as it would seem having a flawed team like the Pacers in the NBA Finals, if they were playing the Thunder in the Eastern Conference Finals, they may very well have punched themselves a ticket to the final round. But Miami is just so ruthlessly efficient offensively that not even the league’s most dominant defense can slow them down, and with Wade and James both at peak form, Indiana’s clunky offense was no match for the Heat.

Some will say that the Pacers were built for a different era when smallball and pushing the pace was less popular, but I think this team could have reached the Finals had they come along not even five or six years ago, before Miami’s supreme trio came together. Had these Pacers been running into the Kevin Garnett-era Celtics in the Conference Finals over the past few years, a team that had similar struggles offensively and an equally great defense, Indiana’s edge in individual talent may have earned them a trip to the Finals – although I shudder to think what Kevin Garnett would do to Hibbert’s psyche.

But Indiana had no such luck. For three years running, their final game of the season has come against LeBron James and the Miami Heat. It’s somewhat sobering, I suppose, that this group of guys, as flawed as they were, could come together to create a historically good defense, only to have LeBron crack the code time after time.

And their Game 6 loss on Friday night looked much worse than their two previous eliminations at the hands of the Heat. Whereas their last two losses created hope that they may be able to take down Miami in the future, this loss felt like this group had reached the end of their journey, and that there was no future for any Eastern Conference team so long as LeBron is around.

Lance Stephenson totally lost control after a series full of immature antics, leading Paul George to say “I don’t know” when asked about bringing him back next season. George Hill fell apart, struggling to even bring the ball up the floor at times. Roy Hibbert completed one of the most unbelievable individual collapses of all-time, failing to take control in a matchup he had previously owned for reasons that have to rooted with something off the court. And George, the player that looked like a budding superstar this time last year and the guy who was garnering legitimate praise as a top five player at the beginning of the season, had flashes of excellence mixed with occasional on-court sabbaticals, a sign that he is not yet on the level of his all-world peers.

Everyone in Indiana’s lockerroom bought into the idea that this was their best shot at dethroning the Heat, but somewhere along the line, things fell apart and their dreams were derailed. Now the Pacers enter the off-season with more questions than answers.

And even if they find those answers, given their luck, LeBron will probably switch up the equation.

Lighting The Fire

in NBA by
jamesparker

You hate to think that in game six of the NBA Finals, with your team trailing in the series 3-2 and fighting for its season, that some players still need something extra to get them going. You’d like to think that having a championship at stake, a championship that could greatly affect your legacy, would have players digging down as deep as possible in an attempt to pull out a victory for himself, his teammates, his fans, his city. You’d like to think that silly things like a headband or a yellow rope wouldn’t play a factor in an elimination game in the NBA Finals.

But perhaps some players are just wired differently. Perhaps some players need something more than a championship to play for. Perhaps some players don’t have total trust in themselves, and need to be reminded of their powers every once in a while. Perhaps for some a headband or a yellow rope can change your mindset. Perhaps “some players” is LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

James is the most obvious culprit of the bunch, if only because we’ve seen him be curiously tentative in several big moments, as he was to start game six. But things seemed to change for LeBron in the fourth quarter. After starting off the period well, cutting San Antonio’s 10 point lead to four in the blink of an eye, James found another level within himself to help lead Miami on an unbelievable fourth quarter run.

As James went up for a putback slam on an errant Mario Chalmers jumper with nine minutes left in the game, his headband got caught on the net on his way down, falling to the court as LeBron sprinted back on defense. I don’t want to overreact to a player having his headband knocked off, but please allow me to overreact to a player having his headband knocked off.

LeBron rid himself of a lot of self doubt when he won the 2012 title, but it still seems like he has times when he prefers not to miss the big shot, instead creating looks for others; those looks for his teammates are usually great ones, but occasionally James makes a mistake by passing rather than attacking himself. At the end of the third quarter last night, James was 3-of-12 from the field and was once again putting on an oddly passive performance in what can easily be deemed one of the biggest games of his career. He was still playing solid defense, rebounding and passing, but the Heat needed him to get going as scorer to open up chances for himself at the rim and at the line as well as high efficient spot-up looks for his teammates.

Losing that headband in the heat of the battle and then deciding that the game was too important to look for another one to put on gave us LeBron at his most genuine. James has received just as much flak for his receding hairline as he has for his play over the past few years, and he’s clearly sensitive about it. So for him to be on the floor on the biggest stage of his life, without that trusty headband, was big, so much that pundits from all over began to wonder if this was going to be “the headband game.” As stupid as it sounds, perhaps the headband was the last trace left of LeBron’s insecurity, and playing without it finally allowed him to just be himself.

“I’ve never seen him play without his headband that long,” Wade said. “He got very aggressive. He really got to the paint and and he was going to give everything that he had, and he did. He had an unbelievable fourth quarter for us.”

No matter how outlandish that theory sounds, there’s no denying that James was a changed man post-headband. With a naked foreheard and his home fans imploring him to strike during every timeout, literally screaming at him to be more aggressive, James transformed into the dominant MVP he was during the regular season.

LeBron was demanding the ball on post-ups, making aggressive moves towards the basket, comfortably stepping into his shots. Then there was an end-to-end sequence that will be remembered forever if the Heat win game seven. With a little under seven minutes left in the fourth, James came over from the weakside to reject what would have been a wide open Tim Duncan lay-up, raced the ball up the floor, curled around a screen and met Duncan in the paint. After having lost this tussle with Timmy several times before in this series, James gave Duncan a headfake, thrusting the ball in the air as if he was going up, getting Duncan to move just an inch away from the rim, allowing James to sneak under him for the bankshot.

The Heat would take the lead on the very next play, and it seemed as if Miami had made a miraculous comeback to force a game seven. All of that changed in an instant, though, because with this series, you can’t expect any narrative or trend to last more than five minutes.

Miami seemed in control with a three point lead and 1:39 remaining, mostly because of James’ resurgent performance but also because the Heat defense was stifling the Spurs, refusing to give them any good looks off from three-point land. At worst, Miami would still have a one-point lead the next time they touched the ball. So what happened? After Miami defended him perfectly for 20 seconds, Tony Parker decided to launch a stepback three in the face of LeBron, and it went down, tying the game. On Miami’s next possession, Parker snuck into the paint and stole a pass from Mario Chalmers; Parker then dribbled up the floor, came off a pick, stopped on a dime in the paint, spun around and launched a floater to give the Spurs a lead with less than a minute left. All of a sudden, the Spurs were about to be crowned NBA champions.

No more than 20 seconds later, this much was clear to everybody. After two LeBron turnovers and a few Spurs free throws, San Antonio was up five with half a minute left. Heat fans were leaving the arena, those remaining had looks of disbelief on their face and about two dozen security staff members surrounded the court, waiting to prop up the yellow rope for San Antonio’s trophy presentation.

But just as the Spurs started to taste that celebratory champagne, the Heat big three all caught wind of that feeble yellow rope. Apparently, it was that sight that made the Heat collectively realize that San Antonio would be partying on their home floor if they didn’t pull something crazy out of their hats in the 11th hour. And that’s what they did.

“I saw the rope,” Spurs guard Gary Neal said. “Everybody saw the rope.”

“I got pissed,” Chris Bosh said.

“When they brought out that yellow rope,” Wade said. “And you know you’re not the one that’s going to celebrate, we kept fighting and believing. We played to the last second.”

“We seen the championship board already out there, the yellow tape,” James said. “That’s why you play the game to the final buzzer.”

allenthree
Honestly, is that rope going to stop a crazed fan from getting onto the court? (Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports)

Thanks to some timely missed free throws from Kawhi Leonard and Ginobili, as well as some mind boggling substitutions by Gregg Popovich (taking Duncan off the floor for two defensive possessions), the Heat completed the comeback. Duncan’s absence was key because both of Miami’s made threes in the last 20 seconds came off of offensive rebounds; the first loose carom leading to a LeBron James triple and the season saving board by Chris Bosh leading to Ray Allen hitting the shot of his career to tie the game with five seconds left.

Second life was given to the Heat when Allen drained that triple, and their defense went on to dominate the overtime period. LeBron locked up Parker, Wade had a couple of key defensive rotations on the backline and Bosh was absolutely tremendous, providing help in all of the right places, often times defending two or three actions directly on one play while still having to guard against some indirect actions. While it wasn’t as glamorous or as sustained as their game four performance, the defense they played in overtime was one of the big three’s best collective efforts. As Duncan, Parker and Ginobili seemed to wear down, the Heat found a reserve tank deep inside themselves and gutted out and extremely tense five minutes of basketball to force a game seven.

And how fitting was it, given what he said before the game and how many key (yet unnoticed) plays he made down the stretch, for Bosh to finish the game the way he did?

Down three with 1.9 seconds left, the Spurs drew up a play to get Danny Green a look on a flare screen in an attempt to tie the game. Allen was tasked of sticking with Green on the play, but Tiago Splitter set a good screen, freeing up Green as he faded to the corner. But there was Bosh, the man who proclaimed prior to the game that Danny Green would not be open in this game, tracking him every step of the way, standing right in front of him when he caught the ball and cleanly rejecting his shot to end the game.

As the buzzer sounded, Bosh let out a loud roar, tossing the ball across the building as the American Airlines Arena erupted.

There would be no trophy presentation last night.

But at least now I am sure of something for the first time during this series: somebody will win the NBA Title on Thursday night. And I can’t wait to find out who it will be.

How The Heat Ramped Up Their Defense

in NBA by
NBA: Finals-Miami Heat at San Antonio Spurs

The biggest difference between game three and game four of the 2013 NBA Finals was quite obviously the play of the Miami Heat big three. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh had their best combined scoring outing as a trio in their three-year post-season run and their aggressiveness and confidence offensively was too much for the Spurs to handle.

But looking deeper, the involvement of those three players on the defensive end may have been just as important as their offense contributions. While we generally don’t view defense as equally important to offense from an individual perspective, the collective defense that the Heat played in game four was tremendous, and it had a ton to do with the individual brilliance of James, Wade and Bosh.

Let’s take a look at a few key areas where Miami’s aggressive defense hurt the Spurs.

Side screen and roll coverage

No defensive adjustment was more obvious than the way that the Heat handled San Antonio’s side pick-and-rolls in game four. While it may not have been a true adjustment from game three, seeing as the Heat simply didn’t execute may of their defensive coverages in that contest, the difference in their attention to detail when guarding one of San Antonio’s staple sets was very impactful in the outcome of the game.

First, let’s take a look at how Miami defended the side screen-and-roll between Parker and Duncan in game three.

Mike Miller rotates from properly from the weakside to stop Duncan from getting right to the rim, but he has no chance guarding Duncan one-on-one, as he is forced to do here. You can see in the still below that Bosh is late in getting over to Duncan to trap, allowing the Big Fundamental to get an angle on Miller for an easy lay-up. Oh, and Kawhi Leonard is wide open for the dropoff/offensive board, too. This one photo tells you all you need to know about how hard the Heat played in game three. While that is ridiculously frustrating, that’s a different story for a different day.

notrap

Now let’s take a look at how Miami defended those side pick-and-rolls last night.

trap

Look at the difference in the help that Bosh is giving in this still from the fourth quarter of game four.

Bosh has already corralled Manu Ginobili and forced the pass and has made the extra effort to get to Duncan ASAP to double him on the baseline. Tiago Splitter is actually doing a good job fighting off Wade to get inside position to burn Battier for helping on Duncan, but the combined length and agility of Bosh and Battier make life hell for Duncan, who has no wiggle room and no clear sightline to make a perfect pass. The result was a poor pass that Splitter ended up saving, but by the time Green had the ball in the corner on an iso, the Heat had already won the possession (Green then turned it over, by the way, which was followed by Wade’s beautiful eurostep slam over Gary Neal).

Here’s another example from later in the fourth.

duncantrap

I bet Mike Miller, a man whose bones are as fragile as my mom’s Fine China, appreciates having a bit of help in stopping one of the best post scorers in NBA history in one of his favorite areas. Duncan is even farther out in this example than usual, and he has no good options. Any pass to Neal or Leonard will be intercepted by James or Chalmers, and Cory Joseph is not a threat to burn Miami from deep. Duncan ended up lobbing a pass way across the court to Joseph that sailed too far, resulting in a turnover. That’s how Miami drew it up.

Making Green and Neal drivers

After allowing one of the greatest shooting displays in league to take place against their vaunted defense, the Heat came into game four determined to make Neal and Green beat them from anywhere on the court besides behind the arc. The duo still made six threes, but Neal was hitting some crazy deep pull-up shots that Miami will live with and I’ll touch on Green in a moment.

The Heat had their wing players run at Green and Neal like crazy, completing conceding the blow by/drive to two players who haven’t crafted efficient off-the-dribble games just yet, trusting that the help would be there from the backline (and my God was it almost always there). When the help was there, this made Neal and Green rely heavily on floaters.

Here is Miller running hard at Green in the second quarter in an attempt to make him put the ball on the floor.

millerclose

Miller is beat here, but that’s Miami’s scheme. They are trusting Wade to bother Green’s shot a bit and for the rest of the Heat players to crash the boards hard to keep Leonard off the offensive glass.

millerclose2

Here is a play a little later in the second quarter where the Heat execute their side pick-and-roll coverage perfectly followed by running Green off the three-point line and forcing a very awkward floater.

Running really good three-point shooters off of the three-point line seems like something you should do to begin a series, but it’s better late than never, and Miami has figured out that Green and Neal as drivers is a LOT less scary than anything else the Spurs can throw at you.

Picking on poor Tiago Splitter

Splitter looks a lot more like the guy who got benched in the Western Conference Finals last year rather than the player that showed so much improvement during the regular season (and even against Memphis). Athletic teams that can go small simply make for a horrible match for Splitter, as his game on both ends of the floor is made less effective when the players he is guarding are much faster than he is.

San Antonio loves to get Splitter rolling down the middle of the lane on high pick-and-rolls, but look how the Heat take that away from him while making it look so easy.

Miami’s trap leaves Splitter open on the dive, but that defender from the weakside corner has snuck over to make Splitter’s life a living hell once again. This time it’s Wade poking the ball away from an unsuspecting Splitter and getting an easy steal.

And there’s LeBron picking on Splitter again, this time channeling his inner Nostradomus and making the picture perfect read on the pass that Splitter wants to make to Kawhi Leonard in the corner, literally ripping the ball from the Brazilian’s hands. What’s worse is that all of these Splitter turnovers are wasting what are some of basketballs most beautiful passes from Manu Ginobili.

One San Antonio counter: The double high screen-and-roll

The Spurs showed off a double high pick-and-roll look in the second half to counter Miami’s aggressiveness and it worked a couple of times. The reason the play works is because they have the big man set the first screen and dive into the rim, drawing a defender, while Parker comes around the second screen and gets trapped by two players, leaving Green wide open for a three. If that third defender sticks with Allen, then the responsibility falls on the baseline defender to slide over and help, but that would mean leaving Kawhi Leonard open in his favorite spot; as you can see, Miami isn’t the only team whose spacing causes major problems for the opponent.

Here’s the double high screen in action.

doublehigh

With Parker turning the corner and getting into the paint, his drive and Duncan’s roll have sunk three defenders into the paint, leaving Green wide open from beyond the arc.

doublehigh2

Here’s the play in real time.

The Spurs have run this set a lot for Matt Bonner during this post-season, and adding Green as a screener is a great wrinkle that can really bend Miami’s aggressive defense. I’m sure will see more of this going forward in the series.

***

Whether or not Miami can keep up this intensity for another 48 minutes on Sunday night is a valid question, but they proved that the schemes in place are effective when the players exert themselves to execute them. And that may make the Heat the only team in the league that can say that they’ve found a blueprint that can take way even half of the looks that the Spurs love to search for.

Heat Big Three Finally Arrives To The Finals

in NBA by
wade

There was one sequence during the Miami Heat’s 109-93 game four victory over the San Antonio Spurs that perfectly summed up the game.

It came during the fourth quarter, which is when the Heat started gaining firm control of things. There were eight minutes left in the game and the Heat were up seven following a beautiful Dwyane Wade floater. The Spurs came down the floor and ran one of their staple plays: a side screen-and-roll between Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan. Manu executed the play well versus Miami’s trap, finding Duncan open on the roll to the baseline, where Timmy was met by Shane Battier on the help before Chris Bosh came over and gave Duncan a hard double team. This was something that the Spurs saw a ton of last night, as Miami’s defense was suffocating any space the Spurs created, particularly anytime that Duncan got the ball on that baseline.

Miami’s double on this particular instance restricted Duncan’s movement and his passing lanes, and he missed what would usually be an elementary pass to Splitter underneath the basket, with the ball caroming off Splitter’s finger tips. Splitter didn’t give up on the play, though, and saved the ball from going out of bounds by tossing it to Danny Green. In game three, Green probably would have calmly released the corner three over Ray Allen, but the Heat made a smart adjustment in game four, forcing Green and Gary Neal to beat them on the drive. Green got down into a triple-threat position and began driving baseline before he was walled off from the paint by Allen and Battier. As a player unfamiliar with creating off-the-dribble, Green made a risky pass to Ginobili on the wing that was stolen by Wade, who was waiting in the weeds for that exact play.

Wade caught the ball with some momentum and blew past Ginobili, getting to halfcourt with only Gary Neal in sight. Neal had a couple of feet on Wade and was darting at angle in an attempt to cut him off. In game three, Neal may have been able to deter Wade’s journey to the rim or perhaps he would have swiped at the ball to force a turnover. But on this night, with everything going Miami’s way, Wade would flashback to his days as Flash, pulling off a vintage Wade move, eurostepping past Neal’s body and into the paint while simultaneously gathering the ball above Neal’s head. Once Wade had brushed off Neal, he threw down a monster slam, gritting his teeth on his up the floor.

It was a microcosm of the entire evening. The Spurs executed their offense the way they want to against Miami’s initial traps, but the Heat’s backline rotations were just flawless for the majority of game four, forcing the ball out of the hands of Parker, Ginobili and Duncan and making Neal and Green beat them as drivers and not jumpshooters. Miami’s swarming defensive philosophy is a high risk-high reward system that can lend itself to very bad beatdowns if the effort and attention to detail isn’t there (we learned this in game three), but a 2-1 deficit brought that next level intensity out of the Heat once again, and they just gobbled up the Spurs offense in the second half while forcing 18 turnovers for the game.

Bosh was so key in this. As the Heat shifted to a smallball line-up, Bosh was left as the lone big on the floor for Miami for most of the night, and his help defense on drives and pick-and-rolls was unbelievable. Bosh, who finished with 13 rebounds and finally had a good shooting game (20 points on 8-of-14), was as tuned in defensively as he has been in a few weeks. People forget this element of Miami going small, the fact that they still have to protect the rim with a nominal power forward that was once thought of as a bad defender. But give Bosh a ton of credit, he’s put in the work to become a much better defender and his ability to anchor the paint with four perimeter players around him is a big reason the Heat were able to win the title in 2012, and a big reason they are back in the hunt for the 2013 title.

And there was Wade, finishing off that play as he did so many others on this night: with the athletic grace and vitality that made him such a special player in his prime. While LeBron James was the game’s leading scorer and certainly answered the call to be more aggressive in this game, it was Wade’s offensive contributions that helped take the Heat to another level. Wade talked a lot about stepping into the mid-range shots that the Spurs were conceding to he and LeBron with confidence, and both players did that last night. It’s not that surprising for James, who has become an elite shooter, but it was shocking to see Wade comfortably taking those outside shots and making a few, bad knee and all. And when the Spurs sagged off of him when he didn’t have the ball, Wade made cunning cuts on the baseline to find good looks at the rim.

Wade also had a lot more burst in the paint than we have seen from him in this series, and he was able to finish baskets at the rim for the first time in what seems like forever. Given that the Spurs had previously declared that part of the court off limits for Miami’s stars, it was huge for Wade to wiggle his way into the paint so often. After shooting just 16 shots in the restricted area in the first three games of this series, Wade took 12 shots at the rim last night and converted on 10 of them. In addition to his old school eurostep dunk over Neal, Wade also had some really pretty finishes with contact and over size. Wade finished with 32 points, six rebounds, six steals and four assists; as pundits like myself wondered if Wade still had it in him to perform at this level, Flash made an appearance to show us that he still had it in him.

It was, as LeBron said, the kind of game that let’s you know that you’re still one bad man.

Speaking of James, he also stumbled upon some rhythm in this game. After the first few minutes of the first quarter, I was starting to believe that James was going to play another tentative game, as the Spurs jumped out to a 15-5 lead with LeBron not touching the ball on most plays. But Erick Spoelstra must have said something during that timeout – perhaps he ribbed James for listening to Imagine Dragons in that Beats by Dre commercial – or maybe that was when LeBron personally decided to ditch the team first attitude for a stretch, because he was a different player for the rest of the night after that.

After scoring just one point in the first five minutes of the game, James ended up with 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting in the final seven minutes of the period, putting him well on his way to the 33 points on 60% shooting that he finished with. During that late first quarter stretch was the first time that I saw LeBron constantly pushing the ball in transition after Spurs misses, which allowed James to get to the rim with ease for fastbreak lay-ups, something we haven’t seen the Spurs concede until last night. It was simply a matter of James deciding to put his head down and attack the paint despite the bodies by the rim, and he may have finally realized that he can finish over almost anybody most of the time.

You could tell that James had found his zone in this game because of his confidently he was stepping into his shots off pick-and-rolls. He wasn’t taking a couple of seconds to think about what the Spurs were offering anymore, he was taking whatever they would give him instantly, knowing he could make them pay. After struggling to find his mid-range stroke in the first three games, James shot a ridiculous 7-of-9 from 16-23 feet in game four as he finally discovered his shot. I doubt that Wade will be able to offer up another high volume scoring game by way of the jumpshot, but James getting in rhythm with his outside shot takes his game, as well as the Heat’s overall attack, to another level, and could spell danger for the Spurs.

We had been wondering when the Miami Heat’s big three would show up to these 2013 NBA Finals, and they were nearly too late. But Wade, James and Bosh all played tremendous games last night and it came just in time to steal back homecourt advantage without digging themselves too big of a hole. Now it’s time to wonder when San Antonio’s big three will finally arrive in unison, as Parker has been spotty, Duncan has been quiet and Ginobili has been straight up depressing (it hurts watching such a fierce competitor like Manu go out like this).

Who will show up? Will Ginobili get back on track? Will Parker be healthy? Will LeBron keep it up? Does Wade have another big time performance left in the tank?

“I guess there’s only one way to find out,” Wade said. “See you Sunday.”

Yes, you will, Dwyane. Because this series is way too eccentrically entertaining to miss.

No More Magic, Time For An Exorcism

in NBA by
USATSI_7299433_154512334_lowres

While tonight’s game is not win-or-go-home, if the Miami Heat spot the Spurs a 3-1 lead with one more game in the San Antonio with the trophy up for grabs, you can safely begin to crown the Spurs the champs. What’s worse for the game’s best player, LeBron James, is that a loss in this Finals would give his reputation a major hit. Though Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have yet to show up to lend a helping hand, James’ inefficient and tentative performance in the first three games of this series has made him a flagpole for criticism, and a lot of it has been deserved.

As I’ve said before, three losses in the Finals would be catastrophic for LeBron’s legacy. Though NBA legend Magic Johnson has four Finals loses on his resume, he also has five championships, an amount of respect from every kind of fan that LeBron will never have (which affects how we view him) and played in an era when it was much easier to make it back to the Finals for financial and talent reasons.

While he’s no longer universally hated, the majority of folks still don’t root for James, so he’s constantly belittled anytime he does wrong, and he will have to have an overwhelming amount of success to impress most. LeBron is already criticized for having to join up with other super powers to compete for titles, so not only is his one title discussed with a blemish, he’s on track to lose twice in the Finals with stars on his side. Of course, with the way that Wade and Bosh are looking right now, it appears as if this will be the last time this Heat team gets to the Finals, meaning James’ chances of winning more rings may come down to the rosters that the Cavaliers or Lakers can put around him in 2014. Oh, and the only time Magic has been attacked on social media is for his announcing career, while each missed shot or turnover by James causes a virtual uprising like no other. Like it or not, Twitter may play a bigger role in shaping a player’s legacy than anything else in today’s age.

So LeBron sits in a very familiar situation to the one he was in last year in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Celtics. The Celtics were up 3-2 with game six on the Garden parquet and a trip to the Finals at stake. James had been playing well prior to game six, but because his team wasn’t winning, he was getting all of the blame. LeBron heard all of this and came into that game six with a look on his face that we haven’t seen since. He showed no emotions, choosing to channel all of his energy into his play. He offered up what was likely the best performance of his career, finishing with 45 points and 15 rebounds; James drilled jumpers, bullied his way on the blocks and dominated the Celtics from the opening tip, keeping his team alive in the chase for the title.

Judging by his play in the early part of this series, a 30-point effort would be a massive improvement, let alone a 45 point game, but that isn’t necessarily the point. The difference in James during that game six was his mindset; he appeared to have ditched the Magic Johnson part of his DNA for a game, looking for his own shot first, and if that first shot wasn’t there, he probed even more to find another look for himself.

USATSI_7299346_154512334_lowresLeBron has played the first quarters of these NBA Finals in a way very similar to what Kobe Bryant tends to do in high intensity games: he comes out looking to get his teammates involved, figuring that the best chance to get them going is during the game’s initial minutes. The difference is that when Kobe plays passively in the first quarter, he has absolutely no problem flipping the switch and turning into the scoring menace that has won his team so many games. LeBron doesn’t have that switch, or at least he hasn’t displayed it very often. If James is going to dominate a game by scoring, he needs to do it from the tip, because once a defense disrupts his rhythm, it starts to get into his head. And if there is any area where James truly falls short of greats like Kobe or Jordan, it would be his mental fortitude and self-confidence when things start going south. A missed shot never bothered MJ or Kobe, whereas LeBron seems to lose faith in that aspect of his game at the first sight of a bad stretch.

LeBron is so great that he can dominate games even without his shot falling – like last year’s Finals where he dominated the Thunder with his passing and post presence – but San Antonio’s brilliant defensive scheme has put him in a position where the only way he can kill them offensively is with a steady dose of outside shots. They have essentially put a “No Trespassing” sign at the free throw line and surrounded the paint with athletic bodyguards that can deter LeBron from getting to the rim, which is why game three was the first game in nearly five years in which James didn’t get to the free throw line. San Antonio is also going way under – like comically under – on all screen-and-rolls, daring James to hit those outside shots, and LeBron has yet to smoothly step into a jumper, always taking a couple of seconds to think about the shot, hesitating rather than taking it in rhythm.

While most folks still perceive James a poor outside shooter, he shot 40% from three this season and 46% on mid-range jumpshots, which are elite level numbers, particularly for a player that can do so many other things. But James isn’t playing with the same confidence that he had during the regular season, and with that his percentages have come crashing down. Advanced stats have found the mid-range shot to be the most inefficient part of the game, which is why the Spurs’ gameplan is so good, but if they are going to continue to beg a very good mid-range shooter to take wide open shots, it’s on LeBron to begin decisively taking those shots with assurance.

James has vowed that he will play better in tonight’s game, and he has the talent to tie this series up at 2-2. But unless he comes into game four with the same mindset that he had in game six of last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, the Heat will be all but toast in yet another NBA Finals.

X’s And Bro’s: Episode 2

in NBA/Podcasts by
bosh

Brett Koremenos joins me to recap Sunday’s national TV games between the Heat and Pacers and Thunder and Celtics, as well as a quick preview for tonight’s Thunder-Spurs game.

The Heat Do The Harlem Shake

in NBA by

They may have been a week late to the party, but Miami Heat put together a pretty entertaining version of the Harlem Shake, if only because it’s funny to see LeBron James go crazy and Mario Chalmers in a Mario costume.

Let’s list the participants and their costumes, shall we?

LeBron James – King

Dwyane Wade – Bear

Chris Bosh – Hipster stereo guy

Mario Chalmers – Super Mario (winner of the costume contest)

Ray Allen – Half-mime mask, red cape

Rashard Lewis – Full mime mask

James Jones – Rainbow wig (dance champion)

Joel Anthony – Bandana, Santa hat

Mike Miller – Rey Mysterio mask, sombrero

Norris Cole – MC Hammer (or a peasant)

Udonis Haslem – WWE Champion

Chris Andersen – Spooky road bike dude

That leaves us with two unknowns: Shane Battier and Jarvis Vanardo. If I had to guess, I would say Battier is other guy in a Rey Mysterio mask and that Vanardo is the guy with the spacesuit and horse face.

Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Share with your friends










Submit
Go to Top