- Series Hub: Spurs-Heat
SAN ANTONIO — Game 3 of The Finals was kind of crazy. The San Antonio Spurs hit 16 3-pointers and blew out the Miami Heat without much production from their best offensive player. Tony Parker scored just six points on 2-for-5 shooting.
But Game 3 was also the continuation of a disturbing trend for the world’s best player. LeBron James shot a brutal 2-for-14 from outside the paint on Tuesday and is now 39-for-164 (23.8 percent) from outside the paint in 18 career Finals games.
In the 2007 Finals, James and his Cleveland Cavaliers were outmatched by the more experienced and talented Spurs. In the 2011 Finals, the Dallas Mavericks vexed James with their zone and zone-ish defenses. James destroyed the Oklahoma City Thunder in last year’s Finals, but almost entirely from the paint.
Interestingly, James’ best jump-shooting Finals was 2011, when he had one really awful game (eight points on 3-for-11 shooting in Game 4) and averaged just 3.0 points on 7-for-21 shooting over six fourth quarters.
In his other three Finals series, James’ jump-shooting ability has fallen off a cliff. And this isn’t a regular season vs. playoffs thing. It’s simply a Finals phenomenon.
James’ Finals shooting from outside the paint
|Season||Reg. season||First 3 rds||FGM||FGA||FG%|
These numbers are from only four games in ’07, six in ’11, five in ’12, and three this year. Still, they’re fascinating and provide fodder for those who still doubt James’ ability to perform on basketball’s biggest stage.
You have to wonder if the fatigue of long playoff runs is a factor. But in three of his four Finals years, James has shot better from outside the paint in the conference finals – where he’s always faced the best defense of his three Eastern Conference opponents – than in the first two rounds.
He shot 32-for-79 (41 percent) from outside the paint against the Pacers’ No. 1 defense in this year’s conference finals after shooting just 19-for-56 (34 percent) in nine games against the Bucks and Bulls.
Maybe it’s fatigue. Maybe it’s something mental. Maybe it’s just a fluke.
Whatever the problem is, James has rewarded the Spurs for the way they’re defending him. Basically, they’re not defending him on the perimeter, inviting him to shoot jumpers.
Here are James’ nine mid-range shots (from between the paint and the 3-point line) from Game 3. He was 1-for-9.
On a second-quarter post-up (the second play in the above clip), Danny Green makes James catch the ball about 15 feet from the basket. And then he gives him plenty of space to shoot a face-up jumper …
At the end of the second quarter, Green goes under a Norris Cole screen that is set just above the foul line, basically inviting James to shoot from anywhere beyond 12 feet. And his disregard for James’ ability to knock down a pull-up jumper allows Gary Neal to stay at home on Mike Miller in the corner …
When James tried to get to the basket is when the Spurs brought help, lots of it.
Here, Green is again defending James on a post-up. And once James puts the ball on the floor, he gets triple-teamed …
The next example isn’t a straight post-up, but James backs Green down and once he gets to the block, the Spurs’ swarm arrives, forcing a turnover…
Here’s a pick-and-roll example, where Green and Tiago Splitter are in position to help Kawhi Leonard as James comes off a Chris Bosh screen…
James was 5-for-7 in the paint on Tuesday, but three of the five buckets came in transition, and a fourth came off a drive-and-dish by Norris Cole. So only once did James get a basket in the paint via one of his own drives or post-ups. It was a post-up jump-hook over Leonard late in the first quarter.
Dwyane Wade, who is 10-for-39 (26 percent) from outside the paint over his last seven games, is getting the same go-ahead-and-shoot-it treatment as James …
At this point, the only guys the Spurs care to guard on the perimeter are Miller and Ray Allen, who are a combined 16-for-20 from outside the paint in the series. And the rest of the Heat — 34-for-117 (29 percent) from outside the paint — aren’t giving them any reason to make an adjustment.
The Heat certainly have defensive issues as well, but if those numbers don’t start to change in Game 4, the champs don’t stand much of repeating.