SAN ANTONIO — And now … the San Antonio Spurs player most likely to blow in LeBron James‘ ear…?
“There isn’t one,” Spurs forward Matt Bonner said, straight-faced.
The stoic, disciplined and ultra-professional Spurs have no need for the brand of antics that Pacers guard Lance Stephenson brought to the floor in his personal battle against the two-time Finals MVP during the Eastern Conference finals.
The Spurs, rest assured, will not employ it as a tactic against James.
“Uh, not on purpose,” said Spurs guard Danny Green, who could see time against James as well as Dwyane Wade, said. “That stuff doesn’t work against him and that only makes him better, I think, from the aspect of many different areas. We kind of don’t want to wake a sleeping a giant.”
Not that James has really been sleeping, but in the Spurs and Heat splitting the regular-season series (one game apiece, a blowout per side), the Spurs did as good a job as any team in letting alpha dogs lie. He averaged 18.5 ppg, less than only the Bulls allowed (18.3). Part of that is due to the blowout nature of the two games and James logging an average of only 32.9 minutes in the two games. Still, check out the shooting percentage, and the Spurs limited James to 42.4 percent (14-for-33) from the floor and 16.7 percent (1-for-6) from 3-point range. James’ percentages during the regular season were 56.7 and 37.9.
It makes sense with the Bulls employing Jimmy Butler and their intensely physical defense on James, and the Spurs using 6-foot-7, 230-pound Kawhi Leonard backed by a smart, cohesive unit that was quite successful in last year’s Finals of keeping James from rampaging through the lane.
Leonard, fresh off tracking regular-season MVP Kevin Durant in the West finals, will get the bulk of the LeBron load. On Tuesday, the third-year small forward was named to his first NBA All-Defensive team, making the second team.
“It’s just great that people are starting to notice that I’m giving my effort out there on the floor at both ends and just finally starting to get noticed,” Leonard said. “That’s what I pretty much feel about it.”
James obviously faced Leonard a year ago in the Finals, so he probably knows he’s not going to hear much in the way of trash talk, or much of any talk at all from the famously quiet Leonard. Leonard said he doesn’t get involved in conversations of any kind with the man he’s tasked to guard.
“No,” Leonard said, “no I don’t. I just talk to my teammates, tell them I got help-side or something like that, but not really a conversation to try to get into somebody’s head.”