No team except the Chicago Bulls held LeBron James to a lower scoring average (18.5) and field-goal percentage (42.4) than the San Antonio Spurs did this season.
And though he eventually broke through to average 25.3 points and win series MVP in last year’s Finals, the Spurs held him to 44.7 percent shooting, his second-lowest in a playoff series as a member of the Heat. James shot 38.9 percent in the first three games, 47.9 in the final four, when he started making the jump shots that the Spurs were daring him to take.
The Heat will not be surprised if the Spurs try a similar approach in these Finals. But as Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Wednesday, “He has a great way of figuring it out. It it’s making open shots, there are a lot worse problems you can have.”
Though James ultimately prevailed in last year’s Finals, two Spurs defenders made it difficult on him: Kawhi Leonard, who was voted second-team All-Defense this year, and Boris Diaw, against whom James shot 3 for 21 in last year’s Finals, according to ESPN.
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“Kawhi has done a great job last year in the Finals and this year in the games using his length and staying front of [James],” Spurs forward Tim Duncan said. “Physically, LeBron’s just a monster. We’ve got to make his life as difficult as possible, keep him out of the open court, keep him away from the rim, make him work for everything he gets.”
Leonard said Wednesday that even with “knowing his tendencies, it’s still going to be hard to stop him.”
ABC’s Jeff Van Gundy said off the air Wednesday that the James/Leonard matchup is “the best part of this series. … We don’t know where Leonard is going to reach. You look at his demeanor, improving skill set. He has a chance to be very, very good.”
Diaw on Wednesday took no credit for his defensive work on James in last year’s Finals, noting “he missed shots on his own.”
As for James, he addressed several topics during an introspective session with reporters on Wednesday:
• He said he is putting “no pressure” on himself in these Finals.
“I don’t really care what people say about me or how people categorize my so-called legacy or the way they think I should be,” he said.
“… I play for my teammates, our team, the city of Miami, my friends and family, and I gave it all for that. At the end of the day, win, lose or draw, I’m satisfied with that. I don’t get involved in what people say about me and my legacy. I think it’s actually kind of stupid.”
• He was flattered by Pacers coach Frank Vogel calling him the Michael Jordan of this era. “Michael Jordan is the greatest player to ever play our game. So to be in the same breath as Michael Jordan is very humbling.”
• He said after the Heat lost the 2011 Finals, he spoke with Jerry West and Isiah Thomas “and asked them questions about what it took to get over the hump. They gave me some great pointers that I like to keep in my Rolodex until I decide to write a book when I’m done. Those guys were very helpful.”
• On how much he has changed since those 2011 Finals: “More than a player, I grew as a man. I have a beautiful family. I’m a father to two. I grew more as a man, and I think that’s what helped my game.”
• He said he has “changed my game since I got to Miami in that I was probably 75 to 85 percent pick-and-rolls in Cleveland, and after that, it was isolation. Now I would say I’m 40 percent postups, 40 percent pick-and-rolls and not even as much isos.”
• He said he expects to tinker with his game further as he ages. “Me high flying and doing the things that I’m able to do now at 29, at 36 maybe I wouldn’t be able to do it. I will change my game again, if I want to continue to be helpful to a team.”