Spurs limited LeBron James in Game 1, but can it last?
BY JOE COWLEY firstname.lastname@example.org June 7, 2013 10:16PM
LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard
Spurs lead series 1-0
All games on Ch. 7/1000-AM
G1: Spurs 92, at Heat 88
G2: Sunday at Heat, 7 p.m.
G3: Tuesday at Spurs, 8 p.m.
G4: Thursday at Spurs, 8 p.m.
*G5: June 16 at Spurs, 7 p.m.
*G6: June 18 at Heat, 8 p.m.
*G7: June 20 at Heat, 8 p.m.
Updated: July 9, 2013 6:14AM
MIAMI — There has been no blueprint to stop Miami Heat star LeBron James the last couple of seasons.
Not since he has improved his outside shot and worked with NBA legend Hakeem Olajuwon to tune up his post-up game.
There have been schemes that slowed him down more than others, but a sure-proof blueprint that acted as Kryptonite to the greatest player on the planet?
‘‘No,’’ San Antonio Spurs guard Manu Ginobili said Friday. ‘‘I mean, even if you are right in front of him and jump when he does, you land and he’s still up there. . . . Thank God I don’t have to guard him.’’
But teammate Kawhi Leonard does. And in their first showdown of the NBA Finals on Thursday, Leonard held James to 18 points on 7-for-16 shooting. It was the fewest points James had scored in a playoff game this season.
The Bulls’ Jimmy Butler couldn’t do that, with James averaging 23.6 points in the Heat’s five-game victory in the second round. And as much attention as the Indiana Pacers’ Paul George got for his defense in the Eastern Conference finals, James averaged 29 points in the seven-game marathon.
So what was it about Leonard? After all, James was 2-for-8 when Leonard was on him and 5-for-8 against any other Spurs player.
‘‘My job is to just stay in front of him,’’ Leonard said. ‘‘But it’s a team game.’’
Ripping off a few pages from ‘‘The Jordan Rules’’ that former coaching great Chuck Daly used to implement against Michael Jordan, the Spurs redefined ‘‘team game’’ in their 92-88 victory in Game 1. That meant Leonard on the peri-
meter against James and three or four players waiting for him when the four-time most valuable player got into the paint.
The Bulls and Pacers used help defense with one big man protecting the rim against James, but the Spurs stalked him with all five
defenders and packed the lane. The idea was to make James a passer and make him have to work in the paint rather than slice through it. It wasn’t a plan James hadn’t seen
before, but the Spurs had the personnel to make it more effective.
So now it’s James’ move.
‘‘I had some more opportunities where I could have maybe been a little more aggressive or looked for my shot,’’ James said Friday. ‘‘My guys are open. I’ve got this far with them; I’m not going to just abandon what I’ve been doing all year to help us get to this point.’’
No one is asking James not to pass to players such as Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, especially when they are wide-open. But in the last few minutes of a game, he might be better served to be more of a scorer, like Jordan, and less of a passer, like Magic Johnson.
Did the Spurs figure out the blueprint to slowing down James? It’s too early in the series to draw that conclusion.
And James had better make sure it stays that way because the rest of the league is watching.