Spurs’ coach Gregg Popovich plays chess with LeBron
BY JOE COWLEY firstname.lastname@example.org June 13, 2013 11:31PM
9-15-10 Sports Joe Cowley. Staff Mug. photo by Jean Lachat/Sun-Times
HEAT vs. SPURS
Series tied 2-2
All games on Ch. 7/1000-AM
G1: Spurs 92, at Heat 88
G2: at Heat 103, Spurs 84
G3: at Spurs 113, Heat 77
G4: Heat 109, at Spurs 93
G5: Sunday at Spurs, 7 p.m.
G6: Tuesday at Heat, 8 p.m.
*G7: Thursday at Heat, 8 p.m.
Updated: June 14, 2013 12:32AM
SAN ANTONIO — Double teams, triple teams, zones, ghosts, there was very little LeBron James hadn’t seen from the San Antonio Spurs through the first three games of the NBA Finals.
“The scheme,’’ as Spurs guard Danny Green referred to it, was a complicated one with a simple goal in mind: Stop James by any means necessary.
But as effective as it had been in the first three games, Green knew it had a shelf life. After all, Green played with James his rookie year in Cleveland and knows his makeup.
“You just hope he figures it out after the series,’’ Green said leading into Game 4.
No such luck.
One day after promising, ‘‘I’ll be better,’’ James was on Thursday. And it didn’t take until the second half to get him started.
The four-time MVP went 7-for-11 from the field, had 15 points and even went to the free-throw line twice in the first half. James didn’t shoot a free throw in Game 3. More important, James made two 17-footers, a shot the Spurs have been daring him to take, in the first quarter.
As teammate Shane Battier put it, all James and the rest of the Miami Heat needed to do was get out of their own heads.
“We haven’t played the way we did down the stretch,’’ Battier said. “We just haven’t been in sync. We have to figure it out by any means necessary. Basketball can be overcomplicated sometimes. We don’t need to reinvent ourselves, just do what we do and do it well.
“We need to play instinctual at this level, and sometimes you forget that.’’
Or sometimes it’s taken away.
After sending double and triple teams anytime James had the ball in the post or near the paint in the first two games, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich spotted growing indecision with James, especially when he had the ball at the top of the key.
That indecision was exploited in Game 3, and the Spurs didn’t even bother to double- or triple-team James at times, and he remained passive, almost waiting for the help defense to come.
But on Thursday, there was no waiting around. There was just going.
“I have to try to put more pressure on the defense,’’ James said. “Not saying the whistle is going to be blown, but putting pressure on their defensive interior. That’s what I was brought here to do. And it can’t be anything less than that.’’
Midway through the second quarter, Popovich continued the chess game, however, again running everyone at James when he was given the ball, not even conceding the outside jumper. It worked, and James again had to rely on Chris Bosh and Norris Cole to knock down shots.
That still wasn’t happening with any consistency.