Wednesday, June 12, 2013
How much trouble are Miami Heat in?
Another game, another blowout. After getting chewed up in Game 2, the San Antonio Spurs bounce right back at home against the Miami Heat, crushing LeBron James & Friends by 36 points. Where do we go from here? See what our team of five has to say about Game 3:
1. What's up with LeBron?
Tom Haberstroh, ESPN.com: The Spurs' game plan appears to have completely messed with his head. They are ceding the jump shot to LeBron just as they did in the 2007 NBA Finals and the results haven't changed. Statistically, LeBron's jumper was one of the best in the league this season, but his confidence and accuracy seem to have vanished on the big stage.
Andrew McNeill, 48 Minutes of Hell: The Spurs are doing a terrific job defending him. They're blocking off the lane as much as possible, daring LeBron to shoot long pull-up 2-pointers and 3-pointers, and limiting Miami's transition opportunities. If anything, James could be more aggressive on the boards. San Antonio has a great game plan for how to deal with LeBron at this stage in his career.
Ethan Sherwood Strauss, ESPN Insider: The Spurs are giving him wide-open jumpers, and he's perhaps not used to such an extreme strategy. James takes long shots when open, but it may be somewhat disorienting to see nothing but openness on the perimeter. The errant jumper has become a running issue for James in the series. Over the 18 games that comprise his NBA Finals career, LeBron has shot 25 percent outside the restricted area. Strange as it sounds, LeBron shot best in 2011, when he hit 34.4 percent of his tries outside the restricted zone.
Marc Stein, ESPN.com: There are a few issues we could list here. But the biggest, for me, is that the best player in basketball -- because he's struggling to find an answer against a defense that is effectively denying him anything other than jump shots -- is facing what appears to be a crisis of confidence. Which I didn't think was possible in 2013.
Michael Wallace, ESPN.com: Only LeBron knows. It's not as if San Antonio's River Walk contains any sort of kryptonite. It's not as if the Spurs are doing anything defensively that LeBron hasn't seen before. This was a man who shot 60 percent or better and scored 30 in six straight games at one point. He didn't forget how to play ball.
2. The Spurs' 3-point shooting was
Haberstroh: Breathtaking. The Heat had been fortunate heading into Game 3 that the Spurs hadn't caught fire yet from downtown, but holy regression to the mean did they shoot the ball on Tuesday. If the Heat have an Achilles' heel over the past few seasons it's been 3-point defense, and the Spurs took full advantage of it.
McNeill: Out of this world. You can't expect this type of production from game to game, clearly, but the Spurs put an enormous amount of pressure on the Heat with their shooting. San Antonio adjusted to the way Miami defended the corner 3-pointers in Game 2 and found shooters above the break instead. The result was more open shots from the perimeter.
Strauss: NBA Jam come to life. Proponents of the "hot-hand theory" might point to an evening like this, but I'd cite Tuesday night as to why the hot hand is largely myth. Green and Neal's combined performance shocks us precisely because we don't expect continued "hot" shooting, at some level. If the hot hand existed to the extent many think it does, stuff like this would happen all the time.
Stein: The most surreal this franchise has ever witnessed. And that's not merely because the Spurs set a new playoff single-game team record with those 15 3-pointers. It's because 13 of them came from Danny Green and Gary Neal.
Wallace: Blazing. Green has become the Steph Curry of the NBA Finals. Neal has become a contemporary Vinnie "The Microwave" Johnson. Even Mike Miller can't seem to miss from beyond the arc for the Heat. The Spurs are basically giving Miami a taste of its own floor-spacing medicine.
3. The Heat are in some trouble or a lot of trouble?
Haberstroh: Some trouble. As ESPN's analytics maven Alok Pattani pointed out on Twitter, five of the 12 teams that lost by 30-plus in an NBA Finals game went on to win the series (excluding 30-point clinchers, of course). If we've learned anything this postseason, the Heat know how to take a punch. But this one surely felt like a haymaker.
McNeill: Some trouble. The most dangerous thing fans and media folks like us can do is overreact to one amazing shooting display in one game. The Heat are absolutely in this series, despite what Game 3's final score may indicate. One or two adjustments from Miami could swing Game 4 the other way.
Strauss: Miami is in a lot of trouble because LeBron James is uncommonly bad right now, with no indication as to whether and when the course corrects. There are so many factors apart from James versus San Antonio's paint-packed defense, but that's the most important factor. James' quality play was a constant, something the team could always count on. Now, who knows?
Stein: The distinction between "some" and "a lot" might well rest on the fate of that Wednesday morning MRI of Tony Parker's right hamstring. If Parker can carry on without any real issues, "some" trouble is putting it mildly.
Wallace: Depends on LeBron's mentality heading into Game 4 on Thursday. The Heat experienced this sort of see-saw, sporadic series in the Eastern Conference finals against Indiana. So they don't really fall for the knee-jerk narratives too much. That said, Wade and Bosh better turn it up a notch or three just in case.
4. What's the biggest takeaway from Game 3?
Haberstroh: By neutralizing LeBron's attack, the Spurs have ripped the head off the snake. Outside of a run in the second half of Game 2, the Heat haven't been able to find any semblance of the offense that gave them the No. 1 ranking in efficiency this regular season. LeBron came to Miami to be able to suffer a bad night and not get blown out. That wasn't the case in Game 3. LeBron needs to do better, but Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh aren't immune from the blame.
McNeill: That momentum means nothing. Miami should've been feeling the pressure after a Game 1 loss at home, but crushed the Spurs with a big second half in Game 2. San Antonio showed no effects of a disappointing loss on Sunday and played their best game of the playoffs. Who knows what Game 4 will give us.
Strauss: I'd call it "Game 3s" if I were fond of bad puns (and I am). San Antonio's 3-pointers fell from the sky like a Middle Ages archery attack. Mike Miller has also been scalding from deep. It'll all be for naught if Miami doesn't start closing out harder on Spurs shooters.
Stein: That you should probably expect to hear little else between now and Game 4 but LeBron Talk.
Wallace: Tony Parker's health status. Parker suffered a hamstring injury and is scheduled to have an MRI on Wednesday morning. His status for Game 4 is in question at this point. If the injury forces Parker to miss a game, it could be a series-changer, despite how well Neal and Green have played.
5. What has defined these Finals thus far?
Haberstroh: After three games, LeBron, Wade and Bosh haven't outscored Danny Green, Gary Neal and Kawhi Leonard in this series. Each trio has scored 130 points combined, despite a gap of $46 million in 2012-13 salary.
McNeill: The role players. The NBA is full of stars and we're reminded of such every time we watch a broadcast, but each of these Finals games has been full of role players stepping into the limelight and often outperforming their more prominent teammates. Danny Green, Gary Neal, Mike Miller and Mario Chalmers are all becoming household names.
Strauss: The Finals have been defined by LeBron not capitalizing on the one choice he's given. I can't know his thoughts or intentions, but I believe that James likes to solve possessions like individual puzzels. San Antonio is giving him one, boring solution ("Shoot!") at the beginning of the possession. The dearth of a process is throwing him off his game, it seems.
Stein: The unpredictability. Has anything played out as we expected yet? Seriously. Anything?
Wallace: Inconsistency. No two games have been alike. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said he witnessed a team he didn't recognize on the floor in Game 3. The supporting casts for both teams have outplayed the respect big threes in games each team won. This has been one upside-down, funky series so far. Continue to expect the unexpected.