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Why the Spurs defensive plan should be ‘Kawhi Island’

During the NBA Finals, John Karalis of Red's Army will be contributing to Project Spurs during the San Antonio Spurs' chase for title number five.

Congratulations, Kawhi Leonard. 
 
In two days, you get the honor of single-covering LeBron James.
 
As the San Antonio Spurs' get ready to come out of playoff hibernation and face the Miami Heat, they have some tough choices to make.  Miami’s offense can hang a 30+ point quarter on you in a blink if you’re not careful.  And when you see a tight end-sized scientific phenomenon coming at you in that 6 jersey, there is a very easily understandable temptation to help on him with everyone on the court, half of the folks in the loge, and the Texas National Guard. 
 
But the Spurs shouldn’t.  Kawhi should spend these finals on a defensive island. 
 
No help. 
No doubling. 
No nothing.  And there are a few reasons why.
 
1:  LeBron wants to pass.
 
You want an easy way to give the scoreboard a workout?  Start collapsing on every LeBron drive to the basket. 
 
If everyone dives into the paint to prevent LeBron dunks, all the Spurs will be doing is allowing open outside looks for dangerous 3-point shooters like Ray Allen, Norris Cole, Mario Chalmers, Mike Miller, or, even with his earlier struggles, Shane Battier. Fans and players will develop Lucille Austero levels of vertigo as panicked defenders chase the ball around the perimeter.  
 
LeBron James can go off for 40 without a problem.  In fact, he has. 11 times, in fact, over his playoff career.  He’s 7-4 in those games.  But he’s gotten 10 or more assists 17 times in the playoffs with a 13-4 record.  He’s 5-1 in Miami playoff games with 10 or more assists.  
 
LeBron the facilitator is a triple-double waiting to happen.  LeBron the facilitator is exhausting because he makes your defense work harder than it’s ever worked before.  LeBron the facilitator is a guy who’ll hold up a Finals MVP trophy.
 
This is not to say you just let him waltz to the rim.  Of course you protect the rim.  What I’m saying is you stay within closeout distance on the wings.  You trust that Leonard, if he’s totally beaten, will recover if Tim Duncan or Tiago Splitter have to step up to challenge the shot.  
 
But you let Leonard have ever opportunity to stay in front of LeBron and try to force him into jumpers.  Don’t get overzealous on the wings and anticipate help or jump in the lane too early.  And whatever you do, don’t double him.  You don’t double great players like that, because they’ll still find a way to make great plays. Doubling LeBron just means you’ve left an NBA-quality player open for a good luck, and one of the best passers in the game a chance to find him. 
 
You let Leonard do his thing, and then let Duncan or Splitter challenge shots.  The rest of you guys just stay home.
 
2:  Wade and Bosh are not 100%
 
Wade’s knee and Bosh’s ankle have left both of them less-than-effective.  They just wrapped up a grueling, 7-game series.  Neither will get a chance to rest much before hopping right into another playoff series against a team with three Hall of Fame players and a Hall of Fame coach.  
 
It’s not going to be easy for them. 
 
What San Antonio has to do is make it HELL for them.  This might make Danny Green the most important role player in the series, because he’s got to check Wade.  And if Green can take Wade out of his game, the Spurs have a very good chance at winning this series. 
 
Danny Green should set up shop inside Wade’s shorts and never leave.  He should be able to come back to the huddle during the first time out and tell Pop what flavor gum Wade is chewing.  
 
Ya follow me?  
 
Never. Leave. Wade. 
 
That, to me, is the key to this series.  If Wade can find a rhythm, plow through the knee pain, and be part of the Miami “Flying Death Machine,”  then the Spurs are cooked.  
 
But if Wade can be taken out of this series, then this becomes a Spurs-Cavaliers series, and that’s a series the Spurs should win.  
 
With Wade’s knee hurting him, you want to make him put as much pressure as possible on those legs just trying to get open.  You want him cutting, and juking, and fighting for every inch of space he can find.  You want it so when the third and fourth quarter come around, Wade’s mind is more focused on the throbbing pain emanating from his patella than where he should be on the floor. 
 
I trust Duncan to handle Bosh.  Even if the Spurs decide to go with Splitter on Bosh, I think they can effectively hold him in check.  
 
I’m looking at Wade, and I’m looking at Green.  Stay home.  Make his life hell.  Don’t help on LeBron.  Win the series. 
 
3:  Wade gets whiny when he doesn’t get touches
 
Forcing LeBron to do all the scoring and playing keep-away from Wade could trigger another round of media bickering from Wade
 
There’s no greater pressure than the pressure of the Finals in sports.  And if this game plan leads to a home loss (or two), then the “I need the ball more” ugliness has a big-time chance to resurface. 
 
This is where the Game 7 blowout of the Pacers could help the Spurs.  Wade took 16 shots, just one less than LeBron.  He had 21 points, combining with LeBron to score 53 points.  That followed a 3-11, 10 point, performance in the Game 6 loss after which he whined about his touches. 
 
So in Wade’s head, it’s confirmed: The more I touch it, the more I score, the better it is for us!
 
If Green can keep Wade from driving, force long jumper, and limit his overall touches, the media sniping might return.  And if it does, the Heat will be the subject of an inordinate amount of media attention, answering more questions about their own flaws than those about the Spurs and the next game’s adjustments. 
 
The Miami Heat have a lot of weapons, but only one firing mechanism.  It’s like a piles of dynamite planted all over the floor, but all of them are tied to one plunger.  
 
LeBron’s the trigger man.  And he’s got two choices when it comes to the Heat offense: Facilitate and make the entire offense better while racking up an efficient scoring night by taking advantage of a broken-down defense, or put up a ton of shots and hope the rest of the guys can turn the leftover scraps of offense into enough points to have a chance to win at the end. 
 
The Spurs need to take that first option away.  If they do, the LeBron will have to go back to his Cleveland days again.  And that’s a movie we’ve seen before
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