AT&T CENTER – Three days ago Miami Heat forward LeBron James dropped 61 points on the Charlotte Bobcats in a win. Thursday, with James being defended by Kawhi Leonard (11 points, 5 rebounds, 5 steals) and the San Antonio Spurs, he finished with just 19 points on 6-of-18 shooting in 38 minutes, as the Spurs blew out the Heat in the fourth quarter (29-13) to win 111-87.
Tony Parker (17 points) started the Spurs with a frenetic pace, but it was Leonard’s defense, Tim Duncan’s (23 points, 11 rebounds) strong play in the fourth quarter, Boris Diaw’s (16 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists) unpredictable playmaking ability, and strong support from the Spurs’ bench which led to the Spurs defeating the Heat. Here were a few topics to note in the Spurs’ 45th win of the season.
“He was a pest.” – Tim Duncan on Kawhi Leonard
A majority of James’ minutes came with Leonard defending him. “He did a good job,” said Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich of Leonard after the game. “He is just growing day-by-day. He is starting to feel confident in his role and taking pride in being a defender and a rebounder first.”
Aside from holding James to the shot chart below, Leonard also forced James into a majority of his turnovers (5) and into offensive foul calls, as James drew five fouls as well, three a few minutes into the second half.
In the fourth, Leonard continued to hound James on the perimeter, as two of Leonard’s five steals came in the fourth quarter. “He was a pest,” said Duncan of Leonard’s defense on James. “That’s what we need him to be. He stuck his hand in there, knocked some balls away, got some balls away, got some steals. He contested shots. I think he did a great job overall in every aspect.” When the time mattered most, it was Leonard who held James to 1-of-3 shooting in the fourth quarter and two turnovers.
“They played me the same way they played me in the Finals,” said James of the Spurs’ defense. “They went under all of my pick-and-rolls and dared me to shoot, and they (shots) just didn’t go go.”
James also mentioned post-game how the sleeved jerseys didn’t help with his shooting. “I’m not making any excuses, but I’m not a big fan of the jerseys. Every time I shoot it feels like it’s just pulling right up underneath my arm.”
James shot 4-of-6 on contested shots, and 2-of-12 on uncontested shots. In the locker room, Manu Ginobili also said he will need to get adjusted to wearing the jerseys. Ginobili said at practice his original jersey was too tight so for the game, he switched to a larger size.
Don’t forget about Duncan
With the Spurs heading into the fourth quarter after a dog fight in the third (Miami 23-20), they needed a staple on offense to provide some scoring. That production came from Duncan who scored eight of his 23 points in the final quarter, going 4-of-5 from the field during that stretch.
“I don’t want to forget that he is here,” said Popovich of going to Duncan in the fourth. “It’s good to remember that Timmy is here. He was probably wondering why we didn’t do it earlier.”
Since the Heat play smaller lineups a majority of the game, Duncan prefers to establish himself in the paint. Even though he shot 9-of-13 in the game, he went 6-of-8 from the inside. Here’s a look at Duncan’s shot chart against the Heat. To go further into the data, he was a perfect 4-of-4 on contested shots against the Heat.
The unpredictable Diaw
“Boris is a really high I.Q. basketball player,” said Popovich after the game. “I really don’t know what he is going to do out there a lot of the time. I think he should drive it and he shoots it. I think he should shoot it and he drives and spins. You guys see him play all the time, but usually what he does is positive and team oriented.”
Though Chris Bosh scored 24 points, specifically on outside shots, Diaw was big part of the Spurs’ win with his 16 points, 8 rebounds, and 5 assists. At times, he even had to guard James to spell Leonard some minutes of rest, or to stay out of foul trouble. Offensively, Diaw touched the ball the second most on the team and threw the second most passes, numbers that show just how important he is to the team.
A systematic win
The Spurs assisted on 91% of their baskets (39 assists/43 made baskets) two evenings ago against the struggling Cleveland Cavaliers. Against the elite Heat? San Antonio assisted on 75% of their baskets (30 assists/ 40 made baskets).
“They are difficult to guard,” said Dwayne Wade after the game. “They have a great system and they have a very unselfish team. They stay true to their system and they believe in it.”
“Obviously, I think we all know that when they’re healthy, or have their full group, they’re going to contend,” said James of the Spurs.
It was the ball movement that was key for the Spurs in the win, as they shot 51% on the night, and scored 37 and 29 points in two of the games quarters. Though San Antonio’s bench didn’t have a player score in double-figures, their bench still outscored Miami’s bench 38-23.
Patty Mills in particular grabbed 10 rebounds in just 17 minutes. No Heat player grabbed double-digit rebounds in the game. “They’re a very good team, very well coached obviously, and I think Patty Mills gives them an extra kick as well, kind of replacing that Gary Neal role that they had last year,” said James of Mills.
The Spurs had 72 more touches and 68 more passes than the Heat. San Antonio also tracked 17.0 miles in the game, compared to Miami’s 16.4 miles. On secondary assists, the Spurs threw 12, and the Heat threw 5.
Since getting Tony Parker back and a full lineup, the Spurs have averaged 32.3 assists in their past three games.
Where San Antonio Stands
· Regular Season: 45-16 (2nd in the Western Conference)
· Home Record: 22-8
· Vs. Opponents with +.500 records: 21-14
· Vs. The Eastern Conference: 20-6
· 24 of the Spurs’ 45 wins have been by 10 or more points
· Post All-Star Break Record: 7-1
· The Spurs are on a 5-game winning streak
(All Stats and Player Tracking data via NBA.com)