The Washington Post

In NBA Finals, Spurs will need Kawhi Leonard to stop LeBron James

(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

The Miami Heat steamrolled through the best defense in the league, beating Indiana in six games to return to the NBA Finals for a fourth consecutive year.

“The group loves to compete and loves to compete at the highest level, and be pushed to new levels,” Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra said.

During the regular season, the Heat scored 109 points per 100 possessions. In the playoffs, that rate has spiked to 113.7, including a ridiculous 121.2 points per 100 possessions in the fourth quarter.

In the playoffs, the Heat offense has improved every quarter, from 98.9 points per 100 possessions in the first (13th among 16 teams) to 121.2 in the fourth (2nd). Over the last two rounds, they’ve scored 130.6 points per 100 possessions in the fourth quarter.

LeBron James has led the team in postseason points per game (27.1), total rebounds (6.8), assists (5.0), steals (1.8) and win shares (3.5), which is an estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player. He also leads the postseason in PIE, which shows what percentage of game events a player achieved, at 21.1 percent. So it is safe to say the Heat’s offense runs through James, and that the Spurs will need 22-year-old small forward Kawhi Leonard to help stop him.

Leonard was named to the NBA all-defensive second team after setting career highs in rebounds (6.2) and steals per game (1.73), and did a very good job defending James whenever called upon.

With Leonard on the court during last year’s NBA Finals, James had an effective field goal percentage — which adjusts for the fact that a three-point field goal is worth one more point than a two-point field goal — of 47.5 percent. When Leonard was on the bench, that jumped to 53.1 percent. James’s points in the paint per 36 minutes in the series were 8.4 and 11.3, respectively.

per 36 mins
2013 NBA Finals
PTSOffTO 2ndPTS FBPs PITP OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg eFG%
Leonard On Bench 4.2 3.5 4.9 11.3 115.0 106.7 8.4 53.1%
Leonard On Court 3.6 2.7 3.5 8.4 105.5 104.7 0.8 47.5%
Source: NBA Stats

That’s the key for the Spurs: Don’t let LeBron attack the paint and instead make him settle for mid-range jumpers.

LeBron James Field Goal Percentage during 2013-14 Playoffs Overall

James creates 6.3 points per game (68.8 percent field goal percentage) off drives to the basket and 3.1 points per game (68.2 percent field goal percentage) on any touch within 12 feet of the basket. He is much less effective from mid-range.

If Leonard can’t help slow down James, the Heat will be an offensive juggernaut. If San Antonio can make James settle for jump shots, the Spurs will be one step closer to exacting revenge for last season’s loss.

Neil Greenberg analyzes advanced sports statistics for the Fancy Stats blog and prefers to be called a geek rather than a nerd.



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Neil Greenberg · June 2, 2014