San Antonio has been able to defend the top options from their playoff opponents over the last few seasons. As noted before the second round series against the TrailBlazers, the Spurs have been remarkably effective at defending opponents’ top scorers:
Portland was unable to reverse this trend, as LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard were rendered somewhat ineffective, leading to an almost desultory five game “gentleman’s sweep” by San Antonio. In the conference finals, the Spurs avenged the 2012 loss to Oklahoma City in large part because, unlike two years ago, they contained Kevin Durant.
Now, facing Miami again in the finals, it’s worth looking at one of the ways in which San Antonio forced LeBron James to work harder to get his points. On the left is James’s shot chart from the 2013 Finals, while on the right is the same chart from the 2012-13 regular season.
Below are similar charts of the locations from which LeBron shot, Finals on the left, 2012-13 regular season on the right.
The biggest takeaway from these shot charts is that not only were the Spurs better able to keep LeBron away from the rim to a degree (32.67 percent of his shots and 5.9 attempts per/36 minutes at the rim in the Finals versus 39.96 percent of his attempts and 6.8 per/36 minutes during the regular season), they did a marvelous job of defending him on the shots he did take, instead of the absurd 72.12 percent James converted during the regular season, against the Spurs he was merely slightly above average at 56.25 percent. San Antonio managed to this without fouling as well, as LeBron shot only 4.7 free throws per 36 as opposed to 6.7 per 36 in the regular season.
James has been an even more terrifying rim finisher this postseason – through three rounds, he his 78 of 96 at the rim. Which looks like it must be a typo or his free throw shooting. But he really is shooting 81.25 percent at the rim while taking nearly 40 percent of his attempts from in close. The ability of Kawhi Leonard and company to keep James out of the paint as much as possible as well as Tim Duncan’s ability to contest the close shots he does get will go a long way towards the Spurs getting revenge for last season’s Finals loss.
Seth Partnow lives in Anchorage, Alaska, with his wife, daughter and dog. He blogs about the NBA and related topics at WhereOffenseHappens.com. His work can also be found at Hickory-High.com and ESPN’s ClipperBlog.com, where he is a regular contributor. Seth can be reached on twitter @WhrOffnsHppns.