This is one weird series. Just when you thought LeBron and Wade had figured out how to circumvent the Spurs defensive trickery, they throw up another stink bomb and get beat by double-digits again (and that 10-point margin was flattering). To be fair, Game 5 was more about Tony and Manu than LeBron and Wade. The Spurs duo combined for 40 points on 18-28 shooting and 15 assists, and made countless big bucket after bucket when the Spurs needed it.
For Manu, this game came out of nowhere – his best of the playoffs at a time everyone was questioning his effort, and suggesting an early retirement. It was a potent reminder that the Spurs Big 3 are still a force to be reckoned with, and that on any given night you just don’t know who is going to step up in that Spurs uniform. Tonight it was Manu and Boris Diaw. That’s not a typo.
The Spurs supporting cast was again excellent. Danny Green continues to shoot like Dan Majerle in NBA Live 95 (he was 6-10 in this game), and now owns the record for most threes in a Finals series. Seriously, if someone had told you that before the series would you have believed them?
Kawhi Leonard’s evolution as one of the league’s best two-way players also continues. And yeah that sounds ridiculous, but think about what he’s giving the Spurs right now: a double-double (12 and 10 to be exact), 49% FG, 38% 3PT, 2 steals per game and some of the best LeBron defense we’ve seen. It’s too early yet, but if the Spurs win this thing, he will go down in history as having (helped) stop LeBron James at the peak of his powers, and that is something very few can claim to have on their resume.
Tim Duncan continues to anchor the middle, and today was again spectacularly unspectacular: 17 points on 7-10 shooting, 12 boards and 3 blocks. By the way, I’m not ruling him out of Finals MVP contention if he has a massive Game 6 and/or 7. He has only played one bad game this series.
Let’s talk a little bit about the Heat, more specifically Lebron. He can no longer be accused of being passive – today I thought he took the right balance of shots versus getting teammates involved, and he was aggressive when he needed to be. He just missed some shots he normally makes (including an unforgivable layup), but when I say normally, I guess I’m referring to the regular season, right? It’s amazing, that after shooting a phenomenal 56.5% from the field all season, he’s now shooting 43.6% in the Finals. For most players that isn’t a terrible percentage – even MJ himself only shot 42.7% from the field in the ’98 Finals. But a 13% drop from regular season to Finals? That is astounding.
Some of it is the Spurs defense, no doubt, and some of it I’m sure is the pressure of the big stage. So I’m not hugely surprised about the lower shooting percentage, but what does surprise me is the fact LeBron’s offensive woes are limiting his overall impact. LeBron James is supposed to be the best two-way player in the game, a walking triple-double, someone who can make 30-7-7 games look effortless, and even without shooting well, can throw up ridiculous numbers like he did in Game 1 (18-18-10). I thought we’d see more of that LeBron, fearless in the face of whatever defense is trying to thwart him.
But instead I’m seeing a self-doubting LeBron. I think it’s somewhat symbolic that the most confident he looked all series was the last two minutes – the garbage minutes – of Game 4 when the game was already over. He was stepping into long jump shots with the arrogance I would expect of a champion, but upon reflection, I found it a little strange. Since when does LeBron care about scoring meaningless buckets late in games? Since when does he care about scoring buckets at all? To me it just emphasized his struggles and the psychological stranglehold this Spurs defense has on him. It also showed me how dependent he is on Wade to rescue games in tense moments – LeBron seems far more comfortable when the result is a little more secure.
I’m hesitant to write him off, because you’d be foolish to do that, especially this Heat team after they lose. For the record, I think they still take this series, just like the Lakers did in 2010 coming back from 2-3 down. Game 6 will be the comfortable victory, and Game 7 will be the dog fight, and no matter what happens, I’ll have ten thousand more words waiting on LeBron right here.
I guess that means it’s late June again.