Musical Chairs with the San Antonio Spurs: LeBron James Can't Guard Everyone
The Spurs led 55-36 at halftime last night in Game 4. You could look at that and probably give good arguments about whether the fault lies with the Heat defense or offense.
The numbers say the defense.
The problem is that the Heat never get a rest on the floor. Teams like the Pacers, who they faced just last round, had a good starting five, much like the Spurs do. However, when those guys went out, you could bring in offense for defense. You could let James Jones hide on CJ Watson for a bit. That's definitely not the case for this matchup with the Spurs.
The Spurs starting five is fantastic indeed. But so is the sixth man. And the seventh man. And the eighth. And so on.
In fact, there's really no dip in production when the bench replaces their starting counterpart at all. Let's look at some five-man lineups.
Spurs Dominant Five-Man Lineups
So far this series, the lineup of Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Kawhi Leonard, Boris Diaw, and Tim Duncan has played 43 minutes together and scored a ridiculous 142.2 points per 100 possessions. In case you were wondering, the league's best offensive team during the regular season, the LA Clippers, scored 109.4 points per 100 possessions on the year.
That lineup is eviscerating the Heat defense. But here's the main issue for the Heat - the Spurs don't get worse by switching out "inferior" players.
For example, switch out Manu Ginobili for Danny Green. That lineup has scored 112.6 points per 100 possessions, still better than even the best mark of the regular season. Now switch out Boris Diaw for Tiago Splitter. That lineup has scored 122.0 points per 100 possessions. Play Ginobili and Green together? How does 161.5 points per 100 possessions sound?
Even the lineup of Patty Mills, Manu Ginobili, Kawhi Leonard, Matt Bonner, and Tiago Splitter has killed the Heat in their time together. That unit has scored 162.0 points per 100 possessions in five minutes together on the court. I mean, the Heat can't even get a minute rest. What are you supposed to do?
What Can the Heat Do?
Erik Spoelstra has typically responded by putting LeBron on whichever player is hot. That's been the Heat's strength over the past couple of playoff runs - LeBron's adaptability in being able to guard any position on the floor. He had success in limiting Tony Parker last year when needed.
This year, the Spurs are just too offensively efficient. LeBron can't guard everyone. Out of all the players the Heat have gone against in this year's playoffs (Bobcats, Nets, Pacers, Spurs), the Spurs have 8 out of the top 11 shooters that have faced the Heat, in terms of true shooting percentage (TS%).
Patty Mills has a TS% of 68.0%. Kawhi Leonard is at 72.1%. Tiago Splitter and Danny Green are at 73.4% and 80.0%, respectively. Again, what are you supposed to do with that?
Do you switch LeBron over to any of those guys? Sure, but then the next guy is open. And that also drains LeBron's energy, making him less able to orchestrate the Heat offense on the other end of the floor.
At times, that hasn't been a huge problem. Dwyane Wade can take over during those spurts. But not when he's shooting like this:
Dwyane Wade’s game 4 shot chart (NSFW): pic.twitter.com/0cX2OTtlTd— SpankHer Ware (@sideeyespecial) June 13, 2014
Historically, teams have about a 4% chance of coming back from a 3-1 deficit in the playoffs. However, I'm not the type of person to count out the best player in the world.
Over the past two games, the Spurs have jumped out to huge leads in the first half, and then LeBron has taken over in the third quarter to try to cut into the lead and give the team a chance to comeback in the fourth. That's going to have to start earlier in Game 5. He has to be aggressive from the first minute.
Wade will have to be a lot better as well. He did well getting close to the rim, but then missed about every shot once he got there. That can't happen.
Other than that, perhaps we just accept that the Spurs are the better team (and perhaps historically great), and that the Heat will finally have to completely retool if they want to continue their Finals runs.
This thing is over. Well, unless LeBron turns Boston-Celtics-Game-Six Superhuman again. Then, well, we all win.