LeBron James was awful last night.
He scored 15 points on 7-for-21 shooting in Miami’s Game 3 113-77 loss. But 9 of those points came after the game was decided, and LeBron was just 2-for-13 before San Antonio pulled away for good.
Tellingly, he didn’t shoot a single free throw. That has only happened 8 times in LeBron’s 765-game NBA career — the last time in December of 2009 when he was still in Cleveland.
He’s still LeBron, and he was still the best Miami player on the court besides, weirdly, Mike Miller.
But his stinker last night has been coming since Game 1. It wasn’t a fluke — the Spurs have figured out the best way to defend LeBron, and it’s working perfectly.
From the very beginning of this series, the Spurs have designed their entire defence around keeping LeBron out of the paint.
Kawhi Leonard (who’s guarding him), is sagging off of him, funelling drives to Tim Duncan, slipping way underneath screens, and doing everything he can to stay in from of LeBron.
When LeBron does get past Leonard, he’s running straight into a rotating Duncan and Tiago Splitter before he can get to the rim. San Antonio’s off-ball rotations have been on-point as well — preventing those easy dump-offs that LeBron typically gets when he draws multiple defenders in the paint.
The Spurs are taking away LeBron’s penetration. As a consequence, they’re giving him a ton of open jumpers. But he isn’t making them.
The ugly stats:
- About 46% of LeBron’s shots this year came at the rim. In the Finals, about 32% of his shots so far have come at the rim.
- During the season he averaged 7 free-throw attempts per game. In the Finals, he’s taken 6 total free throws in three games.
- He’s 6-for-30 on shots outside the paint in this series
- During the season he shot 36% from 3-point range. In the Finals, he’s shooting 23%
Last night’s shot chart tells you everything you need to know:
San Antonio is fine with losing this series on a barrage of LeBron jumpers and Mike Miller threes. But they simply won’t lose it on an endless succession of LeBron dunks.
LeBron all about efficiency. His goal on every possession is to get a high-percentage shot for either himself or his teammates. That, more than anything, is why he’s so good.
It has been fascinating to see him fight with himself as the Spurs have successfully taken away his most efficient shots.
Jump shots are the least efficient shots in basketball, but that’s what the Spurs have giving him. He either has to commit himself to taking those unseemly long two’s, or he has to try and fight through San Antonio’s defensive strategy with sheer force and get to the rim anyway.
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