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Give Kawhi Leonard credit for his defense, but expect a more aggressive LeBron

Jun 8, 2013, 9:59 AM EDT

BKN-NBA-FINALS-SPURS-HEAT-GAME 1 Getty Images

MIAMI — LeBron James put up a triple-double in Game 1 of the NBA finals, but it wasn’t as dominant a performance as it appeared in the stat sheet. He was 6-of-8 shooting with five feet of the rim, 1-of-8 outside that range. Then with the game slipping away in the fourth quarter, he was passing to guys like Chris Bosh, who was 1-of-5 in the fourth quarter.

Should we credit the Spurs’ defense for keeping LeBron in check when it mattered? Or should we credit LeBron for taking himself out of the game by passing when it mattered?

A little from Column A, a little from Column B, actually.

Spurs second year man Kawhi Leonard did a good job on LeBron last game. LeBron shot 2-of-8 when Leonard was the primary defender, 5-of-8 when it was anyone else, as noted by Alex Kennedy at the USA Today. All that really means going forward is you can expect Leonard to keep the main job.

But you can also expect LeBron to be more aggressive looking for his shot in Game 2. In Game 1 there was a six-minute stretch when he returned in the fourth quarter when the Heat lost the lead and LeBron took just one shot as he dished to open teammates who missed looks. Just don’t think he is going to stop passing.

“I had some more opportunities where I could have maybe been a little more aggressive or look for my shot,” LeBron said after practice Friday. “But I don’t to take away from any plays I made last night. I was able to still find my guys for some shots. We missed some shots. We had some wide open clips where I had two defenders guarding me. Two plays in the third quarter I was able to find Rio for two open threes that …

“My guys are open. I’ve got this far with them, I’m not going to just abandon what I’ve been doing all year to help us get to this point. So I know those guys will be ready to shoot again once they’re open.”

Interestingly, it was Spurs coach Gregg Popovich who really talked about the need to get a player to be less selfless at times.

“I’ve talked to players before about being more aggressive, if that’s what your question was,” Popovich said Friday. “Opportunities might be there that they didn’t take advantage of. That happens with Timmy now and then. He’s so unselfish, if he shoots three jumpers in a row he feels like he shouldn’t shoot more sometimes, because he wants the ball to move and he wants to involve everybody. I think unselfish players think like that. Once in a while I’ve got to tell him, no, I don’t care if you get 20 of those shots, you have to take them.”

Sunday night, especially as the game moves on, expect LeBron to take more of those shots. That said, the defense is going to load up on him and somebody else is going to have to step up.

  1. money2long - Jun 8, 2013 at 10:10 AM

    lebron, some people in cleveland feel you and “abandon” go hand in hand. just saying.

  2. cuejay - Jun 8, 2013 at 10:25 AM

    Hey bonehead money2long – it’s been three years…GET OVER IT. He didn’t leave the city, he left A JOB. He still has a home there, still does community stuff there and is still visible there in the off season. So he abandoned a JOB. He made the decision that was best for him and his family. That’s what a man does. It will be knuckleheads like you who keep him from even considering coming back to the Cavs when his contact is up in Miami…great job dude!

    • money2long - Jun 8, 2013 at 10:43 AM

      i would respond to this, but i’m just a bonehead.

      • 1historian - Jun 8, 2013 at 11:18 PM

        I’m glad you know your place, young man.

  3. true15 - Jun 8, 2013 at 10:40 AM

    Kawhi Leonard will hold lebron full time on sunday, he was effective at limiting him. I thought Danny Green and Ginobili over helped at times leaving the three point line open, but with Tim Duncan backing up Leonard we hold lebron to under 20 again. I’m not sure but i think Leonard did not foul lebron the whole game. GOOD JOB KL2

  4. golfrangeman - Jun 8, 2013 at 10:45 AM

    Money2long do you still have the first job you ever had?
    If not shut-up and grow-up!! If so I feel sorry for you.

  5. golfrangeman - Jun 8, 2013 at 10:47 AM

    And by the way he did it for less money.

    • money2long - Jun 8, 2013 at 10:57 AM

      the venom is strong today….can we turn down the heat ?
      the rich man did it for less money. well, that’s honorable.
      excuse me while i roll my eyes.

      by the way. i don’t care he left. that’s the funny thing. im not from cleveland. so cool it, you fanatics.

  6. reesesteel23 - Jun 8, 2013 at 11:11 AM

    Lebron 42/10/10 Book it

  7. breastfedted - Jun 8, 2013 at 11:30 AM

    Money2long it looks like you have stirred the bees nest of bandwagon Heat fans who would give you a blank stare if you asked them who Alonzo Mourning or Tim Hardaway is

    • eddlandovereddie - Jun 8, 2013 at 11:59 AM

      Wow Alonzo and Tim your gd, why not use Rony Seikaly? Bandwagon wow that was easy.

  8. jzone954 - Jun 8, 2013 at 11:47 AM

    Can we dead the whole bandwagon fan talk line there’s this special criteria to being a “real fan” and just enjoy the finals?

  9. mrbiz8505 - Jun 8, 2013 at 11:51 AM

    He did it for less money…..so I guess it wasn’t “what was best” for his family…..just his stat sheet

  10. eddlandovereddie - Jun 8, 2013 at 12:00 PM

    Top nba player searches. thats alot of WAGONS you haters.
    L. James (5783)
    D. Wade (3998)
    C. Andersen (3335)
    D. Granger (3213)
    R. Hibbert (3033)
    C. Paul (2910)
    C. Bosh (2512)
    K. Bryant (2485)
    P. George (2476)
    T. Parker (2452)

  11. jzone954 - Jun 8, 2013 at 12:11 PM

    Melo and Dwight Howard forced there way out of there teams…..lebron actually filled his contract and opted to go somewhere else ( Miami may I add is sort of where you wanna be if you have that type of money) yet for some reason lebron is criticized more and hated.

  12. thekingdave - Jun 8, 2013 at 12:24 PM

    @jzone954

    Nah, just because it exists and bothers you doesn’t mean we should cease talking about it.

  13. topdawg4ever - Jun 8, 2013 at 2:32 PM

    So anyway, about Kawhi Leonard. He’s doing a pretty good job on LeBron and is an excellent offensive threat as well. Watch for this kid to blossom in the next couple of years…

  14. djigel - Jun 8, 2013 at 2:37 PM

    I’d like to be the first commenter to actually comment on the story! I think it is good someone finally gave Leonard credit for slowing LeBron a bit (which is all you can really do) – I think the key dynamic to watch is if LeBron gets more aggressive, does it limit his ability to continue to involve Wade and Bosh? I know about the drive and kick, but as we saw with the Pacers, if the shots aren’t falling, it becomes hero ball again and that is likely not the best way to beat the Spurs. As always in sports, I think it is about balance – something that always works, but it is on LeBron to find that, guys like Bosh to finally pretend like he is on a basketball court and not the kid in left field picking daffodils, and the heat shooters to make sure they get hot and hit shots – if not, it may be spurs 2-0.

    Lastly, can we at least agree to give the spurs credit for WINNING game 1? Not them “stealing” it, the heat “losing” it or being tired, etc etc. – I think all fans can agree they did a good job on defense, protected the ball, and held off Miami from making huge runs that put the game away in the third. Not to mention, played a great 4th quarter….

  15. valeb2012 - Jun 8, 2013 at 3:17 PM

    The fascination with triple-doubles puzzles me. He had a ton of defensive rebounds, which is great but it ain’t gonna win a game. For that, you have to help make buckets. 18 PT and 10 AST = around 40 PT all-in. He averaged a bit better in the regular season (27 and 7). He probably needs to score more. KLeonard is a bit stockier than PGeorge and TD and TS are a bit quicker than RHibbert on the help. I don’t know if Miami can change all that much. I think SA in 5 games.

  16. patfic15 - Jun 8, 2013 at 4:27 PM

    I predict a great deal of driving ….whining….and free throws. All of which amounts to a game 2 win for Que…King James.

  17. funktron2x - Jun 8, 2013 at 5:07 PM

    Yeah, good comment on the Spurs defense there. People are all convinced that the Pacers were some team of ogres that were all 10 feet tall and that is the only way to slow heat. well, when you are tall and quick, you can clog things up even faster and force the ball out of the paint. which the Spurs do at an elite level.

  18. topdawg4ever - Jun 8, 2013 at 5:57 PM

    Yes, the Pacers took advantage of the relatively smaller Heat. But they were inexperienced and still lacking offensively. I think next year they’ll really be a team to watch.

    In the meantime, the Spurs are very good at keeping the pace slow and deliberate. They did a great defensive job on LeBron but Parker and Ginobli tend to run hot and cold. The Heat need to keep the pressure on Parker. Start Anderson, keep Bosh on the bench. They can’t afford the missed shots from Bosh.

  19. jbeagles23 - Jun 8, 2013 at 6:37 PM

    The spurs definitely bet the heat game one. However it’s not Leonard’s defends that’s stopping lebron. It’s the crowdin the paint. Lebron got by Leonard a lot. ( more than George) however San Antonio’s help defence was great

    • bigred77 - Jun 9, 2013 at 2:07 PM

      Jbeagles – It truly cracks me up when people like you feel the need to exagerate to hype someone up or down. You said “Lebron got by him a lot”. First of all did you happen to even watch the game with that kind of comment? Or even pay attention to the stats posted in the article? Lebron was 2 of 8 when Kawhi was the primary defender. And a few of those were him defending a shot from beyond the arc. So if you actually watched the game, Lebron had very few penetrations where he “got by” Kawhi! Hell if I remember correctly its Kawhi that drove around Lebron for a dunk in that game!!

  20. funktron2x - Jun 8, 2013 at 8:02 PM

    LeBron may have gotten by Kawhi, but almost never with a full head of steam. Kawhi is just so long in the arms and legs

  21. savvybynature - Jun 9, 2013 at 12:07 AM

    If the Spurs win this series and Kawhi continues to play well, can he be granted a cool nickname please? Maybe The Future? Like the future of the Spurs’ franchise, and cuz he kind of plays like he is some sort of diabolical robot sent from the future to single mindedly destroy great offense.

    • txmedic37 - Jun 9, 2013 at 11:32 AM

      My husband and I call him KaWow. :-)

  22. pistolpete0903 - Jun 9, 2013 at 3:09 AM

    I keep repeating…..unless LBJ improves his jump shot and keeps defenses honest, smart teams like the Spurs will give him fits.

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