The Miami Heat will defeat the San Antonio Spurs in Game 2 of the NBA Finals if Erik Spoelstra puts LeBron James in better position to succeed.
James finished Game 1 with 18 points, 18 rebounds and 10 assists. He played well, but he didn’t overwhelm the Spurs like he’s capable of doing. Much of that should be attributed to what Miami did wrong rather than what San Antonio did right.
The MVP only converted 2-of-8 field goal attempts when defended by Kawhi Leonard on Thursday night—seven of which were in the second half—according to ESPN. When guarded by another Spur, James sunk 5-of-8. He also attempted shots an average of 7.5 feet closer to the hoop compared to when Leonard didn’t defend him.
Spoelstra should’ve seen this coming. Leonard held opposing small forwards to an average player efficiency ratio of 12.6 this season according to 82games.com (the league average is 15.0).
Posting up the 6’8”, 250-pound James on the block against the 6’7”, 225-pound Leonard would work in theory, but for it to succeed, Chris Bosh needs to knock down open shots when Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter commit to helping Leonard. Bosh shot 6-of-16 from the field and 0-of-5 from three-point territory in Game 1.
Dwyane Wade gave James minimal help as well, shooting just 2-of-7 from the field in the second half.
Until James’ supporting cast proves that they’re capable of knocking down open shots, he won’t be able to take advantage of his size edge in the post. As a result, the Heat must play more pick-and-roll and less isolation to create mismatches for him away from Leonard.
Spoelstra must also be more strategic about resting James.
“I had been accustomed to being able to start the fourth but the third quarter was so—I was in the paint, defensive rebounding, I was closing out Kawhi Leonard on shooters,” said James after the loss according to Brian Windhorst of ESPN. "It took all in the tank from me in the third quarter. So I needed a little breather.”
Miami is facing a San Antonio team which rested for nine days between the Western Conference and NBA Finals. James averaged 43.3 minutes per game in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Indiana Pacers, but he received an entire week of rest less than the Spurs before Game 1. Spoelstra can’t run his superstar into the ground if he plans on getting the most out of him.
And considering how poorly the rest of the Heat played on Thursday, Spoelstra needs to get the most out of James to spur a comeback against Tony Parker and company.
David Daniels is a breaking news writer at Bleacher Report and news editor at Wade-O Radio.