StatBox NBA Finals Breakdown: Please stop comparing LeBron James to Michael Jordan

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Lebron James 2With all the success LeBron James has had over the last several years, it’s only natural that he would be compared with the all-time greats, especially given the constant noise of the 24-hour news cycle. If LeBron James will ultimately go down as the greatest player who ever lived, that would mean (naturally) that he was better than Michael Jordan.

After his performance over the last two games, especially in Tuesday’s 36-point defeat to San Antonio in Game 3 of the NBA Finals, it’s really difficult to make a case for LeBron as being even close to Jordan.

So please, do yourself a favor. Stop comparing LeBron James to Michael Jordan. Please.

LeBron James was 7-for-21 shooting with 15 points in Game 3, and 7-for-17 shooting with 17 points in Game 2. Michael Jordan never scored fewer than 22 points in an NBA Finals game. James hasn’t even come close to Jordan’s level of assertiveness in this year’s Finals, nor has he reached 20 points in a game this series.

In the worst Finals game of Jordan’s life, his 22-point effort in Game 4 of the 1997 Finals against Utah, he at least shot 11-for-27 from the field. That’s still a higher shooting percentage than James had on Tuesday against San Antonio.

James is shooting 38.9 percent from the field through the first three games of the Finals. He’s even shooting worse than 30 percent on isolation plays this series, according to ESPN Stats & Info, which is usually regarded as one of James’ biggest strengths offensively.

Jordan_by_Lipofsky_16577Would Jordan have had fewer points in a Finals series thus far than Danny Green? Could you imagine Jordan having a three-game stretch in the NBA Finals where he would shoot 7-for-30 from outside the paint, like James has in the first three games against the Spurs? Somehow, I don’t think so.

“Honestly, I just have to play better,” James said after the game. “I can’t have a performance like tonight and expect to win.”

Think about this: In a season where Jordan’s Bulls reached the Finals, the lowest scoring average he had in those six postseasons was 30.7 points per game. These are just numbers that LeBron James cannot approach.

The 50 total points LeBron has scored over the first three games is the lowest three-game total since…the 2011 Finals against Dallas, ESPN points out. While Jordan never lost a Finals in six series, James has already dropped two and is in danger of losing a third if he doesn’t get his act together.

You could argue that Jordan’s Bulls teams teams were better, and that James is still doing a lot of other things besides scoring. He did have 11 rebounds and five assists on Tuesday. But it just seems like Jordan would never be in the kind of shooting slump that James is currently mired in. LeBron James hasn’t shot better than 50 percent in a game since Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals against Indiana. He’s missed more shots than he’s hit in seven out of his last eight postseason games.

Untitled 0 04 25-25Does the greatest player of all time have a stretch like that? Would the greatest player of all time really go 4-5 in a nine-game postseason stretch in what’s considered the prime of his career? You already know the answer.

“We got what we deserved,” Erik Spoelstra said after Miami’s 113-77 loss. “I didn’t even recognize the team that was out there tonight.”

ESPN Stats & Info found that the -32 LeBron James had on Tuesday was the worst mark of his career. In a crucial NBA Finals game. You just can’t lay an egg like that and even be mentioned in the same sentence as someone like Michael Jordan.

One could argue that NBA Finals games where a series is tied, like Tuesday’s game, are the most important. And if that’s truly the case, Jordan’s numbers in those games over his career dwarf James’ stats:

Even Series Games FG % 3 FG % Points Reb Assists FTA Win %
Jordan 10 50.6 48.3 33.7 6 6.2 8 80
James 8 42.3 30.6 20.5 10.1 6.25 4.1 37.5

Just look at how much better Jordan’s shooting numbers are! And while James is certainly more of a prolific rebounder and had triple-doubles in two of those eight games, Jordan averaged over 13 more points per game and won eight of his 10 even-series games. James is 3-5, including two defeats to the Spurs this series.

So until James can perform better in the NBA Finals, please stop comparing him to Michael Jordan. Please.

Shlomo Sprung loves advanced statistics and the way they explain what happens on the court. He is also the web editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. A 2011 graduate of Columbia University’s Journalism School, he has previously worked for the New York Knicks, The Sporting News, Business Insider and other publications. His website is SprungOnSports.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

StatBox NBA Finals Breakdown: How Miami won even before the run

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heat small logoEven before a preposterous third and fourth quarter run, the Miami Heat had already gotten back into a great position in its NBA Finals series against the San Antonio Spurs. Through the changes and adjustments made by the Heat during the first three quarters of Game 2, they had already erased the bad mistakes and trends that ended up haunting them in Game 1.

Sure, the result was a 103-84 blowout win for Miami over San Antonio, but margin of victory isn’t really important in the larger picture of this series. What is important going forward are the changes that occurred in this game, which are outlined below:

Better interior defense- An obvious way to win a game is to allow fewer layups and two-point baskets. Miami’s toughness and pressure inside really got to the Spurs, and it affected San Antonio’s overall field goal percentage. According to ESPN Stats & Info, San Antonio shot an abysmal 11-for-24 (46 percent) from inside five feet in Game 2. Prior to the Finals, the Spurs shot 63 percent on those shots according to ESPN. Take a look at how Miami improved its interior defense in Game 2, and how that made an impact on the game.

Interior Defense 2-point FG % Points In Paint PIP Dif
Game 1 45.9 40 -6
Game 2 37.9 38 8

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San Antonio was down a full eight percent in its shooting percentage on two-point baskets, and saw a 14-point swing going Miami’s way in points-in-the-paint differential.

“In the second half they just run us over,” Manu Ginobili said after the game. “We didn’t move the ball at all. Their pressure really got us on our heels.” And that pressure manifested itself into turnovers.

Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers- San Antonio was at its very best last Thursday night, committing just four turnovers and playing with pristine discipline in its Game 1 win. The tables truly turned on Sunday, with the Spurs committing 17 turnovers to Miami’s six, and the Heat scoring 19 points off those turnovers to the Spurs’ two.

“We didn’t play well. We didn’t shoot well. I know I played awfully,” Duncan said. “Whatever it may be, they responded better than us.” Defensive pressure from Miami was a major reason why Duncan was so very frustrated after the game. ”We were just a little bit more active today,” Chris Bosh said. “We really just made an emphasis to continue to try to corral them.”

Finding the right lineup- Sheridan Hoops colleague AJ Mitnick pointed out during the game, even before Miami’s big run, how well the Heat lineup of Mario Chalmers, Ray Allen, Mike Miller, LeBron James and Chris Andersen was playing. James playing as the power forward was a huge difference in the game, even if he didn’t shoot well (more on that in a minute) and Erik Spoeslstra found (and rode) his five-man group to a momentum-shifting win. So it should come as no surprise that those five players ended up with the best plus-minus ratings in the game.

mario-chalmersMario Chalmers and the pick-and-roll- When Mario Chalmers has really good games, it has translated to great future success for Miami in the past. His 25-point performance in Game 3 of last year’s Finals comes to mind. It was the most important game in the series and the Heat rolled to the title after that. Could Sunday’s 19-point effort translate to another Miami championship? Time will tell, of course, but James was certainly appreciative.

“Honestly, for me, when I was struggling offensively, my teammates continued to keep it in range,” James said. “So I think Rio more than anybody kept us aggressive, him getting into the paint, him getting those and-ones and making a couple of 3s.”

One more big change Spoelstra implemented for Game 2 was Chalmers and James running the pick-and-roll together, with great success. Jeff Van Gundy pointed this out at least a few times during the ABC broadcast, making the great point that it’s hard to shift your defense to the “roll” guy when LeBron James is setting the screen. That’s another huge benefit of James playing power forward, as Mitnick said.

The Chalmers and James P&R pair were 7-for-9 shooting with 18 points in Game 2, after only shooting it four times with that duo in Game 1, according to ESPN Stats & Info. And the kicker? Sixteen of those 18 points were scored during that 33-5 run, but Miami gained a major advantage even before that by making the tactical decision to run more sets in that way.

Limiting Parker- As good as Tim Duncan is, Tony Parker is the biggest key for the Spurs in this series. He was sensational in Game 1, but was limited to 5-for-14 shooting on Sunday with five turnovers and a disastrous -27 while on the floor.  A concerted effort was made to prevent Parker from dictating the pace and flow of the game, and it worked. For Miami to win this series, limiting Parker may be the biggest factor of them all.

Shlomo Sprung loves advanced statistics and the way they explain what happens on the court. He is also the web editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. A 2011 graduate of Columbia University’s Journalism School, he has previously worked for the New York Knicks, The Sporting News, Business Insider and other publications. His website is SprungOnSports.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

StatBox NBA Finals Breakdown: Spurs up the ante in huge road win over Heat

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Tony Parker, FranceIndiana took Miami to seven games in the Eastern Conference finals but the Heat were able to knock out the Pacers in Game 7. The San Antonio Spurs may have as much talent as the Pacers, but they’re a much better team. 

With sturdy defense, unusual discipline and unbelievable performances from its two brightest stars, San Antonio edged Miami, 92-88, to take Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday night.

First of all, and most importantly, Miami has to contend with an efficient, all-around point guard for the first time this postseason. With all due respect to Brandon Jennings (at times a volume shooter), Nate Robinson (a good bench sparkplug but not much more) and George Hill (a really good defender with a relatively limited offensive game), no backcourt player in these playoffs has done more for his team than Tony Parker.

NBA Finals Betting Preview: Evolution Of The Number 3

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gregg popovich220px-Erik_SpoelstraIt is almost as if Gregg Popovich and Erik Spoelstra knew this was coming all along and have been preparing for this two-week journey against each other for many, many months. Before we dive into our betting preview for the NBA Finals, it is important to learn how we got to this point.

StatBox Breakdown: How it all went so wrong for the Indiana Pacers in Game 7

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Paul GeorgeThe dam seemed secure after Indiana’s pretty convincing Game 6 win over Miami. Then in the first half of Game 7, the dam broke, the floodgates came rushing open, and Indiana’s worst nightmare was realized.

The Pacers committed 14 first half turnovers and were never really in the game, falling quietly to the Heat 99-76 in the finale of a fantastic Eastern Conference Finals series.

“We just focused on every possession, trying to get stops, play Miami Heat defense, create havoc,” LeBron James said after his 32-point effort in Game 7. “I thought we did that tonight.”

Consider what changed from Game 6 to Game 7 and tell me this wasn’t the worst-case scenario for Indiana.

  • Indiana couldn’t shoot: The Game 7 loss must really sting, because Indiana’s field goal defense was really, really good over the last two games. Miami shot 36.1 percent in Game 6 and 39.5 percent in Game 7, but the Pacers went from 50 percent shooting in Game 6, to 40.6 percent on Monday. A huge reason for Indiana’s decline is not only Miami’s impressive defensive intensity, which should obviously be lauded, but Indiana’s drop-off from three. The Pacers were 10-for-18 from three in Game 6, and an abysmal 6-for-20 in Game 7.
  • Miami had the urgency: Miami started being super aggressive, driving the ball into the lane and playing with the urgency that a Game 7 warranted. The Heat literally doubled its free throw attempts, improving from 19 in Game 6 to 38 on Monday night. The Las Vegas over/under on James free throws was 6 1/2, which he bested in the first half. The Heat only committed six fewer fouls than the Pacers did, but Miami made sure that the team was going strong to the hoop and getting to the foul line.”By any means necessary … we took care of business,” James said. Even Ray Allen got into the act, knocking down three huge treys in the first half to create separation in the second quarter.
  • Dwyane WadeWade finally showed up: Various members of the media suggested that Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra actually bench Dwyane Wade for Game 7 after a pretty dismal few games leading up to the elimination match. Looking at Wade’s stats, a case could have been easily made for that:

    Wade FG % Points Rebs FTA
    Games 4-6 32.4 12 3.67 5.67
    Game 7 43.8 21 9 9

    “Everything that happened in the first six games didn’t mean anything to us,” Wade said. “It was about tonight. It was about Game 7. It was about finding a way to win here at home.”
    Wade took it upon himself to make an impact in Game 7, and flourished by getting to the rim and the free throw line and grabbing rebounds over smaller Pacers. Wade had nine rebounds, more than anyone on the Pacers. Which leads us to the next reason why Game 7 was the worst-case scenario for Indiana.

  • The Pacers were outmuscled: Indiana, the best rebounding team in the NBA, lost the battle of the boards by seven, 43-36. After doubling up Miami in points in the paint in Game 6, 44-22, both teams scored 30 in the interior on Monday. That’s an enormous shift and a credit to Miami for adjusting and beating the Pacers at their own game. Chris Bosh finally woke up for Miami, getting all eight of his rebounds in the fateful first half. Paul George was basically neutralized completely in Game 7, and David West and Roy Hibbert couldn’t make the impact necessary to offset George’s off night.
  • The backcourt failed: It was really simple. Indiana won in this series when the starting backcourt of George Hill and Lance Stephenson combined to shoot over 40 percent, and lost when they failed to do so. They were a combined 8-for-22 shooting in Game 7 (36 percent) and lost. Clearly this was not the only determining factor in the game, but those 14 shots the duo missed could have been taken by other high percentage shooters. And those potential makes would have taken away rebounds and potential offensive opportunities for Miami. So it does add up.

There is no doubt that the Pacers had a tremendous season, coming within one game (really, one James overtime layup in Game 1) of reaching the NBA Finals without Danny Granger. If they can bring back David West and incorporate Granger into the fold, Indiana’s depth issue will be alleviated and the team will be even better defensively going into next season. That’s a scary thought for every other team in the Eastern Conference.

It was just not Indiana’s night on Monday. Miami raised its intensity level, won the battle inside, got to the line, took George out of the game, got a vintage effort from Wade and turned Indiana’s biggest game in several years into an unmitigated nightmare.

(RELATED: Hubbard: To Keep Building his Own Dynasty, LeBron Must Defeat Another)

(RELATED: Sheridan Picks Spurs to Win in 7)

Shlomo Sprung loves advanced statistics and the way they explain what happens on the court. He is also the web editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. A 2011 graduate of Columbia University’s Journalism School, he has previously worked for the New York Knicks, The Sporting News, Business Insider and other publications. His website is SprungOnSports.com. You can follow him on Twitter.