This isn’t the first time Tim Duncan and the Spurs stood in the way of LeBron James and what he sees as his destiny to be one of the game’s all time greats.
Back in 2007 LeBron dragged his Cavaliers squad to the Finals, only to be just carved up by the Spurs winning their third title of the decade. It was a team and a player in very different places. After it was all over, Duncan said this according to Brian Windhorst at ESPN.
“This is going to be your league in a little while. I appreciate you giving us this year.”
Six years later, it is LeBron’s league (as much as it is anyone’s). But he’s different. And the Spurs are different.
That makes 2013 very, very different than 2007.
LeBron actually scores less now than he did six years ago — 27.3 points a game then to 28.6 now — but he is vastly more efficient. Six years ago he shot 47.6 percent and he got most of that in transition of slashing to the rim. He was a terrible jump shooter and teams (including the Spurs in those Finals) played off him and dared him to shoot.
Do that now and LeBron’s strong jumper will destroy you. He shot 56.5 percent this season and 40.6 percent from three (his true shooting percentage, which includes compensation for threes and free throws, so it’s like points per possession, jumped from a good 55.2 percent back then to a ridiculous 64 percent).
LeBron says it’s not just him that’s better — and he’s right about that.
“I think our team is more experienced, first of all,” LeBron said, speaking in his press conference after Game 7 against the Pacers. “My Cleveland team, we were very young, and we went up against a very experienced team, well-coached team. And they took advantage of everything that we did.”
This is a radically different team around LeBron. Those Cavaliers relied on LeBron for everything and hoped Larry Hughes, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Drew Gooden could pitch in enough. These Heat may have struggled some in the playoffs but Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Ray Allen make up a much more dangerous core.
But this is also a very different Spurs team.
Then it was the big three at their peak — Duncan led the team in scoring and rebounding, 20 points and 10.6 rebounds a game. Tony Parker pitched in 18.6 points a game at age 24, Manu Ginobili was 16.5 points. Then it dropped off the map as there were role players — Michael Finley, Brent Barry and Bruce Bowen among others.
Six years later, this is Tony Parker’s team — he drives the offense scoring 20.6 points a game and adding 7.6 assists a game. As the big three got old Gregg Popovich turned the offense over to Parker and what you got was a better, more balanced attack — six guys average double figures a game. Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green get their points in the flow of the offense, but Duncan is still a serious threat (17.6 points a game in a renaissance, healthy year for him).
What changed — and then returned to form — for San Antonio is defense. Back in 2007 they allowed 99.9 points per 100 possessions, second best in the NBA. At subsequent years they fell back to a pedestrian 11th in the NBA, but this season they allowed a third best 101.6.
Now the question comes: Can they slow the improved and more versatile LeBron? They did it six years ago, but that was a very different LeBron with a very different team around them. Of course, this is a very different Spurs team, too.