NBA Finals Game 3 preview: Spurs need to get into the paint, keep LeBron out of it

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Game 2 of these NBA Finals will be remembered for LeBron James going off. As they should be. He did, to the tune of 35 and 10, plus he got other teammates involved late.

But that’s not the only Spurs problem from Game 2.

Miami played much improved defense in Game 2. That defensive energy and strategy are something coming on the plane with them back to Miami and Game 3 at the American Airlines Arena on Tuesday night. It’s what the Spurs have to adjust to if they are going to steal a game in Florida and even the series.

Miami is 8-0 in the playoffs at home, although they came out of the weak East so take that number with a few grains of salt.

In Game 2 Miami mostly switched pick-and-rolls, which they can do because Chris Bosh is one of the better pick-and-roll defending big men in the NBA (he can challenge the ball handler, then recover as needed, plus he did a good job of closing out on Boris Diaw at the arc in the final minutes). This was a change from the Heat’s default defense of trapping the ball handler, and it worked because with the switch the other defenders could stay home on their shooters. The bottom line is it kept the Spurs from just owning the paint — San Antonio took 11 midrange jumpers in Game 1 and 23 in Game 2. They did take a step back and hit nine three pointers in the second half of Game 2, but they need to get into the paint more.

That is the Spurs challenge in Game 3 is to get back inside consistently — then finish the play. Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter were a combined 14-of-16 shooting in the paint in Game 1, but in Game 2 they shot just 8-of-14 in the restricted area as the more aggressive Heat challenged everything.

One thing to watch for, which we saw a little of in Game 2, was the lineup the Spurs used a lot in 2013 — Tim Duncan in the paint and four perimeter players to space the floor around him. Splitter may start but the two big thing is not where the Spurs will spend most of the game. (Boris Diaw lets Popovich go small without actually going small.)

With Miami back home you can expect another good game from LeBron, but the real key is the support. Chris Bosh continues to space the floor and hit big shots. Dwyane Wade has been solid but expect in one of these next to games for him to do more than just flop on Manu Ginobili. The other big key is so far has been Rashard Lewis, who has been a threat from three and played solid defense.

Mario Chalmers has struggled through this series, if he continues to there will be some Noris Cole and a lot of no point guard lineups. Erik Spoelstra has shown the ability to adapt, and he will go with what works in terms of lineups.

But at the end of the day he has the best weapon in the game in LeBron James. And there is no good matchup for that.

2017 NBA playoffs have been historically uncompetitive

AP Photo/Elise Amendola
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The NBA Finals so many wanted to see – Cavaliers-Warriors III – is here.

At least it will be.

Today is the first of six off days before the 2017, which begin June 1 in Oakland.

The lengthy delay is the product of an underwhelming postseason featuring few competitive series and numerous blowouts.

Golden State swept its way through the West, and Cleveland dropped only one game (to the Celtics in the conference finals) while winning the East. There have been only two Game 7s, but considering the magnitude, neither felt that compelling. Blake Griffin‘s injury undercut the Clippers against the Jazz, and Celtics over Wizards felt inevitable with home teams winning each game of the series. Between, there have been several lackluster games and series.

There have been just 74 playoff games this year – the fewest before the Finals since since the NBA instituted a best-of-seven first round in 2003:

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That’s 74 of a possible 98 games – 76%, the lowest since 1999 and seventh-lowest ever.

Even if the Finals go seven games, it will be the fewest games in a postseason since 2007. If the Finals go five or fewer games, it’ll be the shortest postseason in this playoff format.

And it hasn’t just been quantity. The quality of games has been lacking, too.

Though there were more blowouts last year by nearly any measure, the 2017 postseason’s average margin in pre-Finals games (13.5) is fifth-highest all-time and second-highest since 1959 (behind 2016, 14.2).

Combine the two factors, and these are the drabbest playoffs in nearly 50 years. Here’s each postseason plotted by average margin in pre-Finals games and percentage of possible games pre-Finals:

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This probably just confirms what you’ve seen: The 2017 playoffs have been in a rut.

We’re all counting on the Cavaliers and Warriors to salvage this postseason, but considering how deep the hole is, anything less than an epic Finals probably won’t cut it.

Kyrie Irving crosses over Avery Bradley, hits 3-pointer (video)

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Avery Bradley got around one screen then, thanks to Kyrie Irving‘s excellent ball-handling, lunged at another that wasn’t coming as Irving hit a 3-pointer.

LeBron James beautifully pass-fakes, makes layup in transition (video)

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LeBron James is a treasure.

Shaquille O’Neal’s big toe is seriously jacked up (PHOTO)

shaq o'neal
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Remember how we we all freaked out when we saw pictures of LeBron James‘ feet back in 2013?

You probably didn’t want to be reminded that it existed, but it does. Still. And apparently jacked up feet is the consequence of a lifetime of playing professional basketball. Once can only assume it has something to do with tight shoes and constant, hard changes of direction in said tight shoes.

We got yet another vision of what basketball shoes can do to feet on Thursday when TNT analyst Shaquille O’Neal showed off his, er, little piggies.

Much to the horror of the Internet in general, it was Shaq’s right big toe that took social media by storm. Mostly because it’s not even close to pointing in the right direction.

I’m going to show you what it looks like. Be forewarned, it might just be NSFL.

Via Twitter:

Oh. Oh … why?

Social media reacted appropriately and proportionately:

Shaq did have issues with that toe during the course of his career, and at one point it was so bad that he had to have surgery to remove bone spurs from the toe in 2002.

That still doesn’t explain why it’s all over your TV and the Internet, but here we are. I am sorry.