|Spurs round up James in finals opener|
|Written by Admin|
|Friday, 08 June 2007 13:10|
Maybe one for 2007 should be raised.
On Thursday night, LeBron James got lassoed.
The Spurs, defending every grain of hardwood on their floor, kept Cleveland's star under control and in their commanding grasp. They held James to just 14 points on 4-of-16 shooting in his highly anticipated NBA finals debut and rolled to an easy 85-76 victory over the Cavaliers in Game 1.
James had encountered gadget defenses designed to stop him before, but the Spurs were all over the place, popping up in front of him like wild Texas sunflowers.
``This is definitely a different beast,'' he said.
With two days to make adjustments before Sunday's Game 2, both teams spent time on Friday breaking down videotape of the series opener, which was sometimes tough to watch as the clubs struggled offensively.
Apparently TV viewers tuned out early as the game received the lowest national rating ever for a Game 1 shown in prime time.
For the Cavaliers, the critical challenge is to figure out how to get their marquee player free of Spurs forward Bruce Bowen, one of the league's premier shutdown defenders, who led San Antonio's posse.
A seven-time All-Defensive team selection, Bowen seemed attached to James. Wherever No. 23 went, No. 12 was right alongside, pestering him, pushing him, bumping him and never allowing James to get comfortable.
James, who averaged 25.7 points in the Eastern Conference finals against Detroit, was unable to get loose for any powerhouse dunks, and any time he managed to slither past Bowen, the Spurs were lined up waiting.
``It's all a team effort,'' Spurs forward Michael Finely said. ``It started out with Bruce lining up on him and just making his looks and his drives and such difficult. But at the same time, Bruce knew he had his teammates behind him. We just wanted to make it tough for LeBron, make him have to take tough shots and make them.
``Last night, fortunately for us, they didn't go down.''
James has described himself as a ``quick learner.'' He'll need to cram for his next test against the Spurs.
Following Thursday's loss, the 22-year-old star went back to his hotel room and watched a replay of the game. He plans to view it again, hoping another look will help him find cracks in San Antonio's schemes.
James got off to a similarly rough start against the Pistons, scoring just 10 points in a Game 1 loss. But in Game 2 he scored 19, and he followed with 32- and 25-point outings before his 48-point tour de force in Game 5 as the Cavaliers overcame an 0-2 deficit to make the finals for the first time.
``We've been in this position before,'' James said. ``We've been down 2-0 and came back and won a series. So it's nothing new to us. But we don't want to go down 2-0 against this team.''
Um, no. Not against THIS team.
While the Pistons were certainly a handful to conquer, the Spurs, seeking a fourth NBA title in eight years and third in five years, are a superior obstacle. And what might be scariest of all for Cleveland, is that San Antonio can play better than it did in Game 1.
The Spurs had been idle for a week since winning the Western Conference title, and there were times when the rust showed. After building an 18-point lead, they relaxed and allowed the Cavaliers to get within eight points in the final minutes.
``We kind of let them back into the game,'' said Tim Duncan, who finished with 24 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks. ``LeBron hit a couple 3s, they got a layup or two, they got a wide-open shot or two. Those are just things we've got to clean up. I think they started to figure some stuff out.''
At times, James was way too slow in attacking San Antonio's defense. His passivity enabled Bowen to get up under his chin, and it allowed the other Spurs to settle back with one eye on their man - and the other on James.
James' other problem is that he tends to try and make the perfect pass, the one that makes the fans ooh and ahh and the kind that ends up on the late-night TV highlight reels.
He's realizing the simpler, the better.
``I'm going to have to make the easy pass and rely on my teammates a little bit more, which I'm going to do and have done throughout the postseason,'' said James, who had four assists and six turnovers. ``I do a great job of adjusting from game to game and I think my teammates do the same.''
Loaded with playoff and finals experience, the Spurs can change on the fly with the best of teams. Their versatility allows them to adapt to any situation, and their defense will always keep them in games.
``The Spurs,'' Cavs coach Mike Brown said, ``are a great team.''
Also a tough one to stop. In Game 1, Duncan, Tony Parker (27 points) and Manu Ginobili (16) combined for 67 points, a three-headed monster the Cavs must contain to have any chance of evening the series before heading back to Cleveland in the 2-3-2 format.
Coaches and players enjoy using the chess-match analogy to describe the moves, countermoves and mind games that go on in the days between games. It's an appropriate metaphor in this series, where a King is center stage.
And James, who has started slowly in the playoffs before, intends to make his second act a better one.
``The first game I kind of feel my way through it and kind of make an adjustment,'' he said. ``I don't plan to go out there and not shoot the ball well or not score.''