Game 3 of 2014 NBA Finals: Kawhi Unleashed, Spurs Teach the NBA How to Pass, Put Heat In a Canyon After 1st Quarter


Kawhi Leonard is known for a few things. He has huge hands. He is extremely soft-spoken. Some know his father was killed at the Compton car wash he owned and operated, where Kawhi spent a lot of his childhood. The murder occurred in 2008. The murder remains unsolved. Kawhi was drafted by the Spurs in 2011. Kawhi is one of my favorite players. His defensive genius is unique. His selflessness is unique. His low-key persona is unique. I’d love to interview Kawhi in some far-off future. Other than Rajon Rondo (I have been a Celtics fan for thirty years, after all) and maybe Steph Curry (I moved to the Bay Area ten years ago), Kawhi is probably my favorite player.

Kawhi simply went off in the first quarter. Hitting his first six shots (his jumpers cleanly splashed through the net), Kawhi stopped hesitating when the Spurs impeccably fluid ball movement resulted in passes to his large hands. The scoreboard operator could hardly keep pace with the Spurs early flurry. 41 1st quarter points. 19 of 20 from the field. History was made with the Spurs 75.8% first-half field goal percentage. Beauty may be “in the eye of the beholder,” but even Heat fans had to appreciate this display on some level. Heat fans who know that the ball moves well with their team, too.

Most players need to be taught to pass instead of shoot. Kawhi is the rare selfless (sometimes to a fault) player that needs to be urged to catch and shoot without hesitation. What did Pop say to Kawhi, was one of the common questions among the Finals media. Apparently, they don’t realize that Pop isn’t about to utter anything more than “Family business.” I think we can imagine the conversation. Here’s what I think was said between Games 2 and 3:

 

GP: (sitting down next to Kawhi) Kawhi, my man.

KL: (nodding).

GP: We both know that LeBron is LeBron. All we want you to do is stay aggressive, keep him in front, and keep hands in his vision. You’re doing great.

KL: I feel bad. I didn’t play well in either game.

GP: Forget that. You did play well. The only concern I have is you hesitated a few times.

KL: I know.

GP: We can’t have that. You know you can hit that jumper. You know that.

KL: (nodding).

GP: You know that.

KL: (nodding again).

GP: Tell me.

KL: What?

GP: Tell me you know that.

KL: I know that.

GP: You know what?

KL: That I can hit that jumper.

GP: You can?

KL: (looking down). Yes.

GP: You don’t sound too sure.

KL: I can hit the three, dammit.

GP: You sure?

KL: (staring at Pop).

GP: I know it…but do you?

KL: (silent stare)….Yes.

GP: Good.

(silence…clocks ticking…Parker and Diaw speaking in French far off in the background)

GP: What do you know, again?

KL: That I can hit that three, motherf*cker!

GP: Good! I like it! M*therf*cker! Sh*t! Assh*le!

KL: (laughing)

GP: So don’t hesitate! Shoot that motherf*cker!

KL: (laughing)

A real conversation, on the court, between Spurs coach Gregg Popvich and Spurs young star Kawhi Leonard.

A real conversation, on the court, between Spurs coach Gregg Popvich and Spurs young star Kawhi Leonard.

***

Spilled thoughts from last night’s 2014 NBA Finals Game 3.

  • Passing is what makes basketball a team game.
  • Passing is what makes basketball contagious.
  • In Game 3, the Spurs made a total of 362 passes. The Heat made 256 passes. 
  • Passing is what differentiates basketball from all other sports, except for maybe soccer.
  • Soccer and basketball are the world’s most popular games.
  • Many of the NBA’s most creative passers were born in other countries. Who are they?
  • Here’s a list: Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, Goran Dragic, Nicolas Batum, and Ricky Rubio to name a few.
  • Boris Diaw is one of the more underrated passers in the game.
  • People like to write about Boris Diaw’s weight, because it’s easy.
  • It’s harder to explain Diaw’s interior passing genius.
  • “Taking care of the ball” is a phrase coaches like to use to emphasize the importance of turnovers.
  • Teams that pass the ball more often will inevitably take more chances with passes, which lead to easy baskets and more turnovers. The Spurs are prone to turning it over against great defenses (promptingPopovich to respond to one in-game coaching interview with Doris Burke during last year’s Finals with the one-word answer “Turnovers.”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Db3-LTF8JhE
  • The Spurs committed only 13 turnovers in Game 3, while coming up with 12 steals. Hugely impressive. Miami coach Erik Spoelstra, as expected, emphasized the 20 turnovers they committed in Game 3 in today’s media session.
  • LeBron James committed 7 of those turnovers. Danny Green jumped passing lanes early in the game, coming up with a few critical early steals that led to easy buckets.
  • Chris Bosh doesn’t get shots when Miami doesn’t move the ball. Spoelstra noted that the Heat had 37 possessions in Game 3, where the Heat made 2 or few passes. Bosh took 4 shots in 34 minutes.
  • Mario Chalmers is in a bad mental place. Chalmers played horribly in Games 1 and 3 (both Miami losses). It didn’t start in the Finals. Norris Cole has been eating into Chalmers’ minutes over the span of the last month. Cole’s on-ball defense was dominant against Indiana’s guards. Since the start of the Heat-Pacers series (9 total playoff games), Chalmers has an overall +/- of negative 18. The flagrant foul Chalmers committed on Tony Parker with a clearly frustrated act of ramming his elbow into Parker’s chest in Game 2 was evidence of Chalmers’ mounting frustration; and his 9 turnovers and 9 assists over the first 3 Finals game is another. Chalmers has been instrumental with his physical defense and fearless shot-making over the last few years, but Norris Cole may be the answer. Balancing effectiveness with ego-bruising must be tough for Spoelstra.
  • Danny Green shocked Miami by putting the ball on the floor and finishing in the lane. Green’s three-point shooting has torched Miami in the past (last year’s Finals especially), and with Green’s adjustment (and Diaw’s passing), the Spurs offense reached another level.
  • What adjustments can Spoelstra make? He’s going to keep telling them to force Green off the arc. He’s going to keep living with Kawhi Leonard’s much improved three-pointer. He can insert Norris Cole for Chalmers, but Cole’s shooting is valuable to the bench.

***

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