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Protect the Rim! If I were a gambling man, I would put down a large sum of money that Eric Spoelstra and Gregg Popovich have uttered, written, whispered, texted and telepathized these words to their respective teams. LeBron James and Tony Parker are two of the best in the business at getting to the rim, and they do it so effortlessly that it can swing the outcome of any game. Will either team be able to stop the opposing force?
San Antonio Spurs
Roy Hibbert gave the Miami Heat fits during the Eastern Conference Finals. Guess what folks? This guy Tim Duncan, he was just as good as Hibbert was at protecting the rim during the regular season. Duncan had probably one of his best defensive seasons for the Spurs, and his commitment on the defense end was a big reason why the Spurs had the 3rd best defense in the NBA. I always compare Tim Duncan to Bill Russell. There isn’t a lot of flash to his game but he is a consummate teammate who does whatever his team needs to win yet his individual greatness can not be denied. Last season, the Spurs were an average team at defending shots within 5 feet of the rim. This season, the Spurs improved their interior defense and ranked 4th in opponent FG% from less than 5 feet at 56.5% (The Pacers ranked 1st). Defense is a team concept, but Duncan’s career high block percentage of 6.4% was a major part to the Spurs improved interior defense (Roy Hibbert had a block percentage of 6.7%). Tim Duncan has the ability to impact the game on the defensive end much like Roy Hibbert did in the ECF, and proved this during the regular season.
The Heat’s primary interior defenders, Chris Bosh, Udonis Haslem and Chris Andersen, are not the greatest at protecting the rim. Yes, Chris Andersen provides tremendous energy coming off the bench and is an underrated weak side defender, but he a 15 minute per game guy.
The Heat will need to focus on keeping Tony Parker from penetrating into the paint where he has a myriad of options. Parker has proven that he is one of the best finishers in the paint, but is also great at finding open teammates at the rim or stationed in the corner 3 zones. How do you keep Parker out of the paint? Well, putting LeBron James, the best perimeter defender, on Tony Parker in late game situations could help.
The Bottom Line
The statistics say that the San Antonio Spurs are the better rim protecting team, but LeBron James is a cheat code. I wrote about LeBron’s hesitance to attack the rim against the Pacers during the ECF, and when LeBron finally decided to attack Roy Hibbert in Game 7, Hibbert was left in foul trouble wondering what could have been. If LeBron chooses to unleash a relentless attack on the rim, he will eventually get Tiago Splitter and Tim Duncan into foul trouble. The San Antonio Spurs do not have the front court depth to contain the Heat from conducting a layup drill if Splitter and Duncan are on the bench with foul trouble (who’s going to protect the rim? Boris Diaw? Matt Bonner?! Not happening). The Heat have the depth to throw rim protecting bigs at the Spurs in the form of Chris Andersen and, wait for it, Joel Anthony. Yes, Joel Anthony. Needless to say, both the Heat and Spurs will need to remember that protecting the rim is priority number 1 on defense.