Duncan dilemma will vex Cavs; Spurs can slow LeBron
Posted: Wednesday June 6, 2007 11:04AM; Updated: Wednesday June 6, 2007 12:29PM
SI.com's Ian Thomsen asked an NBA advance scout to break down the NBA Finals matchup between the Spurs and Cavaliers.
"The only way the series goes six or more games is if players like Daniel Gibson play like they're auditioning for the All-Star team for next year. Not just Gibson, but all of those role players for Cleveland. LeBron James is going to win one game by himself, but he'll need help from those other guys to take the series past five games -- Sasha Pavlovic and Donyell Marshall and Damon Jones, they all have to play so well in roles to give Cleveland any kind of chance.
"I'm not one of those guys who is surprised that Cleveland made it this far. I compare the Cavaliers to the Miami Heat of last year -- everything had to fall together for Miami to reach the Finals, and now the same thing has happened for Cleveland.
"Of course, with Cleveland there was some luck involved too, including the fact that they drew the easiest ride to the conference finals of any team because Chicago lost the last game of the regular season. Had the Bulls won that game, there might have been an entirely different scenario in the Eastern playoffs this year.
"Since the All-Star break I've noticed that Duncan has played with a chip on his shoulder even bigger than he had two years ago when the Spurs last won the championship. He just looks like he's not going to let them lose this year.
"Duncan has always been an intelligent player, but he's obviously more experienced than ever and he's seen every defensive look the league can imagine. The bottom line is that he really has that something extra to his game this year. Maybe he thinks he's close to the end, that he only has a year or two left to make a run at the championship. Whatever it is, he's playing as if he has the extra incentive this year.
"I guess Cleveland has to start with Drew Gooden guarding Duncan. Zydrunas Ilgauskas will have to guard him some too, and Anderson Varejao will spend a lot of time on him -- though that will hurt Cleveland at the other end, because the Cavs will need scoring and Varejao won't give them much of that. Varejao's thing is grabbing and ultimately drawing the charge, and while that may work from time to time, he's not going to shut down Duncan for the series. Nobody's going to do that.
"The Cavs are going to have to trap Duncan, and just hope that the other guys don't beat them. The one hope for Cleveland is that Mike Brown used to help coach Duncan as an assistant in San Antonio, so maybe he's got some tricks up his sleeve.
"Ultimately they'll have to constantly give Duncan different looks. Maybe they'll even put LeBron on him a little bit, thinking that they can go small on Duncan and get an advantage there. Basically they've got to try everything against the guy.
"Yet they can't lose sight of the other Spurs either. They're just so versatile, it's like Gregg Popovich can put out maybe five different lineups if he wants to. He can go with his starters, or with an all-defense lineup around guys like Fabricio Oberto, Jacque Vaughn and Bruce Bowen, that will stop you from scoring for several minutes. Or he can surround Duncan with shooters like Michael Finley and Brent Barry, who can also handle the point. They can go with a dribble-drive team with Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. They've got Beno Udrih, who probably could start for a lot of teams but can't even sniff the floor with San Antonio. For a small-market team they've done an exceptionally good job at making the most of their budget, though it obviously helps that guys like Robert Horry and Finley are willing to go out of their way to play there.
"One of Cleveland's strengths is its rebounding, but the Spurs aren't delinquent in that area. Every guy they throw out there rebounds -- Francisco Elson, Horry (particularly at this time of year), obviously Duncan, Oberto, Bowen, Finley. Cleveland will get some offensive boards, but I doubt it will be the big advantage it was in previous rounds.
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