On a night that LeBron James was held to 19 points without Anthony Davis, it seems necessary to dive right into the defensive source, Bam Adebayo.
Now, Andre Iguodala had that match-up for a good portion of the game, and did a tremendous job out on the perimeter, which should not be overlooked. But when a team’s big man is guarding one of the best players to ever play the game of basketball for a bunch of stretches, it must be noted.
So, here’s a look into Adebayo’s defensive performance against an old friend of the Miami Heat.
– Fronting James early
Before we look into this match-up a little bit deeper, let’s start with the first possession, which was a sign that this was going to be a battle all night.
Adebayo showed that he wasn’t afraid to play a little physical out on the perimeter with LeBron, fronting him in the post, denying the entry pass. This led to a chucked up three point attempt from Kyle Kuzma, missing badly and getting Miami right into their offense.
These are the type of plays that aren’t shown in a stat sheet. Plays that force others to make a mistake, or force others to become uncomfortable. And well, that’s the Adebayo effect. No matter the defensive personnel around him, he’s going to bother a team with his physical abilities, his quickness and length, as well as his intense motor.
– Mind games
LeBron is one of the most gifted players when manipulating a defense with his mind, due to his many unique abilities in his arsenal.
On this possession, LeBron gets Adebayo on an absolute island. Wide open baseline, wide open wing. Usually when LeBron is given that much space, he takes it at the chest of his defender due to his physical dominance. But that changed when he realized he had a very different player lined up across from him.
He scanned Adebayo, figuring out his next move, took one dribble and passed it out to the perimeter as the ball rolled down the court out of bounds. LeBron is the king of mind games, but a player with as much activity as Adebayo brings on that end of the floor, he ended up on the other side of things for a change.
– Forcing more uncomfort late in possessions
It’s not an easy task to guard the best player in the NBA individually, but it’s even tougher when you must worry about the backside the entire game being the defensive staple that he is for Miami.
This is another example of LeBron passing up shots that he would usually take. As Adebayo tries to avoid putting his back to all of the action, he tries to slide over as much as possible with the dribble penetration. The ball ends up swinging back around to LeBron with the shot-clock ticking down, he passes out to Montrezl Harrell for a corner three with 2 seconds left on the shot clock.
Adebayo clearly knew the clock situation as well, since he allowed his hands to be much more active than his feet, leading to another impressive stop.
– Avoiding soft switches
Soft switches has been Miami’s downfall on the defensive end this season, since although Adebayo can handle a guard on the perimeter, the guard who just switched can’t handle the rolling big man. It’s been a cycle, but Miami showed that they can end it when most needed.
There were moments where they would willingly switch, mostly when it involved Butler, Adebayo, or Iguodala. As seen here though, Adebayo stayed steady on his match-up with LeBron, forcing Max Strus to rotate down. This led to a turnover for the Lakers, instead of LeBron taking advantage of a one-on-one situation with Strus.
Adebayo making these decisions also has a lot to do with the personnel on the floor at the moment. He trusts Iguodala on the backside to step up, which was exactly what happened on this possession.
– The Block
For a player that is not known for his rim protection, every one of Adebayo’s most incredible plays involve a swat around the rim.
As the Lakers got into their transition offense, the ball found LeBron in stride. Adebayo noticed him moving downhill with Iguodala on his heels, which is why he exploded towards the action. He then timed it perfectly to block it off the backboard, creating a huge spark for Miami in the fourth quarter.
Also, length and quickness shouldn’t always be the headliner for these moments, since as I just mentioned, timing plays a big part in not only his blocking abilities, but just about everything, which I will explain next.
– Timing plays, reading the pace
As I just began to get into, timing plays a big part in a lot of Adebayo’s defensive success. He knows when to be in certain spots on the floor, when to jump in the air for a contest, and more.
But as seen on this play, that timing also can lead to reading the game at a deeper level. On the last block, he immediately exploded when seeing that one player was handling LeBron on the move. On this possession, he doesn’t explode toward the rim since three defenders are waiting for LeBron’s next move.
He was then in perfect position to deflect the pass, and cause another Laker turnover. As mentioned previously, it just isn’t about his athletic abilities all the time, since his basketball feel is just off the charts.
– Defending every option
Although this wasn’t smothering defense from Adebayo, and a shot LeBron usually knocks down, it’s necessary to evaluate his defensive positioning.
Guarding LeBron is non-comparable to any other match-up, since he can drive it into your chest, pull-up from three, or throw a no-look dime backdoor as soon as you fall asleep. And at that point in the game, forcing him into a three pointer was the best option.
But notice how many steps Adebayo takes inside the arc when defending him. It’s enough to recover from a blow by, while close enough to contest a jump-shot good enough as seen here.
He truly has the whole package on the defensive end, and it stands out even more when facing a player of LeBron’s caliber.