It’s the same one he’s occasionally delivered to Tim Duncan.
Selfless play is great. Moving the ball to open teammates is usually the right idea. That belief has carried the Spurs to four NBA titles.
Sometimes, though, it’s best if the superstar takes on more himself.
“I’ve talked to players before about being more aggressive,” Popovich said Friday, after the Spurs practiced following their 92-88 victory over the Miami Heat in Game 1.
“Opportunities might be there that they didn’t take advantage of. That happens with Timmy now and then. He’s so unselfish, if he shoots three jumpers in a row, he feels like he shouldn’t shoot more sometimes, because he wants the ball to move and he wants to involve everybody. I think unselfish players think like that. Once in a while I’ve got to tell him, no, I don’t care if you get 20 of those shots, you have to take them.”
Maybe James will in Game 2.
“We’ll see what type of game plan I come out with on Sunday,” he said. “It will be dumb of me to reveal it today.”
James had 18 points, 18 rebounds and 10 assists in Game 1, but, as can be the case with the game’s greatest talent, there was a feeling he could have done more. And the Heat needed it.
About the time the game was slipping away from the Heat midway through the fourth quarter, the league MVP had attempted fewer shots than Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, and only three more than Mario Chalmers. Bosh took more shots in the final period (five) than James (four).
The more they missed — as Wade and Bosh did six times in seven attempts over the final 12 minutes — the louder the cries for James to stop giving them the ball and keep it for himself.
Yet that just doesn’t seem natural for him.
“I’ve got this far with them, I’m not going to just abandon what I’ve been doing all year to help us get to this point,” James said. “So I know those guys will be ready to shoot again once they’re open.”
The Spurs appeared to retain at least part of the schemes they used against James in 2007, when they swept his Cleveland Cavaliers for their most recent title. A help defender was ready to slide over and make James give up the ball or shoot a jumper if he had beaten his man, rather than have a lane to the basket.
“We obviously understand that he’s extended his range and he’s a much different player than he was then. We’re trying to make it as difficult as possible,” Duncan said.
“We’re not going to hold him to 18 every game. Every game we know he’s going to come out real aggressive, especially this coming game, and be aggressive to score, but we’re going to try to make it as difficult as possible, show as many bodies as possible and make his plays so he doesn’t rack up on the ones going right to the basket and try to get the easy stuff.”
Some of the few easy looks the Heat got in their seven-game series against Indiana in the Eastern Conference finals came when James went into the post. But even if he does that now, the strategy only pays off if his shooters make open looks when he’s double-teamed.
So it will be up to James to determine what he thinks will work.
“He’ll do whatever it takes,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He’s as cerebral a player as there is in this league. He’ll read the game as necessary. I wouldn’t bet against our open shooters. So we just need to make sure we’re getting the shots that we want to.”
It’s hard to imagine that includes four 3-point attempts from the 6-foot-11 Bosh — the same amount taken by Ray Allen, the NBA’s career leader in 3-pointers made. Bosh missed all of them, but the Heat wouldn’t second-guess the shot selection or criticize their slumping All-Star forward.
“We just want Chris to mix it up,” Wade said. “Chris is one of the best shooters, especially big-man shooters in this game. He hasn’t found the fine line of mixing it up, and that’s now always easy because of the dynamic of how many players we have on the court that’s live at all times.”
The Heat aren’t in bad shape, having won both the 2006 and ’12 championships after losing Game 1. But the difficult series against the Pacers took a toll, with both James and Wade saying the team looked fatigued in the fourth quarter Thursday and James even having to ask for a break at the beginning of the period.
A lengthy rest seemed to pay off for the Spurs, fresher at the finish after having nine days off following the West finals sweep of Memphis. They committed only four turnovers in the game — fewer than the Heat had in the fourth quarter.
Plus, San Antonio seems to have an understanding of how to play James, though the Spurs don’t make it sound like a complex one.
“It’s basketball. There’s nothing tricky really about basketball. There are only so many things you can do,” Popovich said. “So we try to do a little bit of everything. Sometimes it means getting up into him. Sometimes it means backing off. Sometimes it means fronting him. Sometimes it means playing behind. It’s just important to show a little bit of variety so somebody doesn’t get used to one thing.”
Now it’s up to James to figure out how to deal with all that.
“I don’t really predetermine what I’m going to do,” he said. “I kind of let the game flow for itself. We’ll see what happens.”