James shot 36 percent in the series, including a ghastly 10 for 30 in Game 4, and committed 23 turnovers.
“Well, LeBron is a different player than he was in ‘07,” Popovich said. “That was like ancient history. He was basically a neophyte at the time, wondering how all this stuff worked and how it’s put together. We were very fortunate at that time to get him so early. But at this point he’s grown.”
James wasn’t interested in discussing much of that series, but he recalled the way the Spurs’ strategy kept him from getting into the paint and dared him to shoot jumpers.
There’s no blueprint now that would encourage a guy who made 56.5 percent of his shots this season to shoot the ball.
“If you go under my pick-and-roll now, I’m going to shoot. And I’m confident I’m going to make every last one of them,” James said. “I’m just more confident in my ability to shoot the ball.
“But at the same time, I also have a lot more weapons this time around going against this team, where in ‘07 they loaded three guys to me a lot on the strong side of the floor. So like I said, I’m a better player, and you can’t dare me to do anything I don’t want to do in 2013.”
Duncan and James probably wouldn’t have thought it would take so long to see each other in the finals again after their meeting in the hallway of Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena. San Antonio had built a quiet dynasty, winning four titles in nine years, and the core of Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili would keep giving the Spurs chances.
But they couldn’t get out of the West even while finishing with the best record in the conference the last two years, just as Cleveland couldn’t in the East during James’ last two seasons there.