Miami Heat v San Antonio Spurs - Game Three

Barrage of threes, strong defense leads Spurs to blowout of Heat 113-77

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Famed NBA coach and broadcaster Hubie Brown has a theory (that I love) — NBA role players perform better at home.

The Spurs played at home for the first time in three weeks and their role players stepped up and owned the Heat. Owned.

Gary Neal (24 points, 6-of-10 from three) and Danny Green (27 points, 7-of-9 from three) led the Spurs to an NBA Finals record 16 threes in a game. The Heat defense was less aggressive, the Spurs moved the ball to the open man then knocked down shots, and the result was a blowout 113-77 Spurs win. San Antonio won the second half 63-33.

The result is a 2-1 Spurs lead in the series with a big Game 4 Thursday night in Texas.

San Antonio has taken the Heat’s haymaker and come out more focused the next game. The Heat have done the same all playoffs and must again, but they have not taken a punch like this one.

“We got what we deserved,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra repeated many times after the game. “They played with more force, more focus, the teams that do that typically get what you deserve. They outplayed us, out classed us from the very tip.”

Actually, the first half was much closer. The Spurs led most of the way behind Neal’s 14 points and Tim Duncan getting 10 while attacking the paint. The Spurs were getting the shots they wanted, shooting 61.1 percent in the first quarter. Still, it was a 44-44 game when just before the half Tony Parker hit a leaning three from the corner and Gary Neal beat the buzzer with one, resulting in a six point halftime lead.

But it was already clear where this could be going — San Antonio was outworking the Heat all over the court. The best evidence of that was San Antonio having 19 offensive rebounds on the night — they grabbed the offensive board on 42.2 percent of their missed shots. That is all effort and desire.

Then in the second half the Spurs shooters caught fire — they shot 51.1 percent overall, 9-of-17 from three and Green had 22 of his points in the half.

The Spurs were moving the ball and making the extra pass — 29 assists — and the Heat defense was not making the extra effort.

“When we’re moving the ball like that, trusting each other to knock down shots, make plays, it makes the defense work,” Green said. “It makes them move, rotate. The more you make a defense move, the more they’re liable to make mistakes.”

While no doubt the Spurs shooters were hot, the Heat suddenly less aggressive defense helped them get that way.

“They have great shooters…” Spoelstra said. “If you’re not doing your job, and doing it early, and doing it with focus and discipline guys get open. And that’s what happened. They got all the easy ones they wanted first. And same thing with our shooters when you get easy ones the basket starts to look bigger and bigger.”

The Heat were also passive on offense. The Spurs packed the paint again and did a good job of encouraging the Heat to shoot from the midrange. So the Heat settled — Miami was 7-of-32 from the midrange. That’s 21.9 percent. Not only did the Heat settle, they missed the shots they were settling for. LeBron James was not himself and was 7-of-21 for 15 points.

“I can’t have a performance like tonight and expect to win,” LeBron said.

He wasn’t alone. Chris Bosh was 4 –of-10 and as a team the Heat shot 40.8 percent. Dwyane Wade led the Heat with 16 points, the lone real bright spot for the Heat was Mike Miller going 5-of-5 from three.

San Antonio simply outworked and outplayed Miami all night long. If Miami is going to bounce back it is going to have to start with energy on the defensive end of the floor. From there, get some rebounds and make some of their open shots. Then attack the paint with the ball.

What you can be sure of on Thursday night is the Spurs will continue to be the Spurs — make a mistake, don’t make the extra effort and they will make you pay. Miami is going to have to take this one from San Antonio, because the Spurs are not going to beat themselves and hand a win over.

Coach Steve Clifford: Poor defense has led to Hornets’ losing streak

CHARLOTTE, NC - JANUARY 04:  Teammates Michael Kidd-Gilchrist #14 and Marvin Williams #2 of the Charlotte Hornets react at the bench as head coach Steve Clifford reacts during their game against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Spectrum Center on January 4, 2017 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Hornets coach Steve Clifford points to one factor when explaining his team’s five-game losing streak – a lack of defense.

Charlotte went 0-5 on its recent road trip, surrendering an uncharacteristic 109.6 points per game during that span. The Hornets return home Wednesday night to face the Portland Trail Blazers, part of a stretch of five-game home stand which Clifford hopes will help turn things around.

But Charlotte’s fourth-year coach said nothing will get better until the Hornets start playing better man-to-man defense.

“It starts with our ability to guard our guy,” Clifford said. “When you get blown by a lot on the perimeter where you are constantly in need of help, then you are going to give up 3s – and that’s what is happening.”

The Hornets raced to a 14-9 start this season and were third-best in the league in points allowed through 23 games.

Since then, things have steadily fallen apart, culminating with Charlotte giving up at least 100 points in eight straight games. The Hornets have since dropped to 12th overall in points allowed.

The Hornets have fallen to 20-21 on the season and are on the outside looking in at the Eastern Conference playoff picture. It hasn’t helped that Nic Batum and Cody Zeller have been in and out of the lineup with injury problems, but Charlotte’s struggles on the road – where it has lost 11 of its last 13 – is concerning.

Zeller said the Hornets spent Wednesday morning watching cutups of defensive miscues over the last five road games.

“All four years I have been here it starts with defense,” Zeller said. “That is what coach Clifford preaches.”

The 7-foot center said it is mostly simple things that can be corrected.

“There are sets that we know are coming – and we just aren’t defending them right,” Zelller said. “We are making too many mistakes.”

Added guard Marco Belinelli: “We need to speak a lot more on the court and help each other.”

Getting the defensive mistakes fix won’t be easy.

After Portland, the Hornets host Toronto, Brooklyn, Washington and Golden State. All five teams rank in the top 14 in the league in scoring offense, with the Warriors being No. 1 overall and Raptors No. 3.

A year ago, Hornets general manager Rich Cho pulled off a quality late-season trade, landing “three and D” guard Courtney Lee. He proved to be the driving force on the team’s playoff run and played well in the postseason.

The problem was Lee did so well it made it impossible for the Hornets to re-sign him. Charlotte re-signed Batum and Marvin Williams, and let Lee walk in free agency. He signed a four-year, $50 million deal with the New York Knicks.

The Hornets figured with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist returning this year from a shoulder injury they would be fine defensively, but the struggles are mounting.

Clifford wouldn’t discuss whether the team needs to make a similar trade before the NBA deadline.

As for the offense, Clifford likes what he sees.

Kemba Walker, a first-time All-Star candidate, is in the midst of the most productive season of his career, averaging 23 points per game while shooting 41.3 percent from 3-point range.

“I mean he’s having a great year,” Clifford said. “He’s worked really hard and it’s paying off for him.”

Chris Paul to have surgery on torn ligament in left thumb, out 6-8 weeks

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When the Clippers last were without Chris Paul (then due to a hamstring injury), they dropped six games in a row. Granted, that was without Blake Griffin, too, but this team struggles on offense without the Point God running the show.

He’s not going to be running the show again for them until March.

Paul will miss 6-8 weeks due to a torn ligament in his left thumb that will require surgery, the team announced Tuesday. He is set to have surgery on Wednesday.

Raymond Felton and Austin Rivers will get a lot more run with CP3 sidelined.

The injury happened in the second quarter of Monday night’s game against the Thunder. Paul was trying to get over the top of a Joffrey Lauvergne screen when he ran into Russell Westbrook, who had pulled up to take a three. Paul’s hand was on Westbrook’s hip and got caught in his shorts and Westbrook elevated for the shot.

It looked serious as Paul walked off the court — he kicked a chair and was cursing, a sign that he knew something was very wrong. He went straight to the locker room, where X-rays were taken that found nothing broken. It was an MRI on Tuesday that found the damage.

The Clippers are the four seed in the West but are likely about to lose ground, being without Paul until March and with Griffin still sidelined from knee surgery (but should be back in the next few weeks, according to his timetable). Starting Saturday The Clippers have 10-of-11 games on the road — and the one home game is the Warriors. That’s a brutal stretch of games under the best of circumstances, and now the clouds over this team got much darker.

PBT Podcast: Debating NBA midseason awards with Dan Feldman

TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 14: Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Western Conference and James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets and the Western Conference warm up before the NBA All-Star Game 2016 at the Air Canada Centre on February 14, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Russell Westbrook or James Harden for MVP?

Is Mike D’Antoni the runaway Coach of the Year?

Can anyone catch Giannis Antetokounmpo for Most Improved Player?

The PBT staff gave their picks for midseason awards already. Now Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports debate all of that, plus Sixth Man, Defensive Player of Year, and even takeaways​ from the Warriors win over the Cavaliers Monday.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, or listen and subscribe via iTunes (check there to see all the NBC Sports podcasts), subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out our new PBT podcast homepage and archive at Audioboom.com.

LeBron James reminds heckling Warriors fans he has three rings (VINE)

SACRAMENTO, CA - JANUARY 13:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers stands on the court during their game against the Sacramento Kings at Golden 1 Center on January 13, 2017 in Sacramento, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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Monday night was not exactly the best game of the season for the Cleveland Cavaliers. They looked like a team on the final night of a six-game, 12-day road trip and they were mailing it in. Then they ran into a rested Warriors team looking to gain a little confidence. The result was a Red Wedding-level blood bath.

LeBron James was none too bothered. He was downplaying the rivalry and the importance of the game before it tipped-off, and after the game he rightly said this was not going to have any impact in June.

And when Warriors fans heckled him, he reminded them of the hardware — he’s got rings. Three of them. The last one at the expense of the Warriors.

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I’m going to miss Vine when it goes away.

Hat tip Matt Moore Eye on Basketball.