San Antonio started off this game shooting hotter than any team in NBA Finals history had for a half (75.8 percent). They were back to being the dominant Spurs and the Heat looked shell shocked.
Yet even when the Spurs pushed the lead up to 25, the entire American Airlines Arena — and anyone who has seen the Heat play before — knew a run was coming. The Heat were going to try and force chaos on the game, where Miami thrives.
They did. It got all the way to 7 points in the third quarter.
Then the Spurs restored order.
Led by as good a game as Kawhi Leonard has ever played — 29 points on 10-of-13 shooting, and he was better on the defensive end on LeBron James — the San Antonio Spurs won 111-96 on the road and took Game 3.
The Spurs took a 2-1 series lead and that makes Thursday’s Game 4 pretty much a must win for the Heat. That said the Spurs won Game 3 of last year’s NBA Finals handily as well, this still feels like a series that will go long.
“They came out at a different gear than what we were playing at, and it just seemed we were on our heels the most part of the first half,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said after the game. “And then when we started to get to a different gear in the third quarter, it was just tough to change the energy of the game.”
“They beat us and really we didn’t bring an urgency to this game tonight,” Ray Allen said in the Heat locker room. “We were just too casual.”
What has to make the Spurs feel good is they won this game on a night Tim Duncan had 14 points and Tony Parker had 15 on 4-of-10 shooting — it was the role players, and their exquisite ball movement, that keyed the offense.
San Antonio took charge from the opening tip when they shot 86.7 percent in the first quarter — they started out 19-of-21 shooting, they were 7-of-10 from three, and Boris Diaw, inserted into the starting lineup for Tiago Splitter, was +22 in the first half. The Spurs first quarter was insane as they hit 9-of-10 inside 8 feet, 4-of-4 from three, and missed their only shot from the midrange (remember the Heat forced the Spurs into 23 midrange shots in Game 2, but the Spurs were getting to the rim again in Game 3).
Kawhi Leonard, who had not stood out in the first two games, had 18 points on 6-of-7 shooting in the first half (his 29 for the game is the most he has scored since high school).
“We just wanted (Leonard) to be who he’s been the whole year, in the regular season and in the playoffs,” Gregg Popovich said after the game. “I think the foul situations the first two games really he overreacted to them and became very cautious, and he doesn’t play like that. He’s got to be real active at both ends, and so he figured it out.”
Danny Green added 13 after starting 6-of-6 shooting in the first half, he finished with 15.
The result was a 71-50 San Antonio lead at the half, which had been as much as 25 at one point. That is even more impressive when you remember San Antonio did that on the road against a Heat team that had not last at home all playoffs.
The Heat made their expected run in the third quarter, outscoring the Spurs 25-15 and holding San Antonio to 31.6 percent shooting. The Heat had a 10-0 run and cut the lead to seven with just more than two minutes left in the third. They were pressuring the ball and forcing misses.
But then the Spurs got back to crisp ball movement out of the pressure, plus they just won the hustle plays (such as Leonard chasing down Ray Allen on a breakaway and forcing a miss). The Spurs won the fourth quarter 25-17 and shot 58 percent in the Final frame.
The desperate Spurs played harder, more physical and smarter basketball all night. They earned the win and put the pressure on the Heat.