After scorching the net at American Airlines Arena with an impressive display of record-setting, first half shooting, the San Antonio Spurs knew a run was coming from the defending champion Miami Heat.
Everyone did. Yet San Antonio never blinked, even as a 21-point halftime bulge dwindled to as little as seven points late in the third quarter.
Although a hostile environment in Miami grew louder, the Spurs stayed the course and eventually coasted to a 111-92 victory, to grab a 2-1 lead in the 2014 NBA Finals.
One game after forward LeBron James carried the Heat to a Game 2 victory on the road, San Antonio’s Big Three had absolutely no problem with letting their other two fellow starters — Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green — steal the spotlight and render the best player in the game, and his chief complement, relative non-factors.
James (9-for-14) and guard Dwyane Wade (8-for-12) led Miami with 22 points each on efficient shooting. Together, they outscored the combination of stars Tony Parker (15 points) Tim Duncan (14) and Manu Ginobili (11). And Chris Bosh (nine points) made each of his four shots for Miami.
Yet in a fine example of the Spurs’ terrific system and reliance on sound team play, it was Leonard who led all scorers with a career-high 29 points (including a career-best for a quarter, with 16 in the first), while Green sparked San Antonio with 15 points and nearly half (five) of his team’s dozen steals.
Leonard (who finished 10-of-13 from the floor) and Green (7-for-8) each made their first six shots to stake the Spurs to a game-high 55-30 lead, on a Leonard jumper, 3:52 into the second quarter.
Miami allowed a franchise playoff high for a quarter as San Antonio led, 41-25, during an opening period in which the Spurs shot a blistering 86.7 percent (13-for-15) while making all four of their 3-point attempts. As good as that seems, it fell barely short of San Antonio’s NBA Finals record of 87.5 percent (14-for-16) that the Spurs shot in the final quarter of their Game 1 victory last Thursday night. However, San Antonio beat the 110 points it scored in Game 1.
Remaining ridiculously hot, the Spurs made their first six shots of the second quarter to start the game 19-for-21 (90.5 percent).
“They jumped on us,” said James, who as Leonard was going off during the first quarter, scored 12 straight Heat points before later finishing with an NBA Finals career-high seven turnovers. “They were the aggressors and had us on our heels from start, which shouldn’t happen at this point in the season.”
“You never know what’s going to happen when you come out aggressively,” Green said. “Things were clicking… we continued to move the ball and trust each other.”
That came one game after head coach Gregg Popovich complained harshly of the Spurs’ lack of ball movement in Game 2.
Green, who despite being one of the younger Spurs, aided Popovich by taking a leadership role with encouraging his teammates on the bench during Game 3.
Later, he had high praise for Leonard. “He was amazing for us all night, on both ends of the floor,” he said.
Extending its lead to 71-50 at halftime, San Antonio became the first team to score 70 points in the first half of an NBA playoff game since the 1987 Los Angeles Lakers, while posting the largest lead by a road team in an NBA Finals game in 18 years. And the Spurs did so on 75.8 percent shooting (25-of-33), eclipsing the previous NBA Finals record for a half of 75 percent, set by Orlando, against the Lakers, in 2009.
By then, Miami (which shot a good 55.9 percent — 19-for-34 — in the opening half) had more first-half turnovers (10) than San Antonio had missed shots (eight). The Spurs also had all of the 10 fast break points in the first half.
“I don’t think we’ll shoot 76 percent in a half ever again,” said Popovich, who moved into fourth place all time with 21 NBA Finals wins as a coach. Heat president Pat Riley is next on the list with 26 Finals wins.
“They stuck to their game plan and we didn’t stick to ours,” Heat guard Ray Allen (11 points) said. “We got a little something going in the third, but it wasn’t enough.”
Ultimately moving to 47-0 in the playoffs when leading by 20 points or more at halftime under Popovich, the Spurs suddenly went cold after the break and only shot 31.6 percent (6-for-19) while getting outscored 25-15 in the third quarter.
After scoring 20 points in the opening 5:17 of the game, San Antonio had only 19 points over the first 16:53 of the second half, and saw its lead trimmed to just 81-74 with 1:59 left in the third quarter before clinging to a 90-80 edge, following an Allen 3-pointer that forced a Popovich timeout with 8:53 remaining.
But Parker’s only 3-pointer of the game (in three attempts) pushed the lead to 97-82, with 6:56 left, and Miami, which suffered its first loss in nine home playoff games this season, never challenged again.
The Spurs — while becoming the first team to beat the Heat on its home floor during the postseason since last year’s NBA Finals –regained the lead in the series under a backdrop of some interesting history.
They likewise routed the Heat in Game 3 of the Finals last season. And the winner of Game 3 in an NBA Finals that’s tied 1-1 has gone on to win the series 30 of 36 times (an 83.3-percent clip). However, Miami accounted for one of the half-dozen times that didn’t happen when it rallied to beat San Antonio in seven games last year.
Further, the Heat has won its past 13 games following a loss in the playoffs (including Game 2 of this year’s Finals) and hasn’t lost consecutive playoff games over its last 48 games in the postseason, dating back to the 2012 NBA Finals. Only the Boston Celtics (54 games, from 1962-66) and the Chicago Bulls (52 games, from 1990-93) have ever had longer such streaks.
Thus, it figures to be an entertaining Game 4 on Thursday night, when we see how Miami responds at home, and whether or not San Antonio can build off of its outstanding Game 3 performance.