This … this was a blitzkrieg.
To say the San Antonio Spurs didn’t do anything incorrectly in the first half of the team’s Game 3 win over the Miami Heat on Tuesday would be getting it wrong. Tony Parker and Tim Duncan missed a couple of shots, Manu Ginobili banked in a 3-pointer that he should have swished, but beyond that this was truly a first 24 minutes for the ages. What was once a 25-point lead didn’t sustain, nothing really could against the two-time defending champs, but the Spurs still managed to hang on for what eventually became a 111-92 win over Miami.
The Spurs have regained the home-court advantage they lost after a Game 2 defeat to the Heat in San Antonio. And along the way, they impressed a nationally televised crowd with what may have been the most exciting 19-point win in NBA Finals history.
The Heat are the Heat, so the champs were able to poke away at San Antonio’s initial early advantage and bring the deficit down to just seven points in the third quarter. More impressively, the Heat didn’t seem to tire themselves out terribly while mounting that comeback, as coach Erik Spoelstra masterfully worked his rotation in order to secure needed rest for starters, while tweaking the team’s offensive sets after begging anyone – anyone! – to stay in front of the Spurs on the other end.
Miami can’t blame tired legs for falling short after that comeback, only a Spurs team that executed brilliantly for three quarters, keeping the Heat at arm’s length. Kawhi Leonard was the obvious star, roaring out to double-digit points in the first quarter and finishing with 29 (a season high), but he was just part of the package.
A startling package. This offense, especially in that first half, was borderline unstoppable.
Danny Green, out of nowhere, turned into both a transition and broken-play finisher as he drove to the basket, finishing with 15 points and five steals, only taking two 3-pointers (and making one). Boris Diaw, pushed into the starting lineup in place of a frustrated Tiago Splitter prior to the game, once again finished with his team’s best plus/minus raw number (+20) despite pedestrian stats (nine points, five rebounds), while Tim Duncan (14 points on seven shots) took what the defense gave him throughout.
That “gave” part will no doubt worm away at Spoelstra’s stomach lining in the hours between this contest and Thursday’s Game 4, but though there were bouts of poor defense on Miami’s end in that ridiculous first half, on many of these Spurs scores there truly was precious little the Heat defense could do. And it wasn’t as if the Heat offense – which scored 50 first-half points and finished with excellent shooting numbers (51 percent from the field, 47 percent from long range) – was letting Miami down.
No, it was San Antonio and its fabulous ball movement that was defining how the game would be played.
Faced with that impressive Heat comeback and the Heat’s own ease at scoring throughout the first three quarters of the contest, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich did his own brilliant work with the San Antonio rotations. He even went away from Parker and Duncan with the game still on the line in the fourth quarter, sitting both for a short stretch, and his placement of reserve guard Patty Mills alongside Parker in a small Spurs unit during the second half helped take away some of the small-ball advantages (on either end) the Heat enjoyed at times during their attempts to stay close.
Toss in some resurgent late-game work from Leonard, on either end, and a point to get to the free-throw line in what could have been a too-tired fourth quarter, and the Spurs just had the edge.
Miami has its lamentable issues. San Antonio clearly made Chris Bosh (just nine points on 4-of-4 shooting) a defensive focus, and Miami badly needs to counter that as the series moves along and find him the ball, either behind the arc or in triple-threat positions. Mario Chalmers was a non-factor once again, and what could have been another masterful scoring night from LeBron James was scuttled by his seven turnovers – though he did contribute 22 points, seven assists, five steals and five rebounds, he wasn’t a game-changer down the stretch of what could have been a series-altering comeback win.
The Heat may not be proud of the outcome, but by and large they played well, and the execution that failed them will be more than obvious as they sit down to watch the game tape on Wednesday.
It was their opponents who took this game.
It was the Spurs who ran things. It was the Spurs who sharpened their defensive attack in the fourth quarter, and it was the Spurs who turned in one of the more stunning displays of offensive basketball in the first half. It was the Spurs who were ready to think on their feet, following a loss, and it was the Spurs who once again turned the momentum of this series on its heels.
Until Coach Spoelstra and the rest of his defending champs get their own chance, that is, in Game 4. This is going to be a series, regardless of the eventual victor, without a decided checkmate. These teams are too damn good for that, even in 19-point wins.
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