Given the way the opening 11 1/2 minutes of Game 3 of the 2014 NBA Finals went, it's absolutely perfect that this is the way the first quarter ended:
Yep, that's Manu Ginobili stepping back away from Chris Andersen, popping a late-in-the-clock 3-pointer, and seeing it bank hard off the square, hit front rim, bounce back up and fall softly down through the basket. You only get buckets like those when you're living right, and the San Antonio Spurs were absolutely living right to kick off the action at the AmericanAirlines Arena on Tuesday.
After going an ice-cold 6-for-17 from the floor in the fourth quarter of their Game 2 loss to the Miami Heat, the Spurs opened up Game 3 absolutely unconscious. San Antonio made its first five shots, took a double-digit lead before the halfway mark of the first quarter, got to 30 with 2:24 remaining and finished with 41 points in the opening 12 minutes, completely overwhelming Erik Spoelstra's squad to take a commanding early lead in a pivotal Game 3.
As it turned out, they were just getting started.
San Antonio took a 71-50 lead into halftime on Tuesday, making 25 of their 33 field-goal attempts. That 75.8 percent mark is a new NBA record for field-goal percentage in a half, topping the 75 percent that the Orlando Magic shot in Game 3 of the 2009 NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers.
Here's what history looks like in a shot chart:
That's a lot of green, gang.
After a rough start to the series, Spurs swingman Kawhi Leonard — whose performance was one of the big questions we highlighted before Game 3 — came out of the gate on fire, scoring 16 points on perfect 5-for-5 shooting in the first 12 minutes. The Spurs as a team went 13 for 15 from the field in the first quarter, an 86.7 percent mark that dropped jaws and set some pretty impressive statistical milestones:
The Spurs' 41 points were two shy of the all-time record of 43, set by the Philadelphia 76ers during the 1967 Finals against the then-San Francisco Warriors. Wilt Chamberlain and company actually hung 43 on Rick Barry's crew in two separate opening stanzas in that series — in Game 1 on April 14, 1967, and in the deciding Game 6 10 days later.
ABC play-by-play man Mike Breen also announced that the first-quarter explosion gave the Spurs the top two field-goal-percentage quarters in NBA Finals history, pairing with their 14-for-16 performance in the fourth quarter of their Game 1 victory. But San Antonio wasn't done, as Gregg Popovich's club opened the second quarter on fire, too.
The Spurs cooled a bit in the second quarter, but still kept the hammer down. The backcourt of Danny Green and Tony Parker got loose, scoring 15 combined points on 6-for-8 shooting, and the shots kept falling from all over the court. San Antonio went 12 for 18 from the floor in the second, outscoring Miami 30-25 in the frame and setting a Heat opponent record with a 71-point first half, led by their quiet third-year small forward.
"[Pop] just wanted me to go play basketball out there," said Leonard, whose 18 first-half points matched his total scoring output from Games 1 and 2. "I just tried to be more aggressive tonight, shots started falling and my team just kept running with me."
They ran all the way to a 21-point halftime lead, which was both the largest halftime lead in a Finals game by a road team since 1996 (Chicago over Seattle, Game 3, 1996) and matches the largest intermission deficit overcome in a Finals game during the shot-clock era.
After as torrid a start as any team could ask for in a game of this magnitude, the Spurs were bound to cool off, and they did after halftime.
Miami opened up the third quarter with a 6-0 spurt to cut the Spurs' lead to 15, and chopped it down to just seven points with two minutes remaining in the third as San Antonio went 4-for-16 from the floor to open the second half.
A big 3-pointer by reserve guard Marco Belinelli pushed the lead back to 10 at 84-74, though, and San Antonio was able to keep the Heat at bay for the duration. A big fourth-quarter finish from Leonard (nine points on 3-for-4 shooting) finished off a 111-92 win that gave the Spurs a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.
Leonard led five Spurs in double-figures with a career-high 29 points on 10-for-13 shooting, four rebounds, two assists, two steals, two blocks and just one turnover in 39 minutes. San Antonio finished at 59.4 percent from the field, shooting 9 for 20 from 3-point land and outscoring Miami 26-18 from the foul line to regain the home-court advantage that they'd lost in Game 2, which might not have been possible without that historic first-half shooting display.
"That'll never happen again," Popovich said in his postgame press conference. "That's crazy."
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