MIAMI – Maybe the San Antonio Spurs were fortunate enough to have a hot hand of a lifetime. Perhaps the Spurs were unstoppable this Tuesday night, regardless of the defensive effort the Miami Heat mustered.
Sadly, the two-time defending NBA champions played like they were suiting up against an NBA doormat in April rather than a bitter Finals team that was seconds away from the trophy.
When processing a 111-92 loss in Game 3 of the NBA Finals to the Spurs, who were up by as many as 25 points, LeBron James probably broke down the blowout best.
"It was a cumulative of everything," James said. "Some possessions we played extremely well and they hit shots. Some possessions we weren't quite there and they hit shots as well. One thing about this team, if you make a mistake they're going to make you pay."
The Heat overcame double-digit deficits 16 times in the regular season. The largest was 16 in a 101-99 win on Nov. 23 against the rebuilding Orlando Magic. The 15-point comeback in a 97-94 win over the Indiana Pacers on Dec. 15 was probably the most impressive. Even the lackluster Los Angeles Lakers had a double-digit lead on Christmas before succumbing 101-95 to Miami.
With the mighty James on the roster, the Heat typically can overcome anything when motivated. But against the Spurs, the margin of error is so slim that if they are on their A-game offensively you better counter strong or be subject to punishment.
"You have to tip your hat to them. They took it to us tonight," Miami forward Chris Bosh said.
Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard led all scorers with 29 points. He scored nine in each of the first two Finals games after averaging 12.9 points in the regular season. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said the third-year forward was given an undisclosed pep talk prior to Game 3.
It worked as Leonard scored 13 quick points as the Spurs jumped to a 25-12 lead and were threatened only once late in the third quarter.
"They came in with a desperation we just didn't match," James said. "Just because it's our fourth Finals [appearance] doesn't mean anything. That doesn't guarantee you a win. It doesn't guarantee you that you will be more urgent or less urgent than the next team."
A Leonard 21-foot jump shot with 8:09 left in the second quarter pushed the Spurs ahead 55-30. The Heat went to the locker room at the half down 21 after giving up 30 points and 66.7 percent shooting from the field in the second quarter.
The Spurs' barrage had the Heat barking at each other on the bench and in the locker room at halftime.
"Thinking back, we had every conversation," Miami's Ray Allen said. "We yelled at each other. We just encouraged each other. I think you go through a range of emotion because you're trying to find something to spark something going."
The Heat showed some heart and trimmed the Spurs' lead to 84-75 with 1:04 left in the third quarter. A Ray Allen 3-pointer gave Miami some late hope as they were down 10 with 8:54 left. But when an official timeout was called with 5:40 in the fourth quarter with the Spurs up 98-84, the Heat faithful had enough and couldn't get out the AmericanAirlines Arena doors quick enough. And unlike Game 6 of the Finals last year, the Spurs cruised the rest of the way to reclaim home-court advantage. The Spurs own a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.
"It sucks. It really sucks," Allen said. "They beat us and we didn't bring urgency tonight."
That's what was so chilling about this defeat. Finals lead up for grabs in front of a roaring crowd and it was all but over after the first bell.
"… We're kidding ourselves if we think we can come down from 25 down no matter when the time is against a team like that," Bosh said.
The Spurs shot 59.4 percent from the field and made nine 3-pointers and 26 free throws. James scored only six of his 29 points in the second half and had five turnovers. Miami allowed 23 points off of 20 turnovers. And the struggles continued for point guard Mario Chalmers who scored two points, missed all five field-goal attempts and is averaging 3.3 points in this series.
"I think everybody else is doing their job and I'm being that guy that's not helping out," Chalmers said. "I don't want to be that guy."
The Spurs snapped Miami's 11-game home winning streak in the postseason. The last playoff foe to win here? San Antonio in Game 1 of the 2013 Finals.
Game 4 is Thursday, and it feels like a must-win for the Heat.
Chalmers said the Heat know they're the better team. Better on paper, perhaps with James. But defeats in a Game 1 sauna and an unfocused Game 3 blowout could cost the Heat dearly.
"It's the Finals, so everything is magnified," James said. "You want to win at this point in the season. But for us, we will get better from tonight. We hate the performance we put on, but it's 2-1. It's 2-1 and we know we have to make some adjustments now."