The San Antonio Spurs opened up their nationally televised matchup with the Miami Heat playing sound defense, holding Erik Spoelstra's club without a made field goal for the first 6 1/2 minutes of Tuesday's contest. The Spurs didn't capitalize early, though, committing seven turnovers that turned into 10 Miami points and kept the Heat up after 12 minutes.
Things tightened up considerably in the second, as San Antonio coughed it up just twice while cranking up the ball movement and offensive effectiveness to outpace the Heat by nine points heading into the final seconds of the half ... only to see the Heat stay within a handful of points at intermission thanks to a wing-and-a-prayer, buzzer-beating, 53-foot 3-pointer by point guard Mario Chalmers:
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The best thing about Chalmers' 3? How Spurs coach Gregg Popovich reacted to it, naturally:
Such bemusement. Such resignation. Such grudging acceptance. This is the face of a man who knows that sometimes, the breaks won't go your way, and that as long as you're controlling what you can control, you can live with it.
It's also the countenance that confirms Pop's expression can be arresting even when he's not going from serious to cheesin' ...
... or vice versa ...
... in no time flat.
Fortunately for Pop, the Spurs gave him plenty of reason to smile after halftime, holding the Heat to 35.9 percent shooting in the third and fourth quarters behind stifling defense from star swingman Kawhi Leonard, who put the clamps on Dwyane Wade (five points on 1-for-9 shooting with two turnovers after halftime).
San Antonio led by as many as 21 points in early in the fourth quarter and, a brief Miami run to cut the deficit to 10 aside, breezed to a 95-81 victory. That extends the Spurs' winning streak to four and gives Pop's crew 14 wins in their last 17 games, improving their record to 48-26; they now sit just a half-game back of the Portland Trail Blazers and a full game behind the Los Angeles Clippers in the middle of the Western Conference playoff pack.
Leonard continued his strong recent play in the win, scoring a Spurs-high 22 points on 8-for-13 shooting to go with nine rebounds, four steals, three assists, two blocks and just one turnover in 38 minutes of work. His harassing defense was a major factor in a night of struggles for Wade, who followed up a 40-point outing on Sunday with just 15 points on 6-for-20 shooting with three turnovers and just one assist on Tuesday.
Goran Dragic led the way with 19 points for the Heat, who remain in the No. 7 spot in the Eastern Conference, but now hold just a half-game lead over the eighth-seeded Brooklyn Nets, a one-game edge on the ninth-place Boston Celtics, and a two-game advantage over the 10th-seeded Indiana Pacers after falling to 34-40 on the season. With old pal LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers waiting in the wings on Thursday, it would've been nice for the Heat to pick up a win and keep pace; instead, Miami has now dropped four of six and looks shaky at the worst juncture of the season.
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