MIAMI – There's another way to beat LeBron James and the Miami Heat, and it has nothing to do with the functionality of an air conditioner. Simply have the greatest shooting first half in NBA Finals history and weather second-half rallies.
The San Antonio Spurs did exactly that, shooting 75.8 percent from the floor in a 71-point first half – including a record 86.7 percent in the first quarter – to build a 21-point lead that held up in a 111-92 victory in Game 3 of these Finals. The win gave the Spurs a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.
"I don't think we'll ever shoot 76 percent in a half ever again," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said.
Kawhi Leonard shook off his Finals struggles to lead the Spurs with 29 points which topped James, who finished with 22.
Guarding James can certainly take a lot of out of you. Such was the case for Leonard as he scored just nine points in each of the first two Finals games. Leonard averaged 12.8 points during the regular season.
"We've been on him about continuing to play," Tim Duncan said. "Foul trouble has been a problem for him in the first couple games and it kind of took him out of his game."
On Tuesday, Leonard led the offensive charge with 18 first-half points. He scored 13 of them relatively quickly on 5-of-5 shooting that included two 3-pointers as the Spurs raced to a 25-12 lead in the record-setting first quarter.
Danny Green had 15 points and five steals for the Spurs while making seven of his eight shots.
"They were the keys to the game," Duncan said of Leonard and Green. "They took over the game."
The Spurs missed only two field-goal attempts out of 15 in the first quarter before finishing with 41 points. They shot 86.7 percent in that period and made all four 3-point attempts. James kept Miami in reach with 14 points while no other teammate scored more than three.
The Heat gained some momentum in the third quarter as they trimmed their deficit to seven points on a Norris Cole reverse layup with 1:59 left. It was about the loudest the AmericanAirlines Arena crowd got after the Spurs staggered the Heat with their first-half fireworks. But Marco Belinelli answered on the other end with a 3-pointer to push the lead back to double digits. The Heat outscored the Spurs 25-15 in the third, but were still down 86-75. Dwyane Wade led that relative surge with 11 points, three rebounds and two steals. He finished with 22 points and four rebounds.
"We were able to at the other end continue to take care of the ball, continue to attack, understand that they're going to make a run, but even with their run, we're still up double digits at that point," Duncan said. "And just not lose our composure and try to get it all back in one play. So we did just that."
The Spurs' 41 points in the game's opening quarter were the most the Heat had allowed in any quarter the entire postseason. San Antonio's outburst was the most points scored in the first quarter of an NBA Finals game since the Philadelphia 76ers did it against the San Francisco Warriors in 1967. The Boston Celtics was the last team to score 40-plus in a Finals quarter, netting 42 in the fourth of Game 6 in 2008 against the Los Angeles Lakers.
Ray Allen was in that Celtics game, a title-clinching blowout of the Lakers. As for being the wrong end of this historic night, Allen said, "It sucks. It really sucks. They beat us and we didn't bring urgency to this game tonight. We were too casual."
The Heat shot 55.9 percent from the field (19-of-34) in the first half and hit half of their 14 3-pointer attempts and were still down 21.
After the game, James and Wade took umbrage over a question about whether it was a lackluster offense or defense that led to the loss. They each paused for a couple of seconds before James looked at Wade and laughed. James then covered his mouth and whispered something to Wade.
"The problem is we're down 2 games to 1," Wade said. "That is the problem."