In a long, close playoff series – and we still expect this to be a long, close playoff series – both teams get a blowout win. San Antonio’s 113-77 humiliation of the Miami Heat in Game 3 of the NBA Finals on Tuesday, though, blew past that expectation.
The Spurs were dominant from the start, in spite of what was a tie game with less than a minute to go in the first half. San Antonio roared out of the gate in its first home game in three weeks to establish fantastic spacing offensively while encouraging hesitation and perimeter jumpers from the Heat on the other end. Because of the defensive boards that resulted from the Heat misses, and San Antonio’s superb timing and re-discovered precision in its passing game, the Spurs’ role players were able to topple a Miami team built around three fabulous All-Stars.
That’s right – the Spurs were able to rack up the third-largest point differential in NBA Finals history on a night when Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili combined to score just 25 points on 10-23 shooting. All because Danny Green and Gary Neal absolutely went off from behind the arc.
Green continued his lights-out Finals work from long range on his way to a 27-point evening on 9-15 shooting, hitting 7-9 from behind the arc and taking his Finals three-point percentage to a ridiculous 69 percent. Green has hit 16 treys in the final round thus far, and the Heat were just unable to counter the Spurs guard’s confident decision-making and expert placement.
Meanwhile, Gary Neal came off the bench to hit 6-10 three-pointers of his own, confounding a Heat defense that should know that Neal is a scorer first, second, and 92nd once he takes his warm-ups off. The sharpshooter finished with 24 points of his own, as Spurs coach Gregg Popovich (with continued big minutes handed to Matt Bonner and Cory Joseph off the bench) has clearly made outside shooting a priority against the sagging Heat. The 16 three-pointers San Antonio hit established an NBA Finals record.
On Miami’s offensive end of the court, the team looked confused, hesitant, and damningly reminiscent of the Miami Heat squad that struggled to adapt to the Dallas Maverick movement on defense in the 2011 NBA Finals.
Once again, the team attempted to work through Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh at the beginning of the game, and while Wade was initially game (looking spry, hitting his first lay-in and later an impressive reverse shot in the first quarter), Bosh was aiming shots and clanging from the perimeter. Both received more and more good looks as the game went on, but finished with 11-25 shooting marks on their way toward a combined 28 points. A far cry from the dominant 29 points Wade contributed in a Game 3 win over the Mavericks two years ago.
Worse, LeBron James failed to get it going on that end once again. He missed 11 of his first 13 shots and 14 of 21 overall as the Spurs baited him into a series of “ga’head, try it”-bombs from the perimeter, failing to get to the line all game while scoring just 15 points. He took poor shots, he missed poor shots, he let the game come to him in a way that wasn’t conducive to winning, and he didn’t even make it to the nationally televised podium press conference after Game 3.
This has to be a low point, for LeBron. If he doesn’t treat it as such, the Heat won’t get to play another game in Florida this season.
Clap for San Antonio three times before hissing at LeBron, though. James can play better, but the Spurs have put the NBA’s MVP in a position that leaves him unsure and hesitant. That’s a wonderful luxury, as James often looks like he doesn’t know which of his 42,000 killer offensive moves to go while attempting to topple the Spurs’ defense, but that’s long (as the Spurs, Celtics, Magic and Mavericks will tell you) been the way to beat James. He has a basketball brain as big as his basketball skills, and when he spends too much time deliberating, those two really, really big things tend to work against each other.
Of course, a few missed free throws and clanged open shots from 25-feet can change the course of things all over again in Game 4. The Heat can grab the home court advantage on Thursday in a close win that will have all of us forgetting the time that the Spurs toppled the defending champs by 36 points in Game 3. From there, the series would turn into a best of three, with Miami potentially working up two games at home as a result of a magnificent regular season that saw them win 27 games in row during one stretch.
Something has to straighten out, though. And with Wade ailing and Bosh unsure of his aim, the onus has to fall on LeBron James. He has to turn it around, all over again.