With the series tied one-one, the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs were both looking to gain momentum by taking the lead in Game three. Contrary to popular belief, every game counts and it’s better to be ahead of your opponent by all means.
After struggling through the first two games of the series, it was refreshing to finally see life out of Kawhi Leonard. Not only did he set the tone, but he did so in dramatic fashion, scoring 16 points on five for five shooting in the first quarter alone. Whatever issues he had adjusting in the beginning of this series were done away with tonight, and San Antonio followed suit.
LeBron James took the court in what appeared to be one against the world to start, Despite the rest of the Heat clearly being in attendance, they weren’t offering much support. The lucid defense and terrible chemistry was enough for Popovich’s squad to exploit with quickness.
From the very beginning, this game was played different, but it wasn’t until the end of the first quarter that the numbers really showed why. The Spurs shot an incredible 86.7% in those first 12 minutes, a percentage that is just unbelievable. The worst part about that stat is the fact that Miami wasn’t coasting through the first. The Heat were trying to maintain and restore order as much as possible, but things had a way of getting out of hand. Their carelessness with the ball was the primary cause for the poor defense, but more credit has to be given to the Spurs. A shooting exhibition like the one they put on just isn’t going to be beat without major adjustments.
What Miami did manage to do that they’ve struggled with before was limiting Tony Parker. He wasn’t nearly as effective as he went scoreless through the first quarter before finally giving the Spurs something in the second. They also managed to restrain the immortal Tim Duncan, but this game wasn’t about the biggest stars. This one was ripe for the role players to rise above the pack. It was bound to happen, but it did and that’s where the true battle was fought.
Any question about Miami’s deficiencies could be seen simply by checking the 41-25 score that they were on the losing side of going into the half.
If there was anyone believed that the Spurs other worldly shooting percentages would decrease in the second half, well, those critics were certainly proven right. Miami started the half much more focused and assertive than they did for the first 24 minutes of the game. Fortunately for the Spurs, even with them losing the tide, they had amassed so much momentum in their favor already. Miami fought hard, but their efforts were futile.
That’s not to say they didn’t have Popovich going into panic mode, especially as the third quarter came within it’s final minutes, but San Antonio built a lead that would take an incredible comeback. Miami was able to bring the lead down to seven as Dwyane Wade and Rashard Lewis took it upon themselves to become the cavalry James needed.
That still just wasn’t enough as Kawhi burst into a superhuman level that resulted in a game high 29 points for him. Whatever motivational speech Pop gave to him before the game resonated in a way that we just haven’t seen from him until tonight. His inspired play also seemed to rub off on his running-mate Danny Green, who came up big for the Spurs with 15 points of his own.
Motivational performances aside, the momentum that Miami had started gaining in the third quarter quickly evaporated in the fourth. The Spurs were a team possessed tonight, and the Spurs once again put the lead out of reach for the home team. The final score was a lop-sided 11-92, and one can’t help but think that the Heat will return with a vengeance in Game four. It’s hard to imagine Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard keeping their level of play up for the duration of the series (though it’s strangely reminiscent of last years’ Finals).
By all means, Kawhi got the best of LeBron tonight, so at the least expect James to be prepared. It’s not often that he’s outscored, even if he did provide a solid statline of 22 points, 7 assists, and 5 boards of his own.
Now if Miami can come into the next match-up with a raised awareness on the defensive side of things, instead of the sleep-walking performance they contributed for three quarters, then they might get a win at home. If not, they will find themselves on the brink of relinquishing their title crown as they head back to San Antonio.