Young wings boost Spurs to new heights in Game 3

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Through three games of the NBA Finals, one thing is clear: Watching this series is like observing a coin flip. Each time there’s a 50-50 shot of the outcome going one way or the other. The only difference here is that there are people involved trying to sway the odds in their favor.

After a 111-92 win in which the San Antonio Spurs set Finals records for shooting percentage in a first quarter and first half, the coin came up silver and black for the second time this series.

With Boris Diaw inserted into the starting lineup in place of Tiago Splitter, San Antonio opened Game 3 hitting 13-0f-15 shots (87 percent) en route to 41 points. Kawhi Leonard, the same Kawhi Leonard we wondered what was bothering him a couple of days ago, scored 16 points in the first 12 minutes. By halftime, the Spurs had 71 points on 76 percent shooting and a 21-point lead. It was a blitzkrieg.

“That’s been their most efficient lineup of the series,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said later. “Actually for the whole playoffs it’s been a big plus. We figured at some point they’d probably go to it, if not they’d play that lineup big minutes.”

Miami played more aggressively in the second half and cut San Antonio’s lead down to seven points with about two minutes left until the fourth quarter. With the AmericanAirlines Arena crowd in full force and the breaks of the game going the Heat’s way, Marco Belinelli drained an open 3-pointer to get the lead back to double-digits and snuff out the Miami run.

In the fourth quarter, the Spurs continued to fight off every Miami attempt to overtake an in fact increased their lead until, eventually, time ran out. Leonard finished Game 3 with a career-high 29 points in a series-high 39 minutes. He also added four rebounds, two assists, two blocks and two steals. Maybe more importantly, he helped keep LeBron James looking human at 22 points, seven assists, five rebounds and five steals. Leonard’s defense was just as good as it was in Game 2, but seven turnovers from LeBron limited the number of shot opportunities available.

“He’s got to be one of our better players on the court or we’re not good enough,” Gregg Popovich said about Leonard’s performance after the game. “That’s just the way it is.”

When Leonard plays aggressively on offense the way he did in Game 3, it takes the Spurs to new heights. Like the anti-Manu, Leonard always makes solid decisions with the ball. He’s not the type of high risk, high reward guy that Ginobili is. Leonard is the safe, steady investment in the San Antonio system.

Kawhi scored as many points as Tony Parker (15) and Tim Duncan (14) combined and the Spurs still came away with a 19-point lead. When Leonard is scoring on offense, it makes San Antonio’s dynamic attack that much more difficult to stop.

“I think the foul situations the first two games really he overreacted to them and became very cautious, and he doesn’t play like that,” Pop said. “He’s got to be real active at both ends, and so he figured it out.”

Not to be outdone, though he was, Danny Green put together quite a performance on both ends of the floor as well. Icy Hot scored 15 points on 7-for-8 shooting in Game 3, a high-scoring mark for him in this series. But here’s the thing, Green tied as San Antonio’s second leading scorer on Tuesday night while hitting just one 3-pointer.

That’s right, the Heat took away Green’s clean looks at the rim from deep and made him put the ball on the floor. And the Spurs still won. By a pretty wide margin. Green got layups, he made floaters (!) and all in all, looked like a competent playmaker when Miami ran him off the 3-point line. For most of his time in San Antonio, I’ve wondered who was a bigger threat when putting the ball on the floor, Green or Matt Bonner, and often felt more comfortable with the Red Rocket. Watching Green dribble is like speeding down the highway and throwing out the steering wheel, and yet he was calm, cool and under control on Tuesday.

Beating a good defensive team like the Heat is all about having options on every play and executing at a high rate. When Miami’s help defense in the paint is as sluggish as it was in Game 3, especially in the first half, it gives the Spurs one more option to exploit.

Green also had himself a helluva defensive game, coming up with five steals against the Heat thanks to extremely active hands and picking up yet another blocked shot in transition. Danny’s skill level on the chase down block is improving with each passing game. Twelve combined turnovers from LeBron and Dwyane Wade speaks to the defensive performance submitted by both Green and Leonard.

Pressure is on the Heat to win in Game 4, sure, but we sway so much from one game to another. It’s Miami’s turn to adjust to the Spurs and do better. Any idea that the Heat are done or can’t recover is insane. A series is a living, breathing thing that simply can’t be controlled. You just have to react to what’s happening and try to tip the odds in your favor.

  • alspurs21

    Can I just say, how unreal the Spurs would have been with complimentary players like Kawhi (although complementary is an insult to his game) Danny Green, Splitter, and Diaw when the big 3 were in there prime? Since ’03 when D-Rob was still around I’m not sure they have had many close to these guys. Bruce was great because of his D and Robert Horry is Robert Horry, but other than that they were missing these kinds of players for a lot of years.

  • Caui sounds better than kawhi

    Loved the Ginobili comparison. Funny thing is that acquiring Kawhi ended up being a high risk-high reward move.
    Miami is clearly the favorite to win next game, but this Heat team is not last years. Last time they were 9, 10 deep and they were dictating the matchups. They were even pressing full court to get Neal out of the game. Now, if we are being generous with Chalmers and Cole, we can say they have 7 players in their rotation.
    The Spurs need to keep letting Lebron shoot. They might loose one game or two, but if they keep the “others” contained like they have, Lebron alone can’t win this series.
    Go Spurs!

  • camnpat

    “Green got layups, he made floaters (!) and all in all, looked like a
    competent playmaker when Miami ran him off the 3-point line.”

    The way that Danny ran the floor and adjusted mid-flight to avoid Bosh for a layup was phenomenal. He’s been a much better player off the dribble all season long, but he is playing phenomenal right now. In fact he is much more active cutting through screens this year rather than just staying around the perimeter. On top of that he crashes the boards and is the first one to run back on defense on fast breaks. He gets overshadowed by Leonard (justifiably so) but the guy is really good. His issues are just mental; when he is focused and relaxed he is top notch.

  • guessed

    Malik Rose. was so sad when he got traded. had high hopes for Nazi Mohammed and Roger Mason that didnt pan out. but yeah having this squad with Tim and Manu 10 years younger… yeah thats a fantasy!

  • STIJL

    Well, if they can keep up the scoring in the paint…helping to get Heat players in foul trouble…then the Spurs chances of winning this are great. And a lot of that is up to Leonard and Green. Proof in that is Parker’s low scoring low assist game. The Spurs still won convincingly even without Parker having a great game.

  • SpurredOn

    Andrew, you refer to the Heat help defense as sluggish but I don’t think any team has the energy to be quick and aggressive for the majority of an NBA game, certainly without making mistakes and/or having it cost them on the offensive end. Part of playing the Spurs, instead of the Pacers, is that one will get worn down following all the ball and body movement. Had the Heat played with more energy early, they’ve would’ve had less in the 3Q. Now that we’re at the point of only one day between gams 2 & 3, then 3 & 4, I wonder how for how much of the game will the Heat be perceived to play better defense and, if they do, how much it will cost them with their shooting and at other game junctures when there’s a natural letdown.

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  • reaper009

    go spurs go it was truly an honor to watch that first half of basketball in game 3