Young wings boost Spurs to new heights in Game 3
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.