The Margin: San Antonio Spurs 111, Miami Heat 92

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So. I may just stick to The Margin duties from here on out. The Spurs have lost just once since I’ve had the privilege  of counting bullet-points, and that was Game 2; other than that, they’ve won by double-digits every time. It’s bad for my sleep patterns, but I’m willing to take this … ahem … BULLET … for the good of the Spurs. So here we go: 19 points.

  • The first 16 minutes of Game 3 was some of the best basketball you or I will ever see in our lifetime, unless the NBA turns into a game full of cyborgs and bionics. Then again, the Spurs weren’t far from robotic last night. They hit 19 of their first 21 shots, including all six attempts from the 3-point line, and opened up a 55-30 advantage with 8:09 remaining in the freaking first half. Humans still make up the vast majority of NBA players (Lance Stephenson and Chris Andersen notwithstanding), but it appears the revolution took a big first step on Tuesday night.
  • Speaking of humanoids, Kawhi Leonard hit a different level in Game 3. San Antonio’s unflappable 22-year-old notched a career-high 29 points on just 13 shots and was a wall on the defensive end, guarding LeBron James as well as anyone would’ve expected. And you could see the energy right from the start. We’ve spent a lot of time, both during the regular season and these playoffs, talking about the differences between the Spurs with and without Leonard on the floor, and this was yet another example of his impact. When he plays even remotely close to this level, San Antonio goes from really good to virtually unbeatable.
  • The Spurs shot 75.8 percent from the floor in the first 24 minutes on Tuesday, which set an NBA Finals record for shooting in a half.
  • Not only was that the best game I’ve ever seen Kawhi play, that was by far the best I’ve ever seen Danny Green play. He had 15 points on 7-of-8 shooting to go along with five steals, and it was just the fourth time in his career he’s reached the 15-point plateau by hitting one 3-pointer or fewer. I’ve never seen him hit that many inside runners in one game before, and his defense was spectacular. And he only played 21 minutes due to foul trouble.
  • Leonard and Green combined for 44 points on 21 shots. That’s helpful.
  • Gregg Popovich finally pulled the “start Boris Diaw” card we’ve been awaiting for some time now. I understand the reluctance in making the move, as maintaining consistency in the rotations is nearly as important as the matchups they present. But with all the floor-spacing issues Miami causes, this was bound to happen sooner or later, and there’s too much athleticism on the floor for Matt Bonner to fill that starting void. And Boris was a plus-20 while on the floor, once again the highest of any Spur. Like clockwork.
  • And how about that starting group? The Diaw-Leonard-Green-Tim Duncan-Tony Parker lineup outscored Heat by 13.3 points per 100 possessions and had a true-shooting mark of nearly 80 percent in 12 minutes of court time. On top of that, they grabbed every single available defensive rebound. Pop made the move, and it surely paid off.
  • Per SportVU data, the Spurs were 16-of-28 from the floor on uncontested field-goal attempts. On attempts that were contested (a defender within four feet of the shooter), they were 22-of-36. San Antonio was just rolling in Game 3.
  • LeBron James played 40 minutes on Tuesday, and Leonard was on the floor for 39 of those minutes. During that time, James was a minus-19 and turned the ball over seven times. He still shot well (9-of-14), but Leonard was in his pocket all night, and ten of his shots were contested, per SportVU.
  • We’re ten bullet-points in and just now getting to Parker and Duncan. At plus-14 and plus-8, respectively, they had the two worst plus-minus totals out of the starting five. But in a game of this magnitude, neither had to play more than 33 minutes, and it was a Popovich-Parker moment caught on a microphone that summed up their impact. Pop pulled Parker off to the side near the end of the game to say, “T.P., great leadership. You didn’t get 30 (points) but great leadership and solid, solid play with the ball.” Parker then followed, “I have to trust my teammates in this series. Kawhi was great.” Eh, just listen for yourself.

  • Also this…

  • There was a discussion last night about whether or not this series is going the way of last year’s. I have no idea. I tend to separate these things, as there is a relatively small number of general possible outcomes through three games of a series between teams that know one another so well. Yes, there are some similarities, but I come back to a few things when I look back: 1) Home-court advantage is switched. Though that’s not quite as big a factor considering the format change from 2-3-2 to 2-2-1-1-1, it still means a potential Game 7 in San Antonio. 2) The Spurs are a better team this time around, and I’m not sure the same can be said about the HEAT. 3) Miami was seriously fortunate to win that series last year. This isn’t taking away from what they did, because they made the plays they needed to win Game 6. They took advantage of the opportunities San Antonio provided and those they provided themselves. Still, they needed several bounces to go their way, and that’s putting it lightly. That can’t be glossed over. 4) Another thing to think about: After nine Finals games against one another, these teams know what the other is doing. There’s a reason Games 6 through 9 were so close (Game 1 of this series was an outlier, given the conditions and then James’ cramping), and that’s because of the familiarity that now exists between these two. I thought last night’s performance was the most impressive of any of the previous games against the HEAT over the last two years. Yes, they hit a lot of shots, but they also created so many fantastic looks and didn’t just go berserk from the 3-point line (they hit just nine last night); and when Miami made its run, Pop’s guys weathered the storm. Remember, the two Spurs blowouts took place in San Antonio last year. This was in South Beach. The Spurs didn’t just look like the hot team last night, as I thought was the case in all four blowouts last year; they looked like the better, deeper team. Still, this is all so subjective. It’s just a feeling, I don’t actually know. There’s a lot more basketball to be played, and Miami will come back angry. We react so intensely to each individual game because that’s human nature; but it’s important to understand that each night has its own time and space, and Game 4 will be different, regardless of the outcome. All the HEAT need is one win and we start a three-game series.
  • The HEAT got great contributions from their backcourt duo of Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole during the 2013 Finals. This year, the two have pulled a disappearing act. It really is amazing. The two combined to score more than 15 points per game last June; they’ve got 20 points total through three games this year. Miami needs more help from certain role players, because the Big Three can’t keep up with the Spurs all on their own.
  • I hit on it a bit earlier, but San Antonio won this game without a single part of its Big Three playing very well. Parker, Duncan and Manu Ginobili combined for just 40 points as a trio, took only 25 shots and dished out only seven assists. The scorched earth the Spurs left behind after 16 minutes gave them enough of a cushion to weather a Miami surge, but as weird as it sounds, they can be better over the course of 48 minutes.
  • Marco Belinelli’s impact has gone from a huge plus during the regular season to a tangible minus during the postseason. But he’s had important moments. When a Cole layup with 1:59 remaining in the third quarter cut the Spurs’ lead to just seven, Belinelli hit a HUGE 3-pointer to stem the massive wave of momentum the HEAT were riding. Aside from one made Andersen free throw less than a minute later that cut the lead back to nine, the gap was no smaller than 10 for the final quarter and change.
  • Ginobili has clearly been a better player this year than he was last, without question. Yet, we’re still in wait-and-see mode every night with this guy. But then again, if you’ve been expecting otherwise, you haven’t been paying attention for years. I said it after Game 6 in the Finals last season: As long as he doesn’t kill you with turnovers and he plays within himself and his capabilities, you take everything he gives you. He’s still so important for this team, running the offense and orchestrating the symphony of that bench unit. It felt like he toed the line a bit last night, but he never went over. That’s the least you can ask of the guy.
  • Spurs bench points: 29 ; HEAT bench points: 23. Again, San Antonio wasn’t even at its best last night, as evidenced by a quiet bench output. Oh by the way, Aron Baynes hit a 20-footer from the corner. That kinda night.
  • For all the talk of this being the same as last year, there is one thing that absolutely rings true: we saw what can happen with a 2-1 lead in a series. Enjoy this one, because it was a blast, but everything starts anew on Thursday. Miami is going to come out like a bulldozer in hyper-speed, as it’s basically a must-win situation for the HEAT. A 3-1 deficit heading back to San Antonio would surely feel like almost certain death. So be ready, people. Game 4 is going to be wild, and it’s just around the corner.

  • Spurs4life

    What changes do Spurs need to make, if any, to match the potential intensity that Miami will be coming with on Thursday? Could this be the first back to back loss for the Heat?

  • Kristian Holvoet

    Miami hasn’t broken 100 pts this series. SA has broken 110 twice. That has to be a good thing, right? Even if the offense isn’t crazy efficient like last night, the D has been pretty much at least as good as the Miami D. Poor execution / turnovers are the most likely reason for the Spurs to lose. That is encouraging, since if the Spurs keep their brains, eyes, hands and feet active, they can determine the execution even if chance means they don’t got 19-21 (6-6 from 3) anymore.

  • jezav

    What I liked best about the start was that the Spurs weren’t making a lot of crazy, contested shots that on most nights would not have gone in. They were getting great looks out of the flow of the offense. The shooting percentage is perhaps not repeatable, but the awe-inspiring teamwork is. Plus, for all the talk about the hot shooting, it’s important to remember that LeBron was hot as well. It could have been much worse in the first half.

    Everyone expects this series to go seven because of a combination of how well-matched the teams are and how it went seven in a super-close series last year (history bias). I might be crazy but this feels fundamentally different and it wouldn’t surprise me if SA closes it out in game 5 or 6. I’m not saying it’s likely, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

  • lvmainman

    The thing that puzzles me is the lack of playing time for Shane Battier. The guy won a game in the Finals last year. Now bench?

  • brunostrange

    Agree. It’s funny that it really just comes down to execution and focus. While I certainly appreciate and eat up all the analysis on this blog (and other Spurs/hoops blogs), we’ve seen over three games that if the Spurs are focused and executing, Miami has a hard time keeping up. Easier said than done, of course, as Miami really is an intense and excellent team, but – at the risk of sounding smug – it’s clear who the better *team* is.

  • brunostrange

    I haven’t seen many Miami games prior to the second round of these playoffs, but my understanding is that Battier has diminished physically to a considerable extent this year, and is not very effective anymore. Father Time and all that.

  • camnpat

    This guy said it best:

    “One other thing that made the Spurs surprisingly unstoppable is the fact that players acted against their natural trend.
    TP has shot once or twice from 3 in this first 3 games.
    kawhi was very assertive, even forcing one or two shots.
    Green put the ball on the floor for floaters.
    defenses are so prepared to specific match ups, that when the Spurs played out of character, the Heat couldn’t respond.”

    Also, I am noticing that, unlike last year, Popovich has subtly put two play makers in the game at any one time. Whether it is Tony-Diaw, Tony- Manu, Manu- Patty, or any other combination, in order to avoid putting all the pressure on Tony which wore him off fast last year. When the Heat double or triple cover Tony there is always a second play- maker the Heat are not guarding. On top of that, with Patty, Diaw, Danny, Leonard, Splitter, and even Belinelli showing no fear of attacking the basket this year, suddenly it is not just about defending Tony and Manu from penetrations.

  • Dapimp Ofdayear

    That road blowout HAS to have Miami spooked: Remember, they hadn’t lost a home game this entire postseason, and the one road game the Spurs managed to get in last year’s Finals was a squeaker. For a team to come into their house and blow them out that way, has to have them worried.

    I know Kawhi and Diaw have been awesome, but really, if Danny Green can keep making them pay off the dribble for those hard three-point closeouts, the Heat can’t beat the Spurs, no matter what LeBron does.

  • abe

    The way the “others” on the Heat are playing, including Bosh and Wade, it’s going to take Lebron having 35+ points and 10+ rebounds every night for them to beat us. After last night, Bosh is going to be talking to them about how he needs more touches and they are going to be forcing the offense to try and spread the ball…it won’t be natural. I definitely think they will come out aggressively, especially on defense, but I think if SA can just control their turnovers and fouls, they can win by 4-6 points and come home up 3-1.

    Speaking of fouls, $100 says we are gonna see the bald wonder himself, the 6th man off the bench for Miami, Mr. JOEY CRAWFORD, who has yet to ref one of these games…along with Mike Callahan, Bill Kennedy and maybe Ron Garretson as an alternative. Doesn’t Joey himself have some ridiculous Miami-favored record, or is that just internet hearsay?

    Either way, if we play our game, we can win, I’m confident of that.

  • Tess

    I’d love to see us win Game 4, but it will be the hardest game to win in the series, I think. If we can win anyway, it means this is a short series, which would be nice, but I don’t really expect it.

    I think it’s a lot more likely that we win Games 5 and 6.

  • LukeDawg

    Great win and a mostly unbelievable performance. It’s tough to really find many negatives, but if I were to nitpick (and lets face it, us fans love to do just that!) I would like to complain about one really puzzling decision that for some reason I have not seen anybody comment on. I believe the spurs were up 17 and absolutely cruising with about 5 minutes left in the 3rd, and then inexplicably over the course of a minute or so, Pop subs in a lineup featuring Bonner, Mills, Belinelli, and Manu (along with Duncan). I’m not sure the Spurs could field a much weaker defensive unit than that, and as bad as it looks on paper, the results of that group on the court were even worse. The Spurs couldn’t stay in front of the ball, committed a bunch of fouls, and after the dust settled, the Heat had gone on a 10-0 run, all while Lebron watched from the bench. Obviously then Belinelli hit the huge 3, they somehow survived the rest of the quarter and “alls wells that ends well”. Still though, I thought it was a borderline reckless and unnecessary chance to take in a crucial game on the road; even with the huge lead and wanting to rest guys, obviously no lead is close to safe in that building. I can’t imagine those guys have a.) logged a ton of minutes together and b.) have been very successful when they do. I know starting Diaw messes with rotations in that second unit, and I have no problem with all those bench guys seeing decent minutes, but surely there is a better way to stagger them so that they don’t all have to play at the same time in an NBA finals swing game against the defending champs. Okay rant over, Go spurs Go!

  • budkin

    I’m trying so hard to stay optimistic but I made the mistake of letting my guard down last year and the Game 6 loss felt like someone killed my dog. Not letting down until this thing is truly in our grasp.

  • SpurredOn

    I’ll add another (you may want to use this in the next Margin): the Spurs’ franchise will take the court at least two more times having never started a Finals game where they trailed in the series. Yes, I’know they lost gm7 last year but, since there was no game eight, they’ve yet to tip-off a Finals game trailing in the series. Remarkable stat now in their sixth series.

    The history of the Pop/Duncan Spurs is that when they have home court and split 1-1, if they win the road gm3 they control the series. Glad to see all the Spurs players last night playing with that level of determination and desperation. Should they do so again Thursday, even with a lower shooting percentage, they can place a headlock on this series.

  • SpurredOn

    Going back to last year’s Finals, the Heat haven’t scored 100+ in regulation versus the Spurs for five consecutive games. When you include the two regular season matchups, that becomes 6 out of 7.
    Spurs in contrast have done so in four of last five games vs the Heat, and in the past five consecutive victories vs Miami. When they move the ball and hit a normal percentage of open shots, they put themselves just beyond the reach of a great James scoring night.

  • NYC

    Oh BS! You don’t get to count a Vine as a bullet point. Cheater!

  • brunostrange

    I don’t recall every detail of the game, but if memory serves me correctly, the line-up you referenced entered the game at a point when the Spurs were looking discombobulated. Parker was having a tough time at that point of the game, and moreover, looked pretty winded. He needed to come out. I am not certain why Pop took out Diaw at that point in time, but it’s obvious he can’t bring Splitter in to play alongside Duncan, as that line-up has proven itself ineffectual against athletic defenses, and Bonner allows SA to spread the floor. As for Belinelli – well, my blood pressure goes up every time he enters the game, so I’m at a loss there.

  • brunostrange

    It turns out Miami’s players and coaches are being asked continually by the media about the ineffectualness of Mario Chalmers. Happened last night during the post-game pressers, and today during the media availabilities (yes, I watch all that stuff right now – my productivity is shot with the Spurs in the Finals).

    In any case, LeBron, Wade and Spoelstra all had to address the fact that Chalmers is stinking up the floor. Chalmers has been making comments about needing to play better, etc.

    Now, obviously Chalmers could step up and have an awesome Game 4. But just as likely, the “is Chalmers going to be a liability again” cloud is going to be hanging over Miami throughout the game. That’s the sort of thing that can take a team out of its focus zone. Curious how that’ll develop.

  • ThatBigGuy

    The turning point in the game was in the 3rd quarter when Miami brought the lead down to 7. They did it by using an all-out defensive blitz that was borderline absurd in effort level. Marco hit that HUGE 3, and you could see LeBron deflate. The next two times up the court, he was behind the plays, and you could tell that the run the Heat made wiped them out physically (LeBron particularly).

    Neither LeBron nor Wade seemed to have any spring in the 4th, and that was all she wrote. You gotta give it to LeBron. The guy is probably 270 lbs and has reached the Finals 4 years in a row. He’s got some serious miles on those legs, but he just keeps bringing it every night. It would be interesting to see if Pop has the team push the ball just for the intent to turn LeBron’s legs to jelly by the 4th quarter.

  • Chris S

    Here’s something nobody in the media is talking about:

    The Spurs are a few 4th quarter miscues away from being up 3-0.

    Go Spurs Go! Go for the jugular in Game 3 tonight!

  • Chris S

    Sorry, make that Game 4.

  • LukeDawg

    I agree that a key spot in the game was that 3rd quarter run, but as I mentioned in a post above, it really didn’t have as much to do with the Heat’s defense as it did with the Spurs. In fact, If you go back and watch it, you will see that Lebron wasn’t even on the court for that entire run, and the Spurs had 4 great looks during that 10-0 spurt; Duncan missed 2 layup opportunities (one stripped by Allen, but Ill take that matchup in the post every-time), Belinelli missed a wide open layup and Manu missed a wide open 3. On the other side of the ball though, during that span the Heat scored on 5 straight possessions, with every bucket coming from a shot or foul in the paint. Manu, Belinelli, Bonner, Mills, lineups should have no problem scoring because they can spread the floor and there are multiple creators, but predictably, when you field a lineup with 4 of your team’s worst defenders, they are going to struggle to put up any kind of resistance to that Heat attack.

  • LukeDawg

    That’s a valid point, the 3Q offense to that point had been very sluggish. But as bad as the offense was, the Spurs still had a 17 point lead because of the great defense they were playing. I guess I just didn’t understand why you would sub in a bunch of one dimensional offensive players together when you are up 17 and really just need to keep playing great defense. Now I forgot Danny picked up his 4th foul really early so I would guess that is why we saw Belinelli in that spot. But for the most part I am with you on Marco, I appreciate his regular season contributions, but it is just so hard to trust him in the postseason if he does not have defensive protection around him on all sides, at all times. (and Bonner, Mills, and Manu do not qualify as that)

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  • reaper009

    I’m a spurs fan from the british virgin islands hoping to see a the big fundamental get at least one more before he calls it quits