Spurs light up Heat to take 2-1 lead in NBA Finals
MIAMI — What a counterpunch. The Spurs answered a superb showing from LeBron James on Sunday with team excellence in Game 3, blowing out the Heat 111-92. Eleven Spurs scored Tuesday, as San Antonio shot 59.4 percent from the field and dished out 21 assists against 12 turnovers.
San Antonio controlled the game from the outset, riding record-setting shooting to a huge halftime lead and then holding steady to stave off multiple Miami pushes in the second half. The 19-point victory marked San Antonio's largest road win of the postseason and restored home-court advantage to the Spurs, who are hoping to unseat the back-to-back defending champions. The Heat lost for the first time in nine home playoff games this year and suffered their worst defeat at AmericanAirlines Arena of the season.
• Spurs shake up starting lineup with great success. In a twist that caught the media off-guard — the topic wasn't even addressed during Gregg Popovich's pregame news conference — the Spurs turned to a starting lineup that hadn't been used in the playoffs. In went Boris Diaw, out went Tiago Splitter. The change paid immediate dividends, as the Spurs led 15-10 before the first timeout and 22-12 by the time they subbed for the first time. Popovich called for better ball movement after San Antonio's Game 2 loss, and Diaw's insertion into the starting lineup added another playmaker and improved the Spurs' spacing. Nine of San Antonio's 13 first-quarter field goals were assisted, and the Spurs set an NBA Finals record by shooting 13-for-15 (86.7 percent) on their way to 41 points in the opening period.
• Leonard shows up. You can't often say this: LeBron James was outplayed. Spurs small forward Kawhi Leonard led all scorers with a career-high 29 points (on 10-for-13 shooting), four rebounds, two assists, two steals and two blocks. His torrid shooting set the tone -- Leonard was 5-for-5 in the first quarter -- but that shouldn't overshadow his defensive work. Coming off a scintillating 35-point performance in Game 2, James often looked frustrated and bottled up, and Leonard's energy and tight individual defending were big factors. James finished with 22 points, seven assists and five rebounds, but he committed seven turnovers, a postseason high and his most since February. Leonard's big night came after back-to-back quiet performances: He had 18 points and four rebounds combined in Games 1 and 2.
• The Heat make a game of it. After San Antonio took a 21-point lead at halftime, Miami predictably rallied in the third quarter. The Spurs bent, but they did not break. Things got most interesting when the Heat went on a 10-0 run in a 2½-minute stretch to cut the lead to seven points, 81-74, with two minutes remaining in the period. The push came with James on the bench, raising hopes among Miami fans that perhaps the four-time MVP's return would carry the Heat to an improbable comeback. Instead, San Antonio guard Marco Belinelli ended the run with a three-pointer, his only basket of the game, to push the lead back to double digits. Miami didn't get any closer in the fourth quarter, thanks in part to an early 7-2 Spurs run that included an emphatic dunk from Leonard.
• Green's unusual night. It's no surprise that X-factor Danny Green enjoyed a big night during a strong Spurs win. The strange part? Six of Green's seven baskets came from inside the arc; the sharpshooter made just two two-point field goals against five threes during Games 1 and 2. Green unleashed an array of floaters and runners to score 15 points (on 7-of-8 shooting), and his six two-point field goals set a postseason career high. He also recorded a career-high five steals.
• Woeful Chalmers. Any blowout loss will lead to a recounting of the weakest link, and Mario Chalmers looked to be just that in Game 3. Miami's free-agent-to-be point guard finished with just two points (on 0-for-5 shooting), four assists and three turnovers in 22 minutes. If Heat coach Erik Spoelstra responds to Popovich's lineup change with a major rotation move of his own, one would think that the counter will come at the expense of Chalmers' minutes.