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Spurs dismantle Heat again to take 3-1 Finals lead

Photo: John W. McDonough/SI

Tony Parker (19 points in Game 4) and the Spurs dominated the Heat again and are a victory away from the NBA championship.

MIAMI -- Gregg Popovich swore his team wouldn't duplicate its first-half outburst from Game 3, when the Spurs shot a record 75.8 percent. He was right: San Antonio connected on a mere 56 percent in the first half of Game 4, building a 19-point halftime lead that it protected en route to a 107-86 win over the Heat on Thursday.

The Spurs were in total control for the second game in a row. They moved the ball (25 assists overall), made shots (57.1 percent) and pounded Miami on the glass (44-27). In handing the Heat a second straight demoralizing loss on their home floor, San Antonio took a 3-1 lead in the series. No team in NBA Finals history has ever come back from such a deficit in 31 attempts.

Tony Parker in control. Remember when Parker's sore left ankle was a storyline in this series? Me neither. Parker continued to leave his imprint on the Finals, slicing the Heat defense for 19 points. Parker's penetration has been a problem for Miami all series, as the struggles of point guards Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole have forced Miami to mix and match lineups. Parker has never racked up high assist numbers -- he averaged 5.7 during the regular season and finished with only two on Thursday -- but that's a byproduct of San Antonio's unselfishness. A Parker pass leads to another pass, which leads to another pass, which leads to an open shot.

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The Boris Diaw impact continues. Two years ago, Diaw, overweight and unwilling to assert himself offensively, was waived by the Bobcats. Today, he's arguably the reason San Antonio's offense has become virtually unstoppable. After struggling with ball movement in Game 2, Popovich inserted Diaw into the starting lineup for Tiago Splitter. Diaw responded with nine points and three assists and was a key factor in San Antonio's greatly improved ball movement in Game 3. Diaw had a bigger impact in Game 4, finishing with eight points, nine rebounds and nine assists -- or three fewer assists than the entire Heat team. He was everywhere in the first half, setting up Parker for jump shots and tossing a behind-the-back bounce pass to Splitter for a dunk.

The legend of Kawhi Leonard grows. At 22, the Spurs' small forward is already an elite defender. He rarely bites on ball fakes and has lightning-fast reflexes and a strong base that allows him to body up on LeBron James when the four-time MVP goes to the rim. After limiting his counterpart to 22 points and helping pressure him into seven turnovers in Game 3, Leonard blanketed James in Game 4, holding LeBron to just nine points (on 3-of-7 shooting) in the first half, when the Spurs raced to another big lead.

The last two games have shown Leonard's development as an offensive player, too. Leonard showcased his mid-range repertoire in Game 4, powering off screens and scoring from all over the floor during a 20-point performance. He also grabbed 14 rebounds, one of which led to an emphatic putback dunk. Late in the game, the ABC microphones caught Popovich telling Leonard, "I couldn't be more proud of you." It's easy to see why.

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Where's Dwyane Wade? Wade's numbers coming into Game 4 weren't bad -- he totaled at least 14 points in each of the first three games and was coming off an efficient 22-point effort in Game 3 -- but he had yet to have a true statement game. In Game 4, he was downright awful, scoring 10 points on 3-of-13 shooting. Wade was lethargic and lacked explosiveness. He didn't consider shooting anything from outside 15 feet, and when he did get into the paint, he appeared more interested in drawing a foul than finishing the play. Miami has a host of problems, not the least of which is figuring out how to defend San Antonio's pass-happy offense. But without an effective Wade, the Heat have no chance to get back into this series.

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Erik Spoelstra is getting a little desperate. Third-string point guard Toney Douglas -- who had logged 20 minutes all postseason -- got meaningful first-half playing time for Miami. Spoelstra hinted after the game that there could be significant changes in Game 5. Whether that means a lineup tweak, a strategic shift or both remains to be seen. Said Spoelstra: "I don't think anyone expected this type of performance."

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