Game 1 felt like a steal to me. The Spurs did just enough to win while the Heat did just enough to lose. Since the game was in Miami, I consider that a steal. Neither team was in control and in the end, the Spurs took home court advantage from the Heat. Perhaps the Spurs were rusty and the Heat were tired, so neither team was able to establish their identity.
In Game 2, it felt as if the Spurs never had a chance. Although Danny Green's hot shooting kept the Spurs close for two and a half quarters, the Spurs' offense looked terrible. The ball did not move. When the Spurs are really playing well, their assist total hits the 30s. In the first two games of the series, the Spurs only recorded 16 assists in each. I thought this was more indicative than the Spurs' 16 turnovers, although the two are obviously both telling.
What troubled me most was that I wasn't sure if the Spurs were going to be able to move the ball against this Heat defense. In this way, I wasn't sure if the Spurs controlled their own destiny. This thought, that the Heat may control this series, scared me every waking hour between the second and third game of this series.
The Heat play an extremely physical brand of defense. It's reminiscent of the same defensive techniques that OKC used in the Western Conference Finals to oust the Spurs last year. In my mind, if the Spurs are unable to move the ball against the Heat, then a lot of things would have to go right for them to win this series. The Spurs would have to be flawless in other areas, get good bounces and get some calls in order to win the necessary four games. Basically, without their potent offense, I thought the Spurs would have to get lucky to win. Teams that require luck generally do not win the Finals, and they definitely do not win in five games, as I had predicted.
It's safe to say that I was extremely apprehensive about what might take place in Game 3. Well, it began loudly. The AT&T Center was as deafening as it's ever been and right from tip-off. It was as if the entire arena was as nervous as I was and it lived and died with every bounce of the ball. I've never heard a Spurs crowd so into a game from the first bounce. It was a proud day for Spurs fans.
The first quarter went well for the Spurs, even though it ended with San Antonio only leading by four points. I thought it was a vast improvement from Game 2 in terms of the looks that the Spurs' offense was generating. The Spurs shot 61% from the field and made two of their three 3-pointers.
Early on, the Spurs established Tim Duncan in the paint, who led the Spurs with six 1st quarter points. Once he seemed comfortable, it was pick and roll time. Rather than allowing Miami's quick and hard double team to force the ball handler away from the basket, the Spurs made quick decisions. Tony and Manu either attacked before Miami could react or swung the ball before the pick and roll really took place. When they passed the ball out, another pick and roll immediately initiated on the weak side, which helped to keep Miami off-balance.
On the other end, I thought Miami made a lot of tough shots. They were taking what the Spurs were giving, and I was dubious as to whether the Heat could sustain their offense. Dwyane Wade led the Heat with eight 1st quarter points.
In the 2nd quarter, I really thought the Spurs were on the verge of blowing the game wide open. They just kept missing wide open shots. Again, their ball movement was superb. Rather than dictating the Spurs' offense as they did in Game 2, Miami was scrambling and often late to contest the Spurs' shots in the 2nd quarter.
In the first six minutes of the quarter, the Spurs missed five open 3-pointers. Gary Neal missed two, Manu missed one and Matt Bonner missed two. These were wide-open threes and they were attempted by some of the Spurs' best shooters. 15 points that should have been weren't, and it allowed Miami to hang close, even though they were getting thoroughly out-played.
With 6:54 remaining in the second quarter, the Spurs up 29-26, Danny Green picked up where he left off in Game 2 and finally connected on a wide open three for the Spurs. Attempting to stem the tide, Erik Spoelstra quickly called a timeout, but it had little effect. Tim scored a quick four points, Neal hit a jumper and Kawhi Leonard dunked the ball to force Spoelstra into calling another timeout, now down 40-30 at the 4:35 mark.
It was here that I thought the Spurs were about to blow it open. The crowd was raucous and it just felt like the run was going to continue. Well, it didn't. Over the next three minutes the Spurs only points came from a Gary Neal 3-pointer. The Heat, meanwhile, managed to make up the Spurs' lead in a flash with the help of two Mike Miller 3-pointers. Instead of building on their 10 point lead, the Spurs found themselves in a tied ball game with only 37 seconds left before half.
In his postgame interview, Dwyane Wade said, "They hit those two bombs at the end of the first half when it was tied up and it kept their momentum going into the third." Two bombs, indeed. In those last 37 seconds, Tony attempted to execute a 2 for 1, and did so, just barely. Tony took what can only be described as an ill-advised, fade-away corner 3-pointer with 26 seconds on the clock and it splashed. On the other end, Danny Green manned up on Lebron and blocked him in the paint. The Spurs rushed the ball down the floor and found Gary Neal for a soul-crushing, buzzer-beating three.
Those last two bombs salvaged a very well played half for San Antonio. While the Spurs probably should have been up by more than six at intermission, those six points kept the momentum of the game in the Spurs' favor.
In the 3rd quarter, the dam finally burst. The ball movement was just too much for the Miami Heat defense to contain and those open shots that the Spurs missed in the first half found the bottom of the net in the second half. It was a thing of beauty. Danny "Big" Green scored 22 second half points, hitting six of his seven 3-pointers. The Spurs routed the Heat in the second half, 63-33, to win the game 113 - 77.
After the game, I thought Erik Spoelstra summed everything up nicely. "We got what we deserved. They got into an incredible rhythm. Even in the first quarter, every shot they wanted to get they got. We did not disrupt them. That's the flow and it went from there. We never got to our game, the easy ones, rhythm playing off misses. And then the three point barrage happened after that."
To me, he spoke about ball movement. The Spurs moved the ball well and Miami was never able to impose their defensive will. With the Spurs' near flawless movement, the Heat were unable to get to their game. Their game, as Spoelstra admitted, are "the easy ones."
I very much enjoyed hearing that. Prior to this game I wasn't sure if the Spurs controlled their own destiny. After the game, it sure seems as if they do. If the Heat cannot stop the Spurs' ball movement, they are not going to get to their game. The "easy ones" are a result of bad shots by the Spurs or turnovers. If the Spurs can move the ball, the Heat aren't going to get easy ones, and that means the Spurs can control this thing.
Ball movement and Turnovers
It's important enough to get its own paragraph. Quicker and more decisive pick and roll action resulted in clean, beautiful ball movement. After recording just 16 assists in each of the first two games, the Spurs had 29 in Game 3. When the ball moves, the Spurs get good looks that either drop or end up being good misses. By good misses, I mean they do not lead to Heat fast breaks. In addition, when the Spurs are swinging the ball with ease, they tend to not turn the ball over. Good offensive movement by the Spurs just might be the best defense on the Heat. Without "easy ones," the Heat offense just isn't that scary.
Danny Green and Gary Neal
After the game, Gary Neal stepped up to the podium. "The ball movement was great today, especially after the way we performed in Game 2. In Game 2, they were able to make us play in a crowd and were extremely aggressive, extremely physical. We knew coming into Game 3 that we had to move the ball. We were able to move it and get open shots and were able to get our feet set. I give Tony and Manu a whole bunch of credit. They're the dominant ball handlers in our system and did a great job of facilitating tonight and me and Danny were recipients of good ball movement." Danny Green and Gary Neal were both on fire throughout Game 3. They combined for 51 points, hitting 13 of their 19 three pointers. In addition, neither committed a single turnover. Both had playoff career highs in scoring on this special night.
I dare you to shoot. If not, I'll meet you in the paint.
Defensively, Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green threw a couple of no-hitters. They tag-teamed Lebron James and Dwyane Wade, holding them to a combined 14 of 36 shooting. The Spurs packed the paint and dared the Heat to shoot. The strategy worked to perfection. Lebron seemed befuddled throughout the game. Many have already claimed that he wasn't aggressive enough. He took 21 shots. His regular season average was only 17.7 attempts. It's not that Lebron wasn't aggressive; it's that the Spurs aren't allowing him into the paint. And when he did manage to get the ball close to the hoop, immediate double-teams were there to greet him.
I wrote about this in my preview. Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green are the best the league has to offer to defend Lebron and Dwyane. In Game 3, their defensive efforts were devastating. They spaced them beautifully and if Miami chose to drive instead of settle, they were met in the paint with bodies.
Kawhi, the most athletic guy on the floor?
I realize that most will think this is preposterous, but I found myself muttering that question several times last night. His rebounding is otherworldly. On offense, I swear he is constantly applying the brake on himself. It's almost like he's hitting the gas and brake at the same time. His internal monologue during fast-breaks has to be, "Should I? No I shouldn't. Should I? No, let's slow it down." It's probably a good thing offensively, because he's still fairly raw on that end. But defensively, and when he hits the boards, there's no brake. He goes at it with all his athleticism and it's a spectacle.
Dwyane Wade's Shot
He can't shoot and it's ugly when he tries. His lack of shooting is really hurting the Miami offense. If he doesn't have the ball, Miami is playing 4 on 5. When he does have the ball, his defender plays so far off him it makes Rajon Rondo blush. It's one of the reasons the Heat so desperately need those "easy ones." They just aren't that good of a half-court offense. They can't demand the spacing necessary to score efficiently.
As far as his play goes, the Spurs are making him ineffective. Well, maybe it's really the Heat that are making him ineffective. Perhaps since Dwyane can't shoot, the Heat are forced to play Bosh far from the basket to keep the defense somewhat honest. I don't watch the Heat play very much during the regular season. It's just a theory. But that's not why I wanted to bring up Bosh.
Is he smart? In his postgame interview, both JR Wilco and I were blown away by his thoughtful, intelligent responses. I read a lot about the NBA and listen to podcasts and all that. I've never heard anyone talk about Chris Bosh being intelligent. Is this discussed and I just somehow never came across it? Am I just making this up? I'm looking for help on this. Does he play instruments? Is he well read? Is he cultured? What's up with Bosh?
Tony, Manu and Tim
Tony had 8 assists in 28 minutes and Manu had 6 assists in 23 minutes. They each had just two turnovers. Most of the Spurs' 29 assists were generated off of Tony and Manu's playmaking. Tim patrolled the paint, as he does, and finished with 12 points, 14 rebounds and 2 blocks. The Big 3 were efficient and mostly served as facilitators for the streaking Danny Green and Gary Neal.
As great as this game was, the Spurs left the AT&T Center with cause for concern. Tony commented on it after the game. "I felt something in my hamstring. I don't know. We'll do an MRI tomorrow and hopefully it's nothing big. Just cramping or it got tight on me. It was just a weird feeling and I wanted to make sure with the doctors that I was okay. I played like two minutes in the fourth quarter and we were up big and Pop didn't want to take any risks. We'll see, tomorrow."
The Express News' Buck Harvey tweeted, "What I heard from the medical staff: Tony Parkers' hamstring more of a cramp, expected to be fine for Thursday."
If Tony Parker is indeed fine, Spurs fans will have a lot to be optimistic about. The Spurs finally looked like the Spurs again. The Silver and Black proved that they are capable of playing their offensive game against the vaunted Heat defense. If the Heat's defense can't generate points, the Spurs will be extremely tough to beat.