Coming off one of the greatest offensive performances ever played by a team in the NBA Finals, the San Antonio Spurs try to improve on their 2-1 series lead over the Miami Heat in tonight's Game 4 at the American Airlines Arena.
Shortly after Tuesday night's Game 3 of the NBA Finals, where the Spurs played three quarters of absolutely perfect basketball and one quarter of "Just don't lose the lead!" basketball, we were quickly reminded of something:
Game 3 last year: Spurs 113 Heat 77. Game 3 this year: Spurs 111 Heat 92.— Eye on Basketball (@EyeOnBasketball) June 11, 2014
It must be noted, though, that there are a few differences between last year's Game 3 walloping of the Heat and this year's Game 3 walloping of the Heat. First off, the Spurs have home-court advantage over the Heat this year, as opposed to not having it last year. Secondly, the Finals format this year is 2-2-1-1-1, where it was 2-3-2 last year. Third, while Kawhi had a breakout postseason last year, the Spurs have the pleasure of sending out Kawhi 2.0 in this year's series. Add the fact that Mario Chalmers is playing like Mario Chalmers. Also, San Antonio is controlling the pace of the game incredibly well compared to last year.
The case for the Spurs winning Game 4
The first of two companion articles examining the arguments for and against San Antonio winning tonight in Miami to take a 3-1 lead.
Even with all the differences from last year's Finals, though, that doesn't mean the Spurs are out of the woods just yet. A look at their third quarter offense is a reminder of how brilliance can momentarily disappear, and how it could've been enough to erase all they had accomplished up to that point. It's sobering to realize that, in less than a quarter, the Heat came within seven points of eliminating a lead produced by the greatest offensive half in NBA Finals history.
It also needs to be noted that while San Antonio's production was jaw droppingly beautiful, they had a rough time stopping Miami from efficiently scoring, too. LeBron shot 9-of-14 (64.3 percent), Wade went 8-for-12 (66.7 percent), and Bosh shot a perfect 4-for-4. The entire Heat squad shot 51.6% from the field and 47.6 percent from behind the arc. These stats won't go unnoticed by Popovich, but he may realize they came as a tradeoff for the 12 steals San Antonio had in Game 3 (Danny had 5 on his own).
But while all of the momentum is on the Spurs' side as they head into Game 4, don't expect them to go out shooting the way they did two nights ago. "I don't think we'll ever shoot 76 percent in a half ever again," Pop said on Tuesday night. Manu later chimed in, "It's not something you can plan for. There were no magic plays. We just moved the ball, and every shot went in." Both Pop and Ginobili have been around basketball long enough to know that what we witnessed in Game 3 was special, and the only way to make sure it never happens again is to go out and consciously attempt to recreate it.
That might be the difference this team needs to separate 2013 and 2014; the Spurs have yet to recreate a pathway to victory. Every game is a different, yet beautiful story. Within every new contest, a new glimpse of what "basketball" should look like flashes before our eyes. For the Spurs, it wasn't luck that had people comparing Tuesday's first half performance to a video game. It was their unwillingness to waste a possession.
So we can drop the comparisons between this year and last year. As Pop so eloquently put it, "I don't think about last year Game 3, Game 4, at all. This is a different animal..."
The different animal I believe he's referring to is Kawhi.
Matchup to watch: This is the fourth straight game PtR is making the Kawhi-LeBron matchup the one to watch for; though after Game 3, it appears Leonard's offense should be the one garnering special attention. Kawhi put up his career-best performance on the offensive end on Tuesday evening, and the difference was that he got it going early. His shy demeanor and humility isn't one that allows him to kick his game into gear when it gets down to crunch time at the end of the game (yet), but we all saw what happens when he starts making buckets early in the game. Both Kawhi and LeBron responded strongly after taking some criticism following games. It'll be interesting to see how quickly both try to establish their will in Game 4.
|Game 4, 2014 NBA Finals|
|June 12, 2014|
|American Airlines Arena, Miami, FL|
|8:00 pm CDT|
|TV: ABC - Radio: 1200 WOAI|
|Mario Chalmers||PG||Tony Parker|
|Dwyane Wade||SG||Danny Green|
|LeBron James||SF||Kawhi Leonard|
|Rashard Lewis||PF||Tim Duncan|
|Chris Bosh||C||Tiago Splitter|
|91.2 (27th)||Pace||95.0 (10th)|
|110.9 (5th)||ORtg||110.4 (7th)|
|105.8 (11th)||DRtg||102.4 (3rd)|
Game Prediction: Spurs by 4
Vegas Prediction: Heat by 5.5
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