My first impression was that the Spurs' offense wasn't looking as sharp to start the game. That perception was tinted by the offensive clinic that San Antonio put on in the first half of game 3 because the Spurs assisted in six of their nine first quarter buckets and shot over 50% from the floor and 60% on three pointers. The only black mark was their five turnovers. But those mistakes weren't costly thanks to a fantastic defensive performance.
While it's hard to compare it with scoring binge from Tuesday, the Spurs' first quarter D was similarly impressive. The rotations were crisp, there was communication on the switches and there was even an element of disruption present that is not what we tend to associate with San Antonio. On top of being suffocating in the half court, the Spurs were not allowing any easy points at all, getting back to prevent fast breaks and boxing out and soaring for boards.
The only answer the Heat found was to go early and often to James and Bosh, who pulled the offense to themselves in an attempt to get the team past the rough spot. But with Wade looking old and ground bound and the role players not stepping up, there just wasn't enough firepower for Miami to be able to hang with a Spurs offense that remained hot. At the end of the first, the lead was nine 26-17.
The Spurs looked in control but a Heat run seemed inevitable. The starters had made the difference early while Manu, who was leading the bench into the second, looked sloppy. But the bench held the lead. Once Ginobili checked out and the unit was left with no elite creator, the table seemed set for at least a partial Miami comeback. Instead, the Spurs' role guys kept the offense humming and Tiago Splitter, Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green sustained the defensive pressure.
The Heat simply looked tired, lethargic, defeated. As the starters checked back in, the difference between the energetic Spurs and them was painfully evident. James was not looking for his shot and Wade was missing everything. Ray Allen was arguably the one player showing up for the Heat in the second, after Bosh did in the first. Things were so bad that Erik Spoelstra had to dig up Toney Douglas from the deep bench in an effort to give the team a jolt of energy that inserting Battier earlier failed to provide.
Nothing worked. The Spurs kept contesting everything on defense, forcing the Heat to take bad shots off broken plays. And on offense the surgical precision continued as San Antonio carved up Miami again and again. At halftime, the lead was 19 and the game seemed to be over. But you never know with the Heat. A couple of turnovers and a couple of threes and they could be back in it.
Sure enough, the mini run to start the second half came. The Spurs understandably were not playing with the same urgency and Miami exploited that to cut the lead to 13. The offensive execution was so bad that Pop had Manu ready to check in within the first two minutes before Parker canned a couple of jumpers. There was very little ball movement and a lot of late shots and sloppy play. Fortunately, that's as close as the Heat got. Wade crowned a terrible night by killing their momentum with a missed layup and a turnover and the Spurs went back to executing well. The lead ballooned again and it was 24 going into the fourth.
Miami went on yet another mini-run in the final quarter but it was too late. The Spurs simply controlled the game and run out the clock while trading buckets the rest of the way. After two absolute masterpieces in game 3 and game 4, the Spurs are now one win away from hoisting the Larry O'Brien.
- The way Kawhi Leonard is evolving is not normal. Going from energy guy to great 3-and-D guy in a year is not unheard off. Going from 3-and-D guy to elite defender and solid tertiary scoring option is not as common but is not impossible either. But this? I don't even know what to call it. After two bad games to start the series and not a great post season in general, Leonard has been the best player on the floor in games 3 and 4 and it hasn't been close. And the weird thing is it looks sustainable! He's not doing something he has never done before. He's just doing all the good things he usually does more often. If he keeps this up for the rest of the finals, max him out during the summer, R.C.
- Boris Diaw finished the game with eight points, nine rebounds and nine assists. He's been the key offensively for the last two series. The guy is so incredibly talented that sometimes not even he knows what to do with it. After almost washing out of the league, Diaw should be in the conversation for Finals MVP is the Spurs win it. How crazy is that?
- Pop made a number of adjustments that have worked to perfection. The Spurs' switching might result in some easy buckets from back door cuts or screen slips but it takes Miami out of their rhythm. Having a player high in the wing instead of the corner to help the ball handler on traps has played a huge part in limiting live ball turnovers. Cutting Belinelli's minutes and making the Diaw for Splitter switch also ended up helping. Pop deserves some props for the 3-1 series lead.
- Kawhi will deservedly get most of the attention but this team still goes as the Big Three go. Tony Parker was huge tonight, with 19 points in 15 shots, two assists and three secondary assists. He provided the scoring punch the team needed when it needed it. Manu's numbers are less glamorous but the team simply played much better with him on the court. And Tim did his thing, notching a double-double and anchoring the defense. Those guys are obviously still the foundation of the Spurs.
- The Spurs have had a gigantic edge on the production of role players. Chalmers has been close to unplayable. Norris Cole and Rashard Lewis have not been consistent at all. And Andersen has not been the difference-maker he was last season. The only one who has been steady has been Allen. Meanwhile, The Spurs have found answers again and again from their role guys and that has fueled their ball movement. The Spurs had 25 assists to the Heat's 13 tonight. For the series, the numbers are 102 to 62. There is an element of trust involved in making the extra pass that the Spurs have and the Heat simply lack right now.
- I'm way too superstitious to say the series is over. But it's a ridiculously bad spot the Heat are in. There are a lot of things they have to change to regain the edge on either end. Their bench just doesn't seem to have a lot of potential impact players. Wade is not playing well. It doesn't look like there is an easy solution other than their stars catching fire. They will try to take advantage of the two-day break to make whatever adjustments they can make. Hopefully the Spurs will be ready to close it out at home on Sunday.
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