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The Heat gave the Spurs all they could handle

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The Heat provided the toughest test of the season so far for the Spurs as Hassan Whiteside, Goran Dragic and Justise Winslow powered a mid-game surge. But the Spurs, powered late by a gutty effort from Kawhi Leonard, closed out the game strong and pulled out a 106-99 win.

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The Spurs started the game on a strong note, and by midway through the second quarter, it was starting to look like another rout. But San Antonio lost their focus in the middle part of the game, and the Heat fought back behind Hassan Whiteside's superior inside play, and slashing drives to the basket from Goran Dragic and Tyler Johnson. Justise Winslow showed himself to be a formidable force inside, and if he develops a consistent outside shot, he will be scary.

Patty Mills and Pau Gasol played strong games for the Spurs, but the fourth quarter was the Kawhi Leonard show as he scored the last 12 points for the Silver and Black and closed out the Heat.

Game Flow:

Goran Dragic started off the scoring for the Heat with a triple, and the Spurs answered with 10 straight points – led by Pau Gasol's smooth jumpers in the paint, knocking in six of those points for the Silver and Black. Pau also blocked a shot by Hassan Whiteside under the basket. Kyle Anderson traveled early on and was quickly subbed out for Jonathon SimmonsDion Waiters (who always seems to play well against the Spurs, no matter who he's playing for) hit a three pointer to bring the Heat to within two, and Justise Winslow followed with a pair of free throws to tie it up for the Heat. Davis Bertans got some early run, hitting a pretty three off an assist from Jonathon Simmons to help close out the quarter. After the first, the Spurs led 24-19.

The second quarter started off with the Spurs playing crisply, building a lead behind threes from Kawhi Leonard and Patty Mills. Pau Gasol also contributed on offense with open jumpshots, and by halfway through the quarter, San Antonio had built a 41-25 lead. But Hassan Whiteside, who had been kept in check early, began to find his game by getting to the line and, somewhat uncharacteristically, hitting most of his free throws. Goran Dragic started to create space with his driving and dishing, and by the half, Miami had cut the lead to 52-45, having outscored the Spurs 20-11 over the last four minutes of the quarter.

After the break, a Gasol three made it seem like the Spurs were going to put Miami away, but Whiteside and the Heat had other ideas. The Heat were energized, and they took it to the Spurs for most of the quarter. With 5:47 left, Dragic made a driving layup, followed by another on the ensuing possession to push the Heat were within one. The Spurs were able to right themselves a bit for the rest of the quarter, building the lead to 77-71 at the end of three, but the Heat were still within striking distance, and the home crowd was back in the game.

The fourth quarter started with a James Johnson layup and a Willie Reed dunk to cut the Heat deficit to just one point. It started to get loud as the crowd in American Airlines arena began to feel an upset brewing. Nicolas Laprovittola entered the game briefly, but Pop pulled him out of the game after just a minute of play after committing a foul. When Tyler Johnson was fouled by David Lee with 8:29 left and hit Kawhi in the face with his elbow on the follow-through, it started to look bad for the good guys. A cut was opened under Leonard's right eye, and he had to go to the bench to get it sewn up. Amazingly, he only missed about a minute and a half of game time as he returned with 6:48 left with the Spurs down one, 87-86.

Unfazed by the pain, he took control of the game, first assisting Patty Mills for an open three, and then taking advantage of a Heat defensive gaffe as Tyler Johnson vacated the lane leaving him an open drive and dunk.

Dragic and Whiteside did their part to keep the game close, but Kawhi was having none of it. About the only thing that he didn't execute perfectly were his first two missed free throws of the year. The game ended with Kawhi stealing the ball from Whiteside and running the time out, even though he had an open path to the basket for an easy dunk.

The Spurs won the game 106-99, but the seven point margin is a little deceptive. The margin was only four points with 38 seconds left. Which brings to mind an unpleasant memory.

Well, never mind, the Spurs won, and now they're 4-0 for the season. They are one of only six undefeated teams in the NBA.

Observations:

  • The Spurs really missed LaMarcus Aldridge tonight. Kawhi is the leader and the best player on the court, but LaMarcus is the meat in the sandwich that is the Spurs offense. He's so much a part of everything the Spurs do that you don't really know what he does until he's not there. His threat makes Kawhi's job a lot easier, but tonight, Leonard had to carry a lot more of the load himself. Which he did, admirably.
  • Patty Mills had another really good game, with 18 points, but more importantly, he provided a much-needed scoring punch again and again. Every time the Heat scored a key basket in the fourth quarter, it seemed like Patty answered with a clutch shot of his own. He's grown a lot with his leadership position on the Australian Olympic Basketball team, and the Spurs have reaped the benefits.
  • Kawhi really looked worn out by the beginning of the fourth quarter, and when he got a cut on his face with 8:29 left from a collision with Tyler Johnson's elbow, it looked bad. Will Sevening stitched him up and he went back in sporting a bandage under his eye, and he took over the game. He scored the last 12 points for the good guys to close out the Heat.
  • Dewayne Dedmon is fun to watch, but he sure gets rejected by the rim a lot for an athletic 7 footer. He does stay with the play and often gets the ball back, so it's not all that bad.
  • Pau Gasol had a good night, scoring 20 points on 9-18 shooting with 11 rebounds.
  • Did Davis Bertans play? YES!

  • Manu Ginobili is still a factor out there, even at 39:
  • Tony Parker... didn't have a great game. Or even that good of one, although he did hit a three-point shot at a critical moment of the game.
  • Hassan Whiteside is the second-highest paid player on the Heat. (The player with the highest salary on the team is... Chris Bosh. Imagine how good they could be in the Eastern Conference if they could get him back healthy. It's really sad, both for the Heat, and for us fans that he was forced to quit playing for health reasons.) I thought the Heat were really overpaying Whiteside when they signed him to a max contract, but I now see I was wrong. He's improved dramatically since last year, and his presence really affects the defense. He might be the best rim stopper in the league right now, and he's no slouch on offense, either.
  • Coach Popovich has done a lot more quick hooks than I remember him doing in recent years. If a player makes a mistake or a bad foul, it seems like they're coming out with the next whistle. They get back into the game, but not until after Pop yells at them for a bit.

Musical Interlude:

[for Kawhi]

Player of the game:

Kawhi Leonard, of course. His 27 points and 6 assists are pretty gaudy stats, but the most impressive thing was how he put the team on his back in the fourth quarter, even with a cut under his eye.

Up Next:

The Spurs return to AT&T center for a game against the Utah Jazz on Tuesday at 7:30. The Jazz have a ton of talented young players, it's going to be a tough challenge but it's going to be another fun game to watch. The Spurs then get a little break until they play the Jazz again on Friday night in Utah.