Before the NBA Finals began it had the feel of a heavyweight fight. After a Game 1 that was well played on both sides, I wrote that it was going to live up to that. It still has the feel of a heavyweight fight, only now we’ve watched each team show they can land a haymaker. San Antonio answered Miami’s Game 2 rout with one of their own last night, a 113-77 blitzing in the Lone Star State.
If you saw the game or have even casually checked in on the highlights, you know that the Spurs were absolutely lights-out from three-point range. Danny Green, who has been the team’s best player in the Finals, was a surreal 7-of-9, while Gary Neal hit 6-of-10. The team as a whole nailed 16/32 from behind the arc. To call this the key to the game would be to understate it.
But it’s also important not to overlook some other good things the Spurs had going for them. Tim Duncan got active in the offense early, and while his final scoring totals were pedestrian, with 12 points, he set an early tone. And had his team not been insanely hot from downtown, you have to assume Duncan would have seen more of the ball in the second half.
Furthermore, San Antonio really stepped up on the glass. With Duncan grabbing 14 boards and Kawhi Leonard crashing for 12, the Spurs repeatedly beat Miami to the punch and outrebounded the Heat 52-36. It’s looking like Miami’s Game 1 rebounding advantage was a mirage and that San Antonio has re-asserted control of the interior.
The importance of Duncan’s early offensive activity and the control of the glass also can’t be overstated. Because while the three-point bombing was the key to Game 3, it’s the latter two factors that are going to be the key going forward and head coach Gregg Popovich had to like what he saw—that is, presuming Popovich ever likes what he sees. I had to laugh in the fourth quarter when Miami “cut” a 27-point lead to 21 and Popovich immediately took a timeout, looking absolutely disgusted with his team. I think I’m moving Pop right up there with Bill Belichick as my favorite active coaches in sports.
LOOKING AHEAD FOR THE HEAT
Where does Miami go from here? We begin by putting this loss in perspective. The game was bigger to San Antonio than it was to the Heat. As long as Miami picks up one win this week in Texas, they still have a good shot to win a seven-game series on their home floor. I’m not saying last night was must-win for the Spurs, but they have to win two of three at home, and beating the Heat twice in a row, while possible, is a tall order.
If I’m the Heat, the first thing I want is for LeBron James to quit shooting three-pointers. Yes, I know he’s a good shooter from long range. I also know that the Spurs are more than happy to let these Finals come down to a referendum on LeBron hitting the trey. Better that than him driving to the basket or posting up. It’s not necessarily wrong for James to shoot five treys like he did last night. But when it comes in the context of him not going to the basket, nor being hot (he only made one), it has to stop.
James played hard, as he always does, and his 11 rebounds are reflective of that, but he’s playing the game San Antonio would prefer.
Ultimately, Miami simply has to be more aggressive defensively. One of the reasons San Antonio was so hot from downtown is that outside shots are easier to hit when there’s not a hand in your face or some sort of duress. As a general rule, I wouldn’t expect teams to repeat 50 percent shooting from behind the arc, especially not when taking 30-plus attempts. But if it’s going to be straight catch-and-shoot with no pressure, professional basketball players can certainly hit half their treys. I find it disturbing that Miami seems unable to bring championship-level intensity for consecutive games. It doesn’t mean they can’t win this series—the 1988 Los Angeles Lakers had the same problem and won a seven-game Finals. But is yet another argument against the Heat’s invincibility and historic greatness.
THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM
It was a great Tuesday in San Antonio, but it’s going to be an awful Wednesday, pending the results of Tony Parker’s MRI. The point guard went to the sidelines with a bad hamstring and didn’t return. We don’t know if he could have played had the game been close, and we don’t know if the MRI is merely precautionary. But if Parker is going to be a shell of himself, then the Spurs won their last game of the season last night.
The positive side to San Antonio’s win is that Thursday night is not a must-win spot. If Parker’s hammy comes back in-between—not healthy, but a little on the sore side—Popovich may have to hedge his bets, and let Parker gather himself for Sunday night and Game 5. That’s not a worse-case scenario, but this is the downside of competing this deep in the season with veterans. Eventually the body breaks down.
At the start of this series, I expected these Finals would be tied 2-2, with each team winning a road game. Even if Parker is in pristine health, the guess here is that Miami bounces back, although the run of blowouts should end. Game 4 will go Thursday (9 PM ET, ABC). TheSportsNotebook’s NBA commentary returns Friday morning.