No one saw it coming.
The San Antonio Spurs reclaimed the advantage in the NBA Finals on Tuesday night with an absolute destruction of the Miami Heat, burying the defending champs by an embarrassing 36 point margin.
In some ways, it was bit of a fantasy night for Spurs fans that hadn’t seen there team play in weeks. San Antonio buried shot after shot, regardless of how improbable it seemed. Role players had the biggest games of their lives and every Spur did their part defensively. By the end of the night, fans were chanting for the completely irrelevant bench presence that is Tracy McGrady to score the first NBA Finals points of his career, that’s how much fun they were having.
After Miami’s response to a game one loss in game two, one might have expected the defending champs to come out and assert their dominance. Instead, it was San Antonio that responded with desperation. Most impressively, it was the Spurs as a team who responded. Their big three of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili combined for just 25 points on the night and yet they crushed the Heat.
The Spurs game plan was well executed by everyone across the board and showed that regardless of how many stars Miami has, a good team effort can still beat them. If you’re looking for a complete breakdown of how they destroyed the Heat, that may take a while, so here are five key points that allowed them to do it.
1. Kawhi Leonard Shut Down LeBron James-We knew Leonard was a fabulous defender coming into the series, but the job he’s done on the MVP in this series has been nothing short of phenomenal. In game three, Leonard simply cut off every avenue James had to the hoop, not allowing him to do his usual routine of slashing to the basket for easy points or kick out assists. He made life easier on the entire Spurs defense and forced James to shoot from the perimeter, something Leonard was content to live with as James went 7-of-21 from the field. While James had a double-double of 15 points and 11 rebounds, it was a far cry from a dominant performance you might expect from him. Add to that Leonard’s four steals, 14 points and 12 rebounds, he not only shut James down, he pretty much cancelled out any effectiveness he had.
2. Spurs Crashed the Offensive Boards Hard-Rebounding has been an issue for Miami all season and was a key factor in the Eastern Conference Finals each and every game. Thus far against San Antonio, it hadn’t been a deciding factor, but that all changed last night. The Spurs out rebounded Miami 52-36 on the night, but it was one the offensive end, where the Spurs collected 19 offensive rebounds that made the difference. San Antonio scored 20 second chance points and were able to completely deflate Miami at times with their physicality inside.
3. Danny Green and Gary Neal Combine for 51 Points-The Spurs needed someone to step up in a big way on offense and they got it from two guys that have sporadically been great shooters this season. Green has been on a tear from beyond the arc in this series and continued to do so hitting 7-of-9 three pointers in this game scoring 27 points. Neal was equally vital dropping 24 and going 6-10 from downtown including a dagger from way out in the fourth that pretty much sealed Miami’s surrender on the night.
4. Taking Mario Chalmers Out of the Game-San Antonio was fortunate in that they were able to get at Chalmers in the early going. Seeing that he had been a key player in Miami’s game two victory and that he played well in game one, the Spurs knew getting him off the floor could be massive. Once he picked up his third foul with more than five minutes remaining in the second quarter, it forced the Heat to play without a point guard and to have to play with LeBron James guarding Tony Parker. This just opened up the paint for the Spurs whose ball movement was impeccable on the night (29 assists). This allowed them to open up a bit of a lead before the half and continued to be a factor throughout the game as Chalmers never really got going.
5. Popavich Made Decision to Give James and Wade Perimeter-The decision to back off James and Dwyane Wade was a big one. While Wade had his best night of the series so far, his jumper looked off at times. James never got in rhythm and the result was the Spurs absolutely pulled the Heat apart. With no Chalmers to run pick and rolls, James had to handle the ball near the perimeter as did Wade. Chris Bosh wasn’t really part of any solution and the Spurs were able to eliminate easy baskets for Miami. Not getting sucked in and testing Wade and James shooting was a bold move considering it could have backfired significantly, but it didn’t and because it was a tough night from long range for the Heat stars, San Antonio was able to blow them out.