Three games gone in the NBA Finals, the “Fo, Fo, Fo, Fo” calls for a spotless Miami Heat playoffs seem like a faraway fairytale, prancing on a cloud with unicorns and mermaids. The reigning champs look to be at a significant disadvantage against the San Antonio Spurs, though they’re down just 2 games to 1. The 4-time champs have owned Miami despite a narrow margin of victory in Game 1–after all, it’s not outrageous to say that San Antonio has controlled the series for 10 of the 12 quarters played thus far.
Game 3 was an absolute thrashing on the part of the Spurs. In a completely lopsided 113-77 blowout, San Antone hit a NBA record 16 three-pointers, including and outrageous 13-19 clip from Danny Green and Gary Neal. Now, if you’re a casual NBA fan and you don’t know who those two guys are, their games on the court make them seem as unglamorous as the 9th grade chemistry teachers they’re seemingly named after. However, in a complex series of screens and cuts, the two wingmen were able to shake free time after time, getting uninhibited looks from long. They combined for a backbreaking 51 points, accounting for twice the output of Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili (25 points). Though this was the primary narrative of the game, a few other factors stood out:
- As great as Green and Neal were, Kawhi Leonard made just as much of a difference. His 12 rebounds were only second on the team to Tim Duncan’s 14, but they were a supremely gigantic 12 boards. 3 of them came on the offensive end, with Leonard flying through the air to snatch it out of the fumbling mits of the opposition. Kawhi was just one part of a 16 rebound advantage for San Antonio, but the demoralizing nature of Leonard simply using his gigantic hands to steal the ball out of the Miami’s grasp cannot be accurately measured.
- Though he ended up with 16 points, 5 assists and 4 steals with some decent defense, Dwyane Wade had a much worse offensive night than the numbers convey. Simply put, Wade cannot hit an open jumper to save his or Gabrielle Union’s life. The Spurs were Mark Summers double-daring him to shoot all night long, giving him no shortage of room to get off a long range shot whenever he wanted. According to his shooting chart, Wade went 1 for 8 outside of the painted area, with his only field goal coming in the first 6 minutes of the first quarter. With the way that San Antonio is battening down the interior, especially later in the game, Wade’s best attribute is as a passer. This would be great…if the Heat didn’t need another great scorer to break down the Spurs D.
- It didn’t help matters that LeBron picked a terrible time to have his worst shooting game of the season. The MVP went a pitiful 7 for 21, including just 2 made shots outside of the immediate basket area. The Spurs decided early that they’d allow James to try and beat them from the perimeter, which he failed to do in spades. To his credit, LeBron had the confidence to keep on taking what amounted to wide open jumpers until he got going late in the third quarter–unfortunately for him and his team, the game was already well out of hand. James attacked the rim somewhat, but a scant 4 free throws is telling of just how savagely yet intelligently the Spurs guarded the rim and kept from sending him to the line. The past few contests are just about as well as I’ve seen anyone guard LeBron James, though much of the credit has to be given to the Pacers for running him ragged over a 7-game series.
- Overall on offense, I was surprised at just how hard Miami had to work to score, while it was relatively easy for San Antonio to get theirs. It seemed that every single possession was like a 12-man tag team gauntlet match for the Heat, jumping through hoops of fire and climbing ladders of barbed wire just to get a bucket. Every time down the floor, Miami looked to be chased off the three-point line and missing a hesitant 15-footer, rather than getting an easy look from a corner three or a beautifully run pick and roll on the interior with James and a teammate. It’s been such a masterful head coaching clinic from Gregg Popovich, who’s taken away a lot of what Miami likes to do: the Spurs have limited their turnovers, controlled the boards, played clever interior defense and not allowed LeBron to even establish post presence.
As I mentioned after Game 1, the Spurs are completely controlling these games, none more apparent than the massacre disguised as Game 3. Despite how out of hand the series may seem (to me, especially), the Heat aren’t out of these Finals, not by a long shot.
In order to get the series even tonight at 2 a piece, coach Erik Spoelstra needs to separate himself from being a really good coach and establish his standing as an excellent one. The Heat need to find a way to break down such a staunch and heady Spurs rim protection unit, and open up some room for LeBron James an Dwyane Wade to either score at the cup or get to the free throw line. It’s got to be Spo’s highest priority to get James more opportunities to score at his most creative spot (in the post), as a 16 points per game average in the Finals isn’t anywhere close to acceptable for the greatest player in the world. At this point, I feel as if Wade, Bosh and Chalmers aren’t going to contribute much more, save for a freakish Danny Green-like game from Chalmers, Norris Cole or Shane Battier. The x-factor here is James, and he needs to get going immediately.
It also might be unfair to ask this, but Mike Miller and Ray Allen are going to have to continue to hit three-pointers, and at a deadly clip that’s going to disrupt an athletic San Antonio perimeter defensive scheme. Green and Neal aren’t going to score like this again, even when given as many great looks as they got the other night. With Tony Parker significantly hobbled for Game 4, the Heat might be able to re-allocate their defensive resources for these deadly shooters, which would really put a big kink in what made San Antonio so unstoppable on Tuesday. Despite the Game 3 blowout without much contribution from their starting point guard, a diminished Parker could change the complexion of the Finals.
It’s an obvious statement, but has to be written: Miami must win tonight. They are a great team, but winning 3 in a row against the Spurs be extremely difficult, if not downright impossible.