In my last San Antonio Spurs recap/preview, I wrote: “… even if Parker and Duncan come back strong, even if Green keeps up his hot shooting and Ginobili plays like his old self, will it be enough to keep LeBron James from his second championship, now that his psyche is no longer plagued by doubts, and now that he is comfortable playing so many different roles?”
The answer, as we all know now, is a resounding “Yes.”
The Spurs annihilated the Heat in a 113-77 blowout on Tuesday night, and even did so without any of their high-profile stars stepping up. While the Spurs “Big 3” of Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, and Manu Ginobili only combined for 25 points, the Spurs offense exploded behind career games from Gary Neal, Danny Green, and Kawhi Leonard. Neal and Green sunk the Heat with a barrage of 3s; they combined for 51 points, shooting 13-19 from downtown. Meanwhile, the Spurs dominated the offensive glass behind Tim Duncan’s 7 offensive rebounds. Leonard also out-hustled LeBron and Dwyane Wade for a few rebounds of his own. Leonard, too, finally rediscovered his 3-point stroke, burning the overextended Heat defense to the tune of 2-3 from deep in a game that featured the 3-ball extensively.
Leonard’s chief contribution to the game, however, was on the defensive end. Leonard spearheaded a Spurs defense that held James to yet another 2-12 start from the field. James would pad his stats with some garbage-time buckets, but he was abysmal while the game’s outcome was still in doubt. The Spurs dared James to beat them with his jumper, and he looked cautious and hesitant throughout the entire game. Leonard was key for throwing James out of his rhythm. He played strong defense in the post, never allowing LeBron easy look, and constantly had his hands in the passing lanes. And as LeBron was taken out of his rhythm, the rest of the Heat offense followed suit, with the exception of Mike Miller. It seemed that nobody on the Heat could make an open look; combined with the Spurs effort to make them a team of jumpshooters, the Heat’s offense was rendered pitiful. Leonard was the catalyst for the Spurs’ eventual offensive breakthrough; when the Heat couldn’t respond, the game was blown wide open.
The Spurs probably shouldn’t expect similar offensive contributions in Game 4 from Neal and Green. At the same time, they shouldn’t expect Mike Miller’s offensive explosion, which kept the Heat in the game for part of the 3rd quarter, to be replicated. If the Spurs continue to stifle LeBron James, continue to keep him and the Heat offense out of the paint, then they should be able to pull out a victory.
However, the Spurs attack suffered a significant blow in Tony Parker’s hamstring injury. Backup point guard Corey Joseph had only played a combined 9 minutes in the first two games of the series before being forced into action late in Game 3. The loss of Parker, the orchestrator of the Spurs’ complex offense, will severely limit the effectiveness of the Spurs’ offensive attack. Even if he plays through his injury, he will still be limited in his ability to slice through the lane and create open shots for players like Green and Leonard. Thus, the matchup between Leonard and LeBron takes on even more importance: the Spurs will need to defend at a very high level in order to win with a hobbled Tony Parker. Stopping LeBron, difficult though it may be, is the best way to render the Heat attack tame. Kawhi Leonard will need to follow up his coming-out party with a similar performance in order to lead his team to a second straight victory in front of its home crowd.
At the moment, the Spurs are in control of the series. They have a 2-1 series lead and have 2 more games at home. Judging by Game 3, they are clicking at a level that the Heat just can’t match. But, as we learned between Games 2 and 3, as well as between Games 1 and 2, momentum often doesn’t carry from game to game. The Spurs looked dominant, but the Heat are also capable of dominant stretches. Danny Green and Gary Neal and Mike Miller may become mortal again, or they may continue their ridiculous hot shooting streaks. I suspect that Tony Parker will try to fight through his injury, tough it out to try to give the Spurs a commanding 3-1 series lead. But then the Heat have also responded to losses well this season; they have not lost two games in a row since early January. This is a team that knows how to respond to adversity. Parker, Duncan, LeBron and Wade know what’s at stake both for their teams and for their own legacies. With so much at stake, Game 4 should be epic.
Spurs Game 1 recap, Game 2 preview: http://isportsweb.com/2013/06/08/spurs-game-1-recap-game-2-preview/
Spurs Game 2 recap, Game 3 preview: http://isportsweb.com/2013/06/10/san-antonio-spurs-game-2-recap-game-3-preview/
Heat Game 1 recap, Game 2 preview: http://isportsweb.com/2013/06/08/miami-heat-game-1-recap-game-2-preview/
Heat Game 2 recap, Game 3 preview: http://isportsweb.com/2013/06/10/nba-finals-miami-heat-have-boundaries-to-overcome-in-san-antonio/