2014 NBA Finals: The Difference a Game Makes

Kawhi Leonard hot the hand in Game 3 of the NBA Finals. Photo Courtesy: Mark Runyon/BasketballSchedule.net
Kawhi Leonard hot the hand in Game 3 of the NBA Finals. Photo Courtesy: Mark Runyon/BasketballSchedule.net

By Craig Fields

Game 2 of the NBA Finals marked the return of the Miami Heat, and more importantly LeBron James. He had a fantastic stat line of 35 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals. The Heat ended up winning that game 98-96. You know the saying right? A series doesn’t start until the away team wins a game. Well then we should consider this series officially started, right?

Well Game 3 might have spelled the end of this series. Not only did the San Antonio Spurs go into American Airlines Arena in Miami and win, but they dominated in historic fashion. Warning: If you are a Heat fan the numbers that I am about to show you will both shock and frighten you.

To recap Tuesday night’s game the best place to start has to be the record book. The Spurs rewrote it by shooting an astounding 75.8% from the field in the first half to capture the best first half offensive performance in NBA Finals history. They made 7/10 three-pointers, and continued to drive the lane to the basket for layup after layup after layup. At one point I thought that the Spurs were still doing pregame warmup drills. That’s how easy it looked. Oh but the Spurs did have help.

The Miami Heat’s defense looked about as slow and sluggish as a floor full of senior citizens. The rotations were slow. Help defense was almost non-existent. I say almost because even when it was there, the shots were still falling. Jeff Van Gundy, who has been calling these Finals on ABC said that the entire first half should be on SportsCenter because of the Spurs passing display. I could not have said it better myself.

Gregg Popovich has always preached two things. Defense and passing. Both of those concepts were in full effect Tuesday night. The Spurs team had 21 assists on 38 made shots. The Heat only had 17 assists on 32 made shots. If you look at the box score you might say that this game was lost merely by turnovers alone. The Spurs coughed it up only 12 times compared to the Heat’s 20. However in a 111-92 win for the Spurs, eight turnovers are not enough to warrant a 19-point defeat.

In all actuality it was a compilation of things. The Spurs outscored the Heat by eight in fast break points, and six in points in the paint. They also made eight more free throws than the Heat. The Spurs also won the small forward position battle.

Kawhi Leonard became the third person to score a career high in points in an NBA Finals victory, joining the likes of Magic Johnson and Jamaal Wilkes in Game 6 of the 1980 finals. He arguably had the most impressive stat line of the night. Sitting at 29 points on 10-13 shooting, four rebounds, two assists, two steals, and two blocks, he was definitely more aggressive than he had been in Games 1 and 2.

He was everywhere and dominated both ends of the court. And oh yea, that includes LeBron James as well. Now James did have a heck of a statline as well. The King had 22 points, five boards, seven assists, and five steals. It is rare that such a statline does not come in a win. What is more rare is that his good play was dominantly overshadowed by the fundamental play of the Spurs.

James had 14 points in the first quarter and only managed eight more the rest of the game. For James and the Heat this game needs to be a chloroform moment. The Spurs will not shoot 76% from the field for an entire half again. For the Heat to bounce back and tie this series up, they need to forget about Game 3. Fortunately for the Heat, they have a history of doing just that.

They have a streak of 47 consecutive playoff games without back-to-back postseason losses. They know how to win. How else might you explain success after dealing with losses?

“You do have a healthy dose of fear, and that makes you focus more,” Chris Bosh said. “It makes you play better, play harder. When your back is against the wall, it’s a very unique feeling.” Whether you believe that or not, something works for these guys and I am all but certainly guaranteeing a Heat victory in Game 4.

Series to Date
Game 1: Spurs 110 – Heat 95     Spurs lead 1-0
Game 2: Heat 98 – Spurs 96       Series tied 1-1
Game 3: Spurs 111 – Heat 92     Spurs lead 2-1

Upcoming Schedule
Game 4: 6/12 Spurs @ Heat   8:00 p.m.
Game 5: 6/15 Heat @ Spurs   7:00 p.m. (If Necessary)
Game 6: 6/17 Spurs @ Heat   8:00 p.m. (If Necessary)
Game 7: 6/20 Heat @ Spurs   8:00 p.m (If Necessary)