SAN ANTONIO — The Miami Heat kept saying it didn’t matter, that LeBron James affects the game in different ways and this sudden disappearance of his scoring wasn’t the ominous sign that it may have seemed to be. They were wrong.
With James struggling again to impose his will, the defending champion Heat lost Game 3 to the San Antonio Spurs 113-77 at AT&T Center Tuesday night and now trail 2-1 in the NBA Finals. They did it with three-pointers, setting an NBA Finals record with 16 in the game. And they did it with an extended run, finishing the game on a 69-33 tear after a tie at 44.
As such, the odds of the Spurs winning the fifth title they so desire turned in their favor yet again: In Finals in which the first two games are split, the Game 3 winner has gone on to win it all 12 out of 13 times. Game 4 is in San Antonio on Thursday.
BOX SCORE: Spurs 113, Heat 77
James, who had two points at the half when the Spurs led 50-44, missed 11 of his first 13 shots and finished with less than 20 points for the third consecutive game for the first time since the Finals loss to the Dallas Mavericks in 2011 that haunted him so. The Spurs are the ones haunting him now — again.
“We didn’t do anything right tonight,” James said. “We can’t play like that on either side of the floor if we want to win.”
The Spurs broke open a close game, tied at 44, with a 69-33 run. And it wasn’t Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, or Manu Ginobili at center stage, but role players like Gary Neal, Kawhi Leonard, and Danny Green. Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, or Manu Ginobili at center stage but role players Gary Neal, Kawhi Leonard, and Danny Green.
Neal, who had scored in double-digits four times in 16 playoff games, finished with 24 points and hit six three-pointers.
“All of my teammates and Pop, they do a great job of encouraging me to continue to shoot the ball,” Green said.
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Leonard was spectacular in defending James and added 14 points. Green had 27 points and hit seven of nine three-pointers.
“When I’m aggressive defensively it helps me get into a rhythm offensively,” Green said.
Just once all season had he scored less than 20 points in consecutive games, and it didn’t happen in the playoffs until the Finals. It happened just five times in the regular season and twice in 16 playoff games before they faced the Spurs. He was 14-for-33 coming in and shot 7-for-21 in Game 3.
For all the talk about how the Heat haven’t lost consecutive games since Jan. 10, it wasn’t as if the Spurs weren’t a resilient bunch too. Barring a three-game losing streak to end the regular season that had everything to do with their lack of health, they had lost consecutive games once since Dec. 18. They were 35-6 at home during the regular season.
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Duncan wasted no time in setting the Spurs’ tone at the start, attacking Udonis Haslem in the lane for the sort of bucket that had been so tough to come by in Game 2. He kept it going nearly six minutes later, roaring past James in the lane for a dunk that came off of a Parker penetration pass and put them up 11-4. In between, they kept the Heat to just two of nine shooting while Bosh’s latest futile stretch came in the form of his one of five start from the field.
The Heat eventually responded, and early aggressiveness from Wade going to the rim sparked his eight-point first quarter as the Spurs led 24-20 entering the second. It was a good sign for the home team, as they had won one of the previous eight quarters in these Finals coming in (the Heat won five, and the teams tied twice).
“I didn’t recognize our team tonight,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We got what we deserved out there.”
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But it wouldn’t have lasted until halftime if not for Neal, whose 14 points before the break were about as unexpected as the notion that James would have just two on 2-for-8 shooting in that same span. The Spurs’ first double-digit lead of the Finals had become a 44-44 tie after a 14-4 Heat run, but a Parker three from the right corner stemmed that tide and Neal capped the half with a three-pointer at the buzzer that put San Antonio up 50-44.
Duncan played quarterback yet again, starting the break with a quick outlet pass to Parker and another to Neal on the left wing for his shot. But there had been missed opportunities — two consecutive wide open threes that were missed by Matt Bonner midway through the second and eight turnovers that led to 10 Heat points.
The Spurs pulled away yet again midway through the third quarter, and it had everything to do with Duncan’s desire. After his jumper and a Green three put the Spurs up 11, Duncan blocked an out-of-control layup from Mario Chalmers and lunged toward the baseline to keep the ball in bounds and start the fastbreak. With Duncan falling into the front row and Green attacking the rim on the other end en route to getting (and making) two free throws, their run that began late in the second quarter stretched to 15-2 and they led 59-46.