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San Antonio Spurs beat Miami Heat on the road

Date

Scott Cacciola

Patty Mills #8 of the San Antonio Spurs goes to the basket.

Patty Mills #8 of the San Antonio Spurs goes to the basket. Photo: Getty Images

MIAMI - Within minutes of taking the court at American Airlines Arena on Tuesday night, the San Antonio Spurs demolished a 23-year-old record for offensive efficiency.

Apparently unsatisfied with that result, the Spurs continued to treat the basketball like molten lava as the first half moved along, swinging it from one pair of hands to the next, always searching for the open man, the best angle, the easiest shot. They turned their defenders from the Miami Heat into highly compensated traffic cones.

The Spurs survived some hairy moments in the late stages, but their 111-92 victory in Game 3 of the NBA finals was due, almost wholly, to what they did to the Heat in the first half. It was a performance as methodical as it was spectacular, and there were possessions when all the Spurs' fancy passing and unselfish play seemed unnecessary. The quicker they could hoist a shot, the better.

Consider Patty Mills, who surveyed the court on a fast break early in the second quarter, determined that no defenders were in his ZIP code and pulled up for a 3-pointer: swish.

San Antonio, which took a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series, set finals records by shooting 86.7 percent in the first quarter and 75.8 percent in the first half, and their 41 points in the first quarter were the most scored by a team in the finals since 1967. Their 71 points in the first half were enough for a 21-point lead as they reduced the arena - so festive early on - to a mausoleum.

The Heat, who did not even play that poorly (they shot 55.9 percent in the first half), trimmed the Spurs' lead to 7 points late in the third quarter. But the Spurs, on the same court where they suffered a Game 6 collapse in last year's finals, showed enough resolve to stave off LeBron James & Co.

Kawhi Leonard, who played ferocious defense on James, finished with 29 points and shot 10 for 13 from the field. In the fourth quarter, with the Heat still threatening, he accelerated for a baseline dunk and sank two free throws, and San Antonio edged away to regain home-court advantage.

James, who scored 22 points, and Wade, who had 22, were a combined 17 of 26 from the field. Their teammates shot 15 for 36.

Game 4 is Thursday in Miami.

The opening minutes were an offensive jamboree, as the two teams combined to sink their first nine shots. If Game 1 was all about the debilitating heat (at least for James, who suffered from cramps) and Game 2 was marked by late-game execution (or lack thereof by the Spurs), Game 3 appeared to be a contest of who could make the most shots (or miss the fewest).

Tim Duncan (14 points) scored inside, and then Chris Bosh (9) answered with a midrange jumper. Danny Green (15) sliced to the rim for a layup, and then James responded with an 8-foot jumper.

It was the Spurs, though, who found their footing on defense. By the time Green swooped in for another layup, San Antonio had a 22-10 lead and the Miami crowd was silent.

Leonard, in particular, seemed determined to assert himself. It was a pleasant development for San Antonio, which had not gotten much production from Leonard in the first two games of the series.

Part of the problem was foul trouble. In fact, Leonard fouled out of Game 2 - a total anomaly for him. Before Game 3, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said he was not overly concerned.

"It's the finals," Popovich said. "Guys shouldn't be fouled out unless they come on the court with a hammer and bludgeon and it's obvious. But there's contact everywhere. If you wanted to, you could call a foul every time down the court, probably."

Leonard was largely successful at keeping his (enormous) hands to himself. He also drained three 3-pointers in the first quarter, scoring 16 points.

The only player who kept the Heat involved was - not surprisingly - James, who made five of his first six shots, including a 3-pointer that whittled the Spurs' lead to 27-20. He also did what he could at the other end. On one possession, James defended three players: Tony Parker (15 points), Leonard and Green, switching on every screen, grasping at solutions that were not quick to materialize.

The Spurs, so revered for their crisp sets, filleted the Heat by sinking 13 of 15 shots in the first quarter to take a 41-25 lead.

After Mills drilled his 3-pointer in transition early in the second, the Spurs' lead was 48-28 and the Heat called a timeout. It was an opportunity to reflect on the numbers: The Spurs had played 14 minutes of basketball and missed a grand total of two field goals, scoring 48 points on 18 shots. And Parker, their offensive-minded point guard, had missed his only attempt.

Miami ratcheted up the pressure at the start of the third quarter, scoring 6 points in 46 seconds. Popovich called an immediate timeout.

The Heat continued to chip away, though, and a 10-0 run late in the quarter, which Norris Cole capped with a layup, cut the Spurs' lead to 81-74. San Antonio was doing some uncharacteristic things, like missing layups (looking at you, Marco Belinelli), and Popovich's reserves had trouble contending with Miami's strength and quickness.

Still, despite shooting just 31.6 percent in the quarter, the Spurs never lost their composure. Belinelli hit a 3-pointer for a bit of breathing room, and San Antonio led by 11 entering the fourth.

- New York Times

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