Heat finished at the start, Spurs expose flaws in Game 3.
By IRA WINDERMAN
By IRA WINDERMAN
MIAMI (MCT) — The philosophy behind the San Antonio Spurs' scheme is that there always is a better shot when the offense is approached with persistence, perseverance, precision.
They found them all to the point of perfection Tuesday night at the outset of Game 3 of the NBA Finals.
And that essentially rendered moot anything the Miami Heat offered thereafter on defense, offense or with a third-quarter rally that whittled a 25-point deficit to seven.
Rare is the NBA game that is decided in the first quarter.
This 111-92 Spurs victory was that game.
This time, the fans who left early against the Spurs had no need to request re-entry. No one was banging on doors to see more of this.
That homecourt advantage the Heat stole when the Spurs were kind enough to turn the air conditioning back on for Game 2 of these NBA Finals at the AT&T Center? It again belongs to the Spurs after Tuesday's opening sizzle at AmericanAirlines Arena.
The third-quarter rally might have masked a few issues, but there are plenty left for Erik Spoelstra's team to ponder, ones that might require more than the single-day turnaround before Thursday's Game 4 back by Biscayne Bay, now playing from a 2-1 deficit in the best-of-seven series.
The play at point guard has reached critical morass. Mario Chalmers simply has not shown up, except to collect misses and fouls, 0 for 5 from the field in this one. Norris Cole is taking the exact shots the Spurs want him to, closing 3 of 9.
A cruise-control start from Dwyane Wade left him with five first-half turnovers before he began to atone with a clinic of off-the-ball cuts in the third quarter, the only time in the game the Heat had the look of two-time defending champions. His 22 points ultimately were overstated.
Early on, all the offense that should have been needed was accompanied by not-good-enough defense, with James Jones finding his way to three fouls in 123 seconds of action in the first half, LeBron James likely to be less effusive going forward in requesting Jones' game presence.
Typically, James is enough to mask the problems.
And he certainly was plenty good Tuesday night, again shooting a high percentage, this time 9 of 14, offering the assists that couldn't be provided by the mess at point guard, his seven more than a third of the Heat's total.
But no single player could have possibly been good enough to offset this first quarter and first half by San Antonio, the Spurs making 19 of their first 21 shots, including their first six 3-point attempts, going 10 minutes, 15 seconds of game time during one first-half stretch without a miss.
Regression to the mean? Not in the first half, with the Heat never closer than 14 in the second period, and that coming with Rashard Lewis nailing back-to-back 3-pointers, not exactly the long-term answer the Heat could continue to bank on.
The Heat have been in business for 26 years. Never has an opponent shot 75.8 percent against them in a half as the Spurs did in Tuesday's first half, a record for shooting percentage in a Finals half.
The Heat, of course, know all about blowout losses, having fallen by 36 in last year's Game 3 of the Finals to the Spurs to fall behind 2-1.
They managed to storm back to win that series in seven games, but that's when Game 3 was in San Antonio, when the Finals were played on a 2-3-2 basis, before the shift back to the 2-2-1-1-1 format of every other round.
Now the Heat will have to again win in San Antonio, with Game 5, and, if necessary, Game 7 scheduled there. Figure on the Heat plane hauling an extra air-conditioning generator, or two, on the flight out Saturday.
To their credit, there was fight at the start at the second half, as if the east rim at AmericanAirlines Arena was more forgiving. What was a 25-point deficit trimmed to seven on a Cole floater with 1:59 left in the third.
Manu Ginobili would respond with a 3-pointer for a double-digit Spurs lead, and up popped LeBron from the bench, no time for extended breaks in this one, just as Wade had cut short his break earlier in the quarter.
By the end of the third, the Spurs' lead was 11, entering at 40-0 this season when leading by double digits going into the fourth quarter. Kawhi Leonard, LeBron's equal on this night, kept the Spurs safely ahead from there.