NBA Finals, Game 3: The (Insert Name Here) Game
Miami 77, San Antonio 113
San Antonio leads series 2-1
Game 3 will be rightfully remembered as the Gary Neal Game, or the Danny Green Name, or some hybrid thereof. It will also be known for the barrage of 3-pointers those two players hit, en route to setting an NBA Finals record for most 3-pointers by a team, 16.
And it should be remembered that way. It was an awesome display of shooting, offensive system producing wide-open shots, extra passes, role players stepping up clutch on the biggest stage imaginable, and the insane abilities of the San Antonio front office (and the requisite luck it will always take to find hidden gems). But make no mistake about it: Game 3 was won long before the onslaught of 3s. The 3s turned a convincing win into a blow-out, before they eventually led to a rout. But this game was won in the trenches, in the execution of the little things, and by the team as a whole.
So remember Danny Green’s insane 7-9 3-point shooting (and his insane 16-23 long distance shooting in the Finals thus far); but also remember his defense on LeBron when Kawhi sits, particularly his block on him at the end of the 2nd quarter that led to the Duncan outlet pass that led to that huge Gary Neal 3. This is where the game was won.
And remember Gary Neal’s biggest game in a Spurs’ uniform (if Neal never does another thing as a Spurs player, this night alone will have justified it all); but don’t forget about that insane behind-the-back pass to Leonard on the fast break that led to an emphatic dunk, or his other 2 assists, 4 rebounds, or his 2-point shots that consistently sparked the offense when it had gone flat. This is where the game was won.
And throw Kawhi Leonard into the mix. Because while Green and Neal were stealing all of the headlines (as they should), Leonard quietly is having the best NBA Finals of any player on either team. He is thoroughly outplaying LeBron James in every facet of the game. That is not a typo. (OK, maybe James assist numbers are still better.) Leonard is playing harder, playing smarter, and smothering James on D. Yes, it is a team effort, but it starts with Leonard’s decisions and poise, which have been flawless. And Leonard has made so many insane individual plays on defense it’s baffling (and amazing for us Spurs fans). And he finally seems to be rounding into his own on offense. Oh, and he’s the best rebounder in the Finals, as well. This is kind of the Leonard we all expected to see, and he’s blossoming on the biggest and most impossible of stages: the NBA Finals. I can’t believe this kid is barely legal enough to buy a drink. Leonard is where the game was won.
As for the “original” Big 3: the story line out of Game 3 will be how quiet they were. But they were anything but. They were efficient, ruthless, and played perfect team basketball. In Game 2, Parker and Duncan probably tried to do too much offensively. In Game 3, Parker continued to display his maestro’s touch of the offense, knowing that the attention he was drawing would open up players 2, 3, and sometimes 4 passes away. Tonight, he started those sequences. There are 100 ways Parker can run this offense; Game 3 was just another permutation. Each one of his drives and passes, while not always leading to scores and assists for himself, is where this game was won.
And Duncan is still the anchor of the defense, and is still doing things that no 37-year old man should be able to do, let alone a 27-year old. His back line of defense is still the best in the NBA, and he is playing harder than just about anybody else on the court. Duncan has nothing left to prove, yet is playing as if his basketball career is on the line. Remember that block on Chalmers that he then saved as he fell out of bounds that ignited a fast break the other way? Remember it, because this is where this game was won.
Manu Ginobili played the perfect “late stages of his career” Ginobili game. He ran the offense alongside Parker (and when Parker was on the bench), making smart decisions and smart passes. He was aggressive yet controlled. He finally found that edge he was looking for without spiraling out of control. Oh, and he had 2 huge dunks. Welcome to the NBA Finals, Manu. It’s great to see you. Your poise is where this game was won.
Let’s not forget Splitter’s continued strong (but quiet) play on both ends, setting huge screens and rolling to the basket fearlessly; or Cory Joseph’s continued poised play, allowing Parker some rest; or Bonner’s hustle, systemic knowledge, and 3-point shooting that opens up the floor for everything else, make or miss. This is where this game was won.
Yes, for a night, it looked as if the best team in basketball is better than the best talent in basketball. But just as San Antonio rallied after being blown out in Game 2, expect Miami to do the same. A few things are working in the Spurs’ favor, though: San Antonio got to come home to a friendly arena after Game 2; Miami has to stay in San Antonio for 2 more games. And I don’t think the Spurs will be caught napping again. Pop has their attention, they’re playing at home, and there’s too much riding on these next two games to have another Game 2-type level of effort.
Because as great as winning Game 3 is, I still think the Spurs need to win Game 4, setting up as many chances as possible to close out this series. And giving the team one shot to win this thing at home. Miami is a dangerous team, and letting them even the series at 2 would be dangerous.
And we all know the stat: Miami hasn’t lost 2 games in a row in a long time, and not in the playoffs. On top of that, they’ve won each game after a loss by double-digits.
I think the Spurs will be ready for them this time, and I think Game 4 will be a ferociously played game on both ends. Will the Spurs have what it takes to seize control of the series?
5 for 21.
Go Spurs Go.
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