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NBA Finals Game 3: Creators Of Worlds

By Jeff Koch on June 11, 2014.

San Antonio 111, Miami 92
Spurs lead series 2-1

The Spurs’ big win in Miami in Game 3 of the Finals was sparked by the “other 3″ and seemingly everybody but the Big 3.

Which means it was entirely about the Big 3.

At the top of their long list of accomplishments is a note that might not get mentioned too often: perhaps the greatest feat the Big 3 (plus Coach Pop–should we start saying ‘The Big 3+’?) have every pulled off was creating a culture that allowed a team to be built in which they were no longer integral pieces. The way to sustain greatness is to let go of your individual greatness; the way to build a legacy is to pass it on and share it, not hold on and fight for it. Duncan remains great beyond his twilight years because he accepted his limitations and allowed the team to pick up the slack.

The Spurs are the best team in basketball because they are as true an egalitarian team as you will find. Ego is checked at the door. You have everything to prove or nothing to prove. Either way, you’ve gotten over yourself a long time ago. Sometimes Mills will be a better option than Parker; sometimes Splitter stays on the court because he’s doing things Duncan can’t do; sometimes Green gets run because he’s a better defender than Manu.

The Big 3+ have constructed a culture that allows ‘the others’ to rise up, to take ownership of their individual games and of the teams successes, to be held as equally accountable members of the team. The Spurs empower their players, asking them to only be the best player they can be and creating the environment in which that can best happen. Kawhi Leonard would be destined for great things most anywhere, but only the Spurs get a historic Game 3 out of him. We already know that Green was on his way out of the league before the Spurs gave him a last shot. Diaw would probably be playing in France after being cut from the worst team in NBA history a few seasons ago. Splitter would probably be a nominal bench player somewhere in the league. Mills might not have ever made it back to the NBA. Belinelli would probably still be seen as a bust, a streaky shooter who is a ‘typical’ soft Euro player.

And here this collection of misfits and outcasts is, 2 games away from an NBA title, fully empowered members of the team, all making critical plays in their own way.

Because of the Big 3+.

There is plenty of deserved praise for Kawhi today after playing perhaps his best game as a professional at the age of 22 on the biggest stage. He was superb on both ends, a purely sublime performance. To my eye, Danny Green was just as valuable. His defense will never get noted like Leonard’s, but it’s the two working in tandem on the wings that is so devastating, both poking and prodding and coming up with steals and deflections (often to and with each other). While it’s fun to joke about on twitter, Green has worked his butt off to develop the counter to his 3-point game, and that was in full force last night as he scored more on drives to the rim.

And still, starting Diaw might have been the biggest difference maker, giving the offense its free flowing roll right from the start on course to a historic first half. Diaw is the player that fills every little possible crack in the Spurs attack. Lest we forget Splitter, the man he replaced. Once again demoted to back-up duty, Splitter used his sparing playing time to full effect. He only got 16 minutes on the court, but was a +11 in that time. If Splitter is, at worst, your back-up center, you’re in great shape.

Perhaps the two plays of the game were made by Mills and Belinelli. Marco has seen his time cut way back. But who hit the big 3 that pushed the lead back to 10 after Miami cut it to the slimmest margin of the second half? Marco. Even with his role and time yanked around, he was prepared. Mills, while scoring less, is still having a huge impact on the series with his energy and non-stop frenzy. The Heat guards just don’t know what to do with him. The best play of the night, though, was when he chased down a loose ball on the defensive end, tipped it away from one Heat player, then lunged the opposite direction to tip it again away from a second Heat player right to Manu, he raced down the court unguarded to score the backbreaking bucket. Mills is always the first to the floor, and the first to pick up his teammates when they go to the floor.

The Spurs have built a true team, with weight and pressure evenly distributed. Contrast that to the Heat, who are majestic when James is majestic, but very susceptible otherwise. LeBron is a great player, but the Heat need him to do everything. He initiates and runs the offense. He is responsible for all crunch-time action and decisions. He must always guard the opposing team’s most dangerous player. He is mighty, but all that force and pressure will surely break even him.

So we approach Game 4, a game that most everybody expects the Heat to win. That’s just how these two teams do it, right? Trade off wins until the last 2 games and see what happens. Just like last year. Only this year feels different, and this Spurs team is mightier. All the pressure is on Miami in Game 4, and they’ve always responded well in these situations. But the Spurs are on the cusp of greatness and have a chance to apply those final blows, to finally break the seemingly unbreakable force. If the teams go back to San Antonio for Game 5 tied 2-2, the Spurs will still have gotten what they wanted by splitting in Miami.

But there is an opportunity to be seized here, a moment of greatness. This is what this team has been building towards all season. In a sense, it’s what they’ve been building towards for many years.

All because the Big 3 created a world in which they no longer had to be the Big 3.

Go Spurs Go.

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