Records weren’t broken in the first half. They were demolished by a wrecking ball rigged with dynamite.
Doors weren’t blown off in the game’s first 12 minutes. They were launched into Biscayne Bay.
The Spurs didn’t shoot out the lights. They simply absorbed all the electricity pulsating from AmericanAirlines Arena and Miami-Dade County in two hard-to-believe quarters.
Take all the clichés and hyperbole and exaggerations and statistics from the Spurs’ remarkable run before halftime of Game 3 of the NBA Finals, and know this: It was a lot worse last year, and the Heat still won.
The Heat proved last June that it could take the Spurs’ best punch and still win an NBA title. In the rematch, the defending back-to-back champions will have to do it again. San Antonio’s 111-92 victory in Game 3 gave the Spurs a 2-1 lead in this best-of-7 series and set the stage for more drama and higher stakes in Game 4 on Thursday.
“They jumped on us and they were the aggressor tonight,” LeBron James said. “They had us on our heels from the beginning. This is something that at this point in the season shouldn’t happen.”
The Spurs shot 75.8 percent in the first half to take a 71-50 lead and set an NBA Finals record for field-goal percentage in a half. At one point, it was like the San Antonio was playing inside a video game, or maybe playing against no one at all.
“They came out in a different gear than us,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
The Heat fell behind by 25 points quickly, and the outcome was never really in doubt despite some impressive fight from the home team and loyal support from a maturing fan base. But as thorough of a performance as the Spurs delivered on Tuesday, it was nothing compared to last year. Amazingly, the 2013 Finals provided a bigger blowout for the Spurs. In those Finals, San Antonio defeated Miami by 36 points in Game 3 to take a 2-1 lead in the series.
And now the Heat will need more magic to wrestle back that home-court advantage it earned with a two-point victory on Sunday in San Antonio. The Heat defeated the Spurs just once in Texas in 2013. Miami will have to do it twice this time to win three championships in a row.
James and Dwyane Wade each finished with 22 points, and Rashard Lewis had 14 points, but it wasn’t nearly enough. Chris Bosh was perfect from the field but only scored nine points. He was 4-of-4 shooting, including 1 of 1 from three-point range.
“Just all the easy baskets they got,” Bosh said of the first half. “The continuous miscues that we had on defense. Guys just weren’t focused. We were not focused at all.”
A few examples of just how statistically impressive the Spurs were in Game 3:
“It was fun to watch, and it was one of those games where it happens once in a while,” said Spurs’ sixth man Manu Ginobili, who finished with 11 points.
“He had [been] beat up a little bit in the media the last couple days, and he responded [Tuesday night],” Spoelstra said.
Despite all of that, the Heat managed to cut the Spurs’ lead to seven points in the third quarter. A reverse layup by Norris Cole gave the Heat a glimpse of hope with 1:59 left in the period, and it certainly brought the best out of the sold-out arena. But the Heat had already expended too much energy to seriously threaten the Spurs’ lead. The Heat outscored the Spurs 25-15 in the third quarter.
“We played a lot harder, and we’ll take that in this type of series for four quarters, and that still doesn’t guarantee anything,” Spoelstra said.
Leonard’s baseline dunk with 7:56 left was a sign that the Heat players had no life left in their legs, and a three-pointer by Tony Parker a minute later drained even more energy. Parker finished with 15 points. Tim Duncan had 14 points. Danny Green also had 15 points, going 7 of 8 from the field.
Leonard, who had struggled in Games 1 and 2, went 10 of 13 from the field, 3 of 6 from three-point range and 6 of 7 from the free-throw line. As a team, the Spurs shot 26 of 32 from the free-throw line and forced 20 turnovers for 23 points.
“The turnovers definitely flattened us out,” Spoelstra said.
Leonard made a difficult turnaround jumper from 21 feet to give the Spurs 10 field goals in a row and 19-of-21 shooting to begin the game. One of those misses, oddly enough, was a blown layup by Duncan. At one point, the Heat was shooting 56 percent and was still trailing by 21 points.
A 10-3 run by the Heat gave fans something to cheer about midway through the second quarter. Keyed by a pair of three-pointers by Lewis, the Heat cut the Spurs’ lead to 18 points.
The Spurs’ shooting percentage in the first half (75.8) was the team’s fifth-best shooting percentage in a half in the Duncan era. The Spurs set Heat opponent playoff records for points in a quarter (41, in the first quarter) and a half (71, in the first half).