• December 22, 2014

Analysis Heat at their best under pressure

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Posted: Wednesday, June 11, 2014 11:02 pm

It was over almost as quickly as it started. 

Thanks to an unfathomable shooting streak to open Game 3 of the NBA Finals, San Antonio scorched Miami in the first half before cooling off the Heat for good late in the game, securing a 2-1 lead with a 111-92 victory.

Along the way, Spurs small forward Kawhi Leonard turned into the series’ biggest star, pouring in a career-high 29 points while doing as noble a job defensively against LeBron James as anybody could expect.

Outside the obvious, the good news for Spurs fans is they witnessed history and quite possible the most astonishing shooting performance ever. The bad news, however, is there is no way San Antonio can remain so white hot.

With Leonard leading the way, the Spurs made 19 of their first 21 shots, including all six 3-point attempts before finishing the half with a Finals record 75.8 shooting percentage.

Think about that for a second.

Not only is the accuracy stunning, but the fact it occurred against one of the best defensive teams in the league on a court where the Heat had not lost a game all postseason makes the feat even more impressive.

San Antonio led 71-50 at halftime, and with about three minutes left in the game, Miami fans began filing out in frustration.

It was an epic showing, and hopefully the Spurs enjoyed it because it will never happen again.

There was simply no stopping San Antonio in the first half, and it propelled the Spurs one step closer to a fifth championship.

But reality is about to set in.

Expect a completely different performance in Game 4 tonight.

Sure, the Spurs play a style of basketball that is conducive to easy baskets and open shots, but even in a completely empty gym, making 19 of 21 shots is almost impossible.

Sometimes the stars simply align and the basketball gods smile on one team or another. On Tuesday, that team was the Spurs.

Leonard elevated himself into All-Star status with his showing, helping the Spurs hold off several second-half surges by the Heat, who failed to maintain home-court advantage after escaping San Antonio with a Game 2 victory.

Now, with the change in the Finals format to a 2-2-1-1-1 series for the first time since 1984, all the pressure resides squarely on Miami. A loss tonight drops the Heat into a 3-1 hole with two of the next three games being played in San Antonio.

One thing Miami is known for, though, is responding to pressure, especially at home, where the Heat are 38-8 in the postseason since James joined the team.

The two-time defending champions will not roll over. James, who finished with 22 points in Game 3, will become Superman again, and all the Heat’s role players will do their jobs.

Miami will not lose control of this series without waging a war.

This series should look a lot like Game 2 from here on out — both teams will go back and forth for three and a half quarters before the outcome is determined by a handful of plays in the final few minutes.

Hopefully, the Spurs and their fans enjoyed Tuesday’s blowout because Miami is going to be fighting for its life starting tonight, and if San Antonio eases up at all, Game 4 could be over almost as quickly as it starts.

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