Summing it up
Revenge for one of the toughest Finals losses in NBA history can’t be had in the regular season. But for one night, having struggled so badly against the league’s elite this season, tagging the two-time defending champion Heat with their worst loss in 2013-14 felt pretty damn satisfying to the Spurs. “I’m sure this one had some special meaning,” Gregg Popovich admitted. “To say it’s something different would be silly.”
The Spurs, who limited LeBron James to 19 points two games after he set a career-high with 61, raced out to a 15-point lead and never led up, leading buzzer to buzzer despite a spirited Heat charge in the third quarter. “We’re starting to turn the corner,” Tim Duncan said after scoring 23 points with 11 rebounds. “We have all our guys out there and we’re starting to get back into a rhythm.”
Player of the game
As always, it takes a team effort to contain a player of James’ caliber. Or to be more specific, it takes a team effort to wall off the paint and force him to settle for jumpers. (James complied by missing 10 of 11 shots outside the paint.) But Kawhi Leonard was outstanding as the first line of defense, forcing four of the four-time MVPs five turnovers while picking off five steals. James shot 6 for 18 overall, his second-worst night of the season. Said Duncan, “He was a pest.”
The turning point
The Spurs led throughout, but the Heat, ignoring James’ foul trouble, made things interesting with a 9-1 run late in the third to climb within 79-74. Popovich was irate, barking at Tony Parker to get the ball popping like it did during a sparkling first half. It took a few more possessions, but Patty Mills drilled a 3-pointer just before the buzzer, and the Spurs opened the fourth with a 13-5 surge to push their advantage back to 15.
Summing it up