VIDEO: Kawhi Leonard’s lockdown defense helps stifle LeBron, Heat
MIAMI — For the San Antonio Spurs, Game 3 wasn’t just about a dominant offensive performance. The Spurs paired their 111-point explosion with a balanced defensive effort, holding the Heat to a series-low 92 points.
The Spurs forced 20 turnovers from Miami, a series high, which led to 23 points for the Spurs. And with the Heat playing from behind for most of the evening, the turnovers seemed to come at crucial times for the Heat.
“The turnovers definitely flattened us out and came at various points either to start the game to get them rolling, the pick sixes,” said Miami coach Erik Spoelstra, mixing his metaphors a bit. “And then throughout the course of the game the timely ones that either we were starting to shift the momentum and that just got the momentum back in their favor with the turnover. It’s a big time possession series both ways, so you have to be able to take care of the basketball, you have to be able to rebound. You have to hopefully force the other team into mistakes. They won that battle clearly tonight.”
“I think we were more aggressive,” said Manu Ginobili. “Our hands were much better. The help was a little earlier rather than late, so we forced them to turn the ball over a little bit more. But I’m pretty sure we didn’t force them to turn the ball over 20 times. Probably the same way that they didn’t force us in Game 1 to turn the ball over 23 times. So it’s one of those games that it happens. They played an average game at most, and we were pretty good, so that’s why the difference.”
In some ways, the Spurs’ terrific offense keyed their defense. By shooting a scorching 59 percent from the field, the Spurs didn’t give Miami many transition opportunities — the Heat finished with just four fast-break points — which allowed the Spurs to set their defense and force the Heat into playing against a set half-court defense.
“When you make shots it helps because, you know, our defense can get back and we can set whatever we want to do,” explained Tony Parker. “So you just try to stay in front of them, and they’ve got great players. They’re a great team, and we know they’re going to make some runs and find some ways to score. But overall, we did a pretty good job to stay in front of them.”
With the Heat frantically trying to mount a second-half comeback, the Spurs were able to allow the Heat to play themselves into vulnerable positions and create problems for Miami on the offensive end, as Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs forced LeBron James into a Finals record seven turnovers.
“I just turned the ball over way too much,” James said. “I had two at halftime, I had five in the second half, and some of them were trying to make some plays to my teammates, and some of them were just overdribbling at times. So I’ve got to do a better job with that for sure. It’s not surprising that I have a Finals record for something I don’t want to have, you know, so there we go. It’s a new storyline for LeBron.”
But not the type of storyline that anyone in Miami wants to celebrate. Still, the numbers don’t lie: For a team that averaged 102.2 points in the regular season, the Heat have yet to break 100 points in a game during the Finals.
If the Heat want to complete their three-peat, something’s got to give. Just don’t expect it to be San Antonio’s defense.