Spurs Ride a Monster First Quarter to a Game 3 Finals win

  • Kawhi Leonard had a career night.

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  • Leonard put in work on D, too, at one point even stuffing LeBron’s layup attempt.

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  • Boris Diaw returned to the starting lineup and fed Tiago Splitter when the Spurs went big.

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  • Danny Green finished with 15 points and 5 steals.

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  • But the Spurs still couldn’t execute on the celebration.

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Heading into Game 3, the Spurs needed a greater contribution from their star-in-waiting Kawhi Leonard, who scored a combined 18 points in the first two games and battled foul trouble for most of that time. Last night, Leonard delivered and then some, going perfect from the field in the first quarter on his way to a game (and career) high 29 points on 10-of-3 shooting. The Spurs absolutely lit up the Heat in the first quarter, shooting 86.7% from the field—a Finals record—for 41 points.

The Heat played well enough on offense to win this game (they shot 51.6% from the field themselves) but there were also defensive lapses that should concern Miami as the Spurs continue to swing the ball until they find the open man under the basket or beyond the three point line.

LeBron and Wade both scored 22 points, and had decent games, and the Heat spent three quarters trying to cut into a lead that ballooned to 21 at the half. The game was down to single digits in the second half, but every time it seemed like Miami was ready to make one more push to even it up, the Spurs had an appropriate response. This was the first game of the series where Popovich benched Tiago Splitter and went with his normal starting lineup that included Boris Diaw.

Because of the 2-2-1-1-1 format in this year’s Finals, the Spurs now need to win just one out of the next three to guarantee themselves a Game 7 at home, at worst. For Miami, they’ll need to at least win a Game 5 or Game 7 on the road to win this series now. After 10 Finals games in the past two seasons, the teams are tied 5-5. The Spurs led last year’s series 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2 before faltering in the closing seconds of Game 6 and losing Game 7 two nights later. A similar script is playing out in this series, in which the Spurs have led 1-0 and now lead 2-1. Last year in Game 3, Danny Green and Gary Neal combined to shoot 13 for 19 from downtown to lead San Antonio to a 113-77 victory. All of that to say, the Spurs have been here before, but they also know this is far from over.

Before Thursday’s Game 4, you will hear about the Heat’s streak of winning after a playoff loss. And we should not forget how incredible LeBron has been in these back-to-the-wall situations. Thursday will be another must-win for the Heat, who will look to avoid heading back to San Antonio with a 3-1 deficit. We await another shift in this series. But three games in, the cramps and air condition malfunctioning aside, the Spurs are leading the series because they had two historical quarters: the fourth quarter in Game 1, and the first quarter last night. A few more of those, and they can lay claim to the title that they believe is rightfully theirs.

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