by Mike Seely
Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili combined for a mere 25 points Tuesday night against the Heat in Game 3 of the NBA Finals. See if you can guess which team won by 36 points. If you picked Miami, you'd be wrong, as San Antonio pulled off one of the most stunning blowouts in championship history, led by Gary Neal (24 points) and Danny Green (27), who shot a combined 13-19 from three-point range (the team made a Finals-record 16 threes).
This contest wasn't anything like Game 2, when the Spurs led the Heat late in the third quarter before Miami went on a decisive run to put things out of reach. On Tuesday, the Spurs won every quarter, scoring more in the fourth than Miami did in the entire second half. As good as their offense was, they Spurs' second-half defense was equally superb; wherever LeBron James (a paltry 15 points on 7-21 shooting) went, Kawhi Leonard and Duncan seemed to have him blanketed, and Sunday night's top scorer, Mario Chalmers, was held scoreless. Better yet, the annihilation was so thorough that no Spur besides Green played more than 30 minutes, providing valuable pine time for the Big Three.
The series, suffice it to say, is far from over. The Heat haven't lost consecutive games since January. Then again, LeBron James hasn't been held under 20 points for three games in a row all year—a feat the Spurs just accomplished. Whatever Hell James thought he was escaping by abandoning Cleveland to play buddy-ball with Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, he's found a fresh version of it in facing the Spurs for the second time in his Finals career. Just as the Pistons had their Jordan Rules, the Spurs seem to have presented James with a similarly unsolvable defensive puzzle, keyed by the irrepressible Leonard, who collected 12 rebounds and four steals to go with an economical 14 points.
Championship teams have role players who come up huge when it counts. For Miami last year, it was Chalmers and Mike Miller. For the Spurs this postseason, it's been Leonard, Green and now Neal, snapping out of a playoff-long slump in the most memorable way imaginable.