The Big Three won the “battle of the stars”, but it didn’t really matter, as LeBron James was forced to one of the worst games of his career, reminiscent of his struggles from his first NBA finals with the Miami Heat, finding it very difficult to both score on his own or make his teammates look good, letting his frustration get to him, playing selfishly and thoughtlessly the more the game got out of hand.
It’s hard to say how much influence Erik Spoelstra has over the Heat’s players and especially his superstars. He didn’t seem to be having any at all as the Heat crashed to their worst ever loss in the playoffs, losing 113-77, giving up 35 points in the fourth quarter while scoring only 14. Their defense, which was excellent for most of the first two games, was torn to shreds by the inside-outside passing of the Spurs, leading to a finals’ record 16 three-pointers, while their offense struggled any time Mike Miller wasn’t on the floor.
So if Miller is the barometer for good or bad, something’s wrong. The always injured player did spend 22 minutes on the floor, hitting five three pointers, including twice during the run that brought the Heat to a tie game before the end of the first half, but the frustrations of James ruined that one as well, trying too often to make things happen on his own, despite the Spurs clogging the paint and using a sort-of-zone defense on him, with Kawhi Leonard or Danny Green providing the permieter support.
The end result? James scored only 15 points (now averaging 16.7 in the finals), shooting only 33.3% from the field. He took 21 field goal attempts, most of them (14) from outside the paint, with a hand or two in his face, hitting only two shots from these desperate looking attempts. He didn’t get to the line even once, which means the Heat were quite passive in their attempts to attack the basket, finishing with only 32 points inside the paint.
The Heat’s big three did score 43 points to the Spurs’ 25, it just goes to show how well Popovich’s plan is working – let the role players beat him, while getting a dream kind of night from his own guys, as Danny Green, Gary Neal and Kawhi Leonard combined to score 65 points, hitting 15 three pointers.
The rest of the team shot 43.6% from the field. Not that great, but it was their problems on defense with the ball movement and the insane shooting the Spurs were up to that kept the Heat from ever getting near San Antonio in the third quarter. Miami are built to run, but scored only 17 points off the Spurs’ 13 turnovers, not making the most of the few opportunities they had to attack the basket without at least three players in the way.
Mario Chalmers, who was the x-factor in game 2, went back to his terrible ways. The Heat’s offense didn’t have anything organized about it. Just a bunch of guys trying to beat Spurs player on one on one, and when that didn’t work, kicked it to the outside or attempted a bad shot. Chalmers finished with 0-5 from the field and turned the ball over 4 times, at least two of them mistakes even college players would be embarrassed to make. The Heat simply lost their heads, and the Spurs made the most of it.
Where to from here? The easy answer would be for James to get his s@#$ together and start playing like the MVP. But it seems he’s not that trusting in his teammates, and the Spurs deciding to let Chalmers, Wade and Bosh win the series is paying off. Wade can’t beat anyone, especially not Green and Leonard in isolation, and the Heat’s offense was simply too simplistic and predictable to create other situations for him, Bosh and the others. The Spurs are directing the Miami Heat offense to beat them with outside shooting, and for the second time in five days, it didn’t work for the NBA champions, not managing to find an answer to crack the defense in front of them.