SAN ANTONIO — The Miami Heat couldn’t deal with the adulation. The past 48 hours they were lauded for their teamwork. LeBron James’s block of Tiago Splitter littered the avatars of Facebook and Twitter pages and the Heat were back to their juggernaut status.
And then they hit the floor at AT&T Center for Game 3, where the Spurs reminded them about the true definition of teamwork and depth, countering with the pinpoint shooting combination of Danny Green and Gary Neal, both basketball carpetbaggers who have found solace in San Antonio because of their improvement.
That duo embarrassed the Heat with their 3-point shooting, combining to shoot 13 for 19 from beyond the arc as San Antonio punished Miami with precision play and dwarfed James with unrelenting defense in a 113-77 romp Tuesday. The Spurs lead the best-of-seven NBA Finals, 2-1, with Game 4 set for Thursday night at AT&T Center.
Green, released twice by San Antonio, and Neal, who played for four teams overseas before signing with the Spurs, combined for 51 points. Miami’s Big Three tallied 43, including an eerily quiet 15 from James on 7-for-21 shooting.
After 18 points in Game 1, James said he was playing distributor. After 17 in Game 2, he said he was erratic. After 15 in Game 3, there is now concern that he is repeating his 2011 NBA Finals performance. James is now 21 for 54 shooting (38.8 percent) and is averaging 16.6 points in the series. He averaged 26.8 during the regular season.
“Honestly, I just have to play better,” James said. “I can’t have a performance like tonight and expect to win. I’ve got to shoot the ball better, make better decisions, and I will get into the film and see ways that I can do that. I’m not putting blame on anybody. I’m owning everything that I did tonight.
“I gotta do more. It’s just that simple. I have to be able to put the ball into the basket. Tonight I had some great looks and they didn’t go but I have to be able to make more plays for our team.”
The Spurs led the entire night, extending the lead to 37 points late in the fourth quarter and mostly without Tony Parker, who was bothered by a sore right hamstring that will require a MRI Wednesday morning. He said he is uncertain for Game 4.
Neal compensated for his absence with his offensive aggressiveness, launching a team-high 17 shots in just 25 minutes. He attacked the basket when necessary but mostly fired from long range, including a 25-footer to end the half for a 50-44 lead.
San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich basically discovered Neal in Spain and invited him to training camp three years ago and he has flourished as a reserve.
“It’s a dream come true,” he said. “Me and Danny both went through a lot of stuff together. We were guys that showed up two hours before practice started to get shots up and to prove to the coaching staff that we belong, and we’re going to do whatever we need to do to get minutes.
“Danny has been great. He’s been a starter pretty much since he signed the contract here. He’s helped us. And we kind of help each other. We kind of play the same position. We kind of have the same role. We feed off Tony and Manu. So me and Danny, we were able to play great tonight. But we really feed off each other. Our positive energy.”
The Heat fully realized they had nothing to offer with coach Erik Spoelstra repeatedly saying during his postgame news conference, “We got what we deserved” because of the poor defense. Dwyane Wade agreed.
“They came out in the third quarter and they kicked our butt pretty good,” said Wade, who led Miami with 16 points. “Frustration started to set in, obviously. You let that go on a little too long the run, they should have been a little shorter. They went on a little too long because of the frustration. So a lot of credit goes to them for coming out. They got the two bombs before the end of the half when it was tied up. They kept their momentum going in the third.”
The game was competitive in the first and the second quarter and exemplified the depth of both teams, as the benches spent the period making significant plays. Mike Miller, who entered Tuesday 4 of 5 from the 3-point line in the series, canned two more as the Heat constantly staved off San Antonio runs with big long-range shots.
His 3-ball at the 3:03 mark began 10-0 run after the Spurs had extended the lead to 11 points. And his second 3-pointer concluded the run as Miami climbed back into contention. James’s layup evened the game at 44 with 37.8 seconds left but the final two Spurs possessions changed the momentum.
Parker, who has struggled from the perimeter the entire series, hit a stepback 3-pointer at the 26.9 mark. After Green blocked James’s layup on the next possession, Neal raced down the court and released a 25-footer as the buzzer sounded for a 50-44 lead.
Neal scored 11 points in the period, taking shots with little hesitation. As in Game 2, the Spurs were stellar from the 3-point line, hitting 7 of 15 in the first two quarters, including four from Neal.Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @gwashNBAglobe.