Out West, the San Antonio Spurs acted like basketball cockroaches, outlasting their banged-up competitors before slipping into the finals for the fourth time of the Big Three era and the fifth time with Tim Duncan in tow.
So far, this series, like so many in years past, has been all about the other guys.
After watching Miami's supporting cast steal the show in Game 2, the Spurs' secondary guys came right back with a magnificent display of their own to propel San Antonio to an astounding 113-77 win Tuesday night.
To be sure, the Spurs' central trio of Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili wasn't particularly prolific. Duncan held the fort with another double-double (12 points and 14 rebounds in just 29 minutes), scoring mostly on pick-and-rolls and post-ups early in the game.
Parker piled up eight assists in addition to his six points in 27 minutes, though most of his work was done before he left the game midway through the third quarter with an apparent hamstring injury. Ginobili had his best game of the series so far (seven points, six assists in 23 minutes), though he was hardly the brightest star to emerge from the Spurs' endless bench.
Those three combined for just 23 points on 9-of-31 shooting in the Game 2 loss. This time around, they had the distinct pleasure of taking a backseat to another, unexpected triumvirate: Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard and Gary Neal.
Green led San Antonio in scoring for the second game in a row with yet another unconscious shooting performance.
The North Carolina product, who was scrambling for a spot in the NBA just two years ago, nailed seven of his nine three-point attempts (9-of-15 from the field overall) on the way to a 27-point night. Of those 27 points, 22 came after halftime, including a quartet of dagger threes in the fourth quarter to seal the deal for San Antonio.
This, after tallying 17 points on a perfect 6-of-6 from the floor (5-of-5 from three) in Game 2.
And it's not as though he rested on the other end, either. Green tallied two blocks and two steals while helping to hound LeBron into yet another miserable shooting night. The four-time MVP missed 14 of his 21 shots, with 12 of those bricks coming from outside the paint, according to ESPN Stats & Info:
And, also according to ESPN Stats & Info, this served as the worst of LeBron's illustrious career in terms of the plus/minus:
Leonard certainly played a part in embarrassing James—and he has from the start. The second-year stud out of San Diego State ripped down double-digit rebounds for the third time in as many games in these finals, adding 12 boards to a strong line that also featured 14 points (6-of-10), two assists and an outstanding four steals in under 30 minutes.
But Leonard and Green have been awesome for the Spurs all year. They've lent the Spurs a measure of three-point shooting and stout perimeter defense that the team had been lacking since its last foray into the NBA Finals in 2007.
The real surprise of the evening came from the hot hand of Gary Neal. Yes, that Gary Neal, according to Bleacher Report's Kyle Vassalo:
The 28-year-old guard, who spent several years overseas before finding his way back stateside, exploded for 24 points on 9-of-17 from the field (6-of-10 from three), with four rebounds and three assists in just 25 minutes off the bench. His three to beat the halftime buzzer all but killed whatever momentum Miami had mustered after pulling even at 44 apiece:
The Spurs' sharpshooting triad combined for 15 of the team's NBA Finals-record 16 three-point makes and finished with more points than the Heat's entire starting lineup combined, as Marc James of 610 The Fan in Charlotte points out:
More tellingly, Green, Leonard and Neal have essentially played Miami's Big Three to a draw to this point. ESPN's Tom Haberstroh:
Here's a fact that's even more troubling when considering the disparity in salary between the two subsets:
Miami Heat's Big Three Salaries in 2012-13
LeBron James: $17,545,000
Dwyane Wade: $17,182,000
Chris Bosh: $17,545,000
San Antonio Spurs' "Big Three" Salaries in 2012-2013
Danny Green: $3,500,000
Kawhi Leonard: $1,809,840
Gary Neal: $854,389
Which means that, this past season, each of Miami's big names earned nearly three times as much as did San Antonio's top three scorers from Game 3...COMBINED.
LeBron wasn't the only one to so dramatically out-earn San Antonio's studs, nor was he the only one of his superstar compatriots who played poorly Tuesday night.
Chris Bosh missed a number of mid-range jumpers—all of which were right in his typical wheelhouse—on the way to a so-so double-double (12 points, 10 rebounds), accompanied by four assists, three blocks and a steal.
Dwyane Wade's line (16 points, five assists, four steals, one block) looks fine at first glance, but it ignores the myriad of times his slow rotations and missed assignments led to wide-open looks for San Antonio's shooters.
Combine the Heat's lackadaisical perimeter defense with San Antonio's sharp ball movement and a raucous AT&T Center crowd that hadn't seen its Spurs in the flesh in three weeks, and you wind up with a blowout of epic proportions—one that doubles as Miami's worst defeat since James, Wade and Bosh descended on South Beach in 2010.
Unfortunately for the Spurs, they may need Green, Leonard and Neal to play even bigger in Game 4 if they're to take a commanding 3-1 lead. According to Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports, Tony Parker, San Antonio's season-long MVP, may not be available to play on Thursday:
Then again, those three did plenty to extend San Antonio's already formidable advantage after Parker left the game on Tuesday night. Who's to say they won't carry that confidence into Game 4, in front of the same, screaming Alamo City masses and deliver the Spurs to victory, with or without their All-Star point guard on the floor?
If Miami's heavy hitters strike out again, the Spurs and their support staff will have every reason to believe they'll be mockingly blasting "Seven Nation Army"—the Heat's adopted theme song—over the P.A. system once the final horn sounds on Thursday night.
Just as they did after Game 3, in which a series of stars was once again usurped by the not-so-little guys.
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