As the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat enter Game 3 of the NBA Finals tied at 1-1, this already dramatic title bout will get even more tense.
Before Game 1 even tipped off, the basketball world was already buzzing over this Finals rematch of last year's classic series. Between the performances these two teams put on display last June and the sheer amount of championships the players involved have won over the years, this series had huge historical ramifications from the start.
Then the air conditioner died in Game 1 and San Antonio topped a cramping LeBron James, setting the stage for the world's best player to drop 35 and lead the Heat to a road victory in Game 2.
Now Miami continues its three-peat campaign in front of its home crowd, while the Spurs try to regain the upper hand in their attempt at a fifth championship in 15 years.
Game 3 won't decide the series, but whoever wins will gain a significant edge going forward.
|2014 NBA Finals Schedule|
|Date||Matchup||Start Time (ET)||Channel|
|Tuesday, June 10||Game 3: Spurs at Heat||9 p.m.||ABC|
|Thursday, June 12||Game 4: Spurs at Heat||9 p.m.||ABC|
|Sunday, June 15||Game 5: Heat at Spurs||8 p.m.||ABC|
|Tuesday, June 17||Game 6: Spurs at Heat*||9 p.m.||ABC|
|Friday, June 20||Game 7: Heat at Spurs*||9 p.m.||ABC|
|Source: NBA.com *If necessary|
Game 3 Odds (via Odds Shark): San Antonio Spurs at Miami Heat (-3.5)
Through two games, this Finals really was a couple bounces and one salt deficiency away from going any which way.
San Antonio shot the lights out to end Game 1 and might have pulled away to win anyway, but James' absence for much of the fourth quarter puts an asterisk over which team was really the best that night. Without him, Miami had no answer for anything the Spurs did, but San Antonio had no answer for LeBron, either.
Game 2 featured four consecutive missed free throws from Tim Duncan and Tony Parker in crunch time, which is entirely out of character for those two. The Spurs wound up shooting 12-of-20 from the line and lost by two; they could have been up 2-0 just as easily as the Heat could have with a cramp-less James.
That's why the Game 3 line mirrors the edge Vegas gave San Antonio before Game 1: In such a close series, those odds essentially represent home-court advantage.
Miami certainly has that. It is 8-0 at AmericanAirlines Arena this postseason, and six of those wins have come by double-digit margins. As a point of comparison, the Heat are 5-4 on the road in the playoffs, with only one double-digit victory.
So as the Heat enter their literal comfort zone with LeBron coming off two peak performances, how are the Spurs going to respond?
First off, a team that can shoot 14-of-16 in a quarter against anyone, much less the two-time defending champs, fears no one. That's what San Antonio did when it roared away from the Heat in Game 1, and Gregg Popovich believes in his offensive system to reach such extraordinary levels of efficiency.
The Spurs have also threatened the Heat in Miami before. Last year, San Antonio took Game 1 at AmericanAirlines by 14 points, and the Spurs were less than a minute from clinching a championship on Miami's floor before the instant-classic madness of Game 6 went down.
But even though the Spurs have looked tougher this season than last, this team might not be equipped as well to contain LeBron.
After defending him well throughout the 2013 Finals, Kawhi Leonard has been in foul trouble in both games so far, watching Miami pull out Game 2 from the bench after fouling out. Boris Diaw can spell Leonard for spurts, but Kawhi has to stay on the floor and be effective for San Antonio to have any hope of slowing James.
With Chris Bosh and Rashard Lewis hitting shots from deep and allowing James to drive up San Antonio's gut, the Spurs are in trouble without a sure stopper. When the Heat support their superstar and their home crowd is rocking, they're almost impossible to beat.
San Antonio will come as close as anyone else has, but that problem combined with home court will be too much in Game 3.
Heat 94, Spurs 89