The San Antonio Spurs are two victories away from writing a different ending to the same story that played out during last year's NBA Finals showdown versus the Miami Heat.
Before prematurely planning the celebration in San Antonio (again), stop and consider that this should feel eerily familiar to last year's championship clash.
The Spurs took Game 1 in the 2013 Finals before Miami bounced back to seize Game 2. San Antonio then clobbered Miami in a 113-77 victory to capture a 2-1 series lead. I can keep going, but we all should know how that story ended by now.
There's something about Game 3 that the Spurs savor, because they stormed to a 111-92 victory to once again take a 2-1 advantage behind a historic night of shooting, per NBA.com.
The series will stay in South Beach for a pivotal Game 4 set for Thursday night. Here's a look at the rest of the championship schedule before analyzing this thrilling rematch between two legendary squads.
|Game #||Away||Home||Date||Time (ET)||TV|
|4||San Antonio Spurs||Miami Heat||Thu., June 12||9 p.m.||ABC|
|5||Miami Heat||San Antonio Spurs||Sun., June 15||8 p.m.||ABC|
|6 (if necessary)||San Antonio Spurs||Miami Heat||Tue., June 17||9 p.m.||ABC|
|7 (if necessary)||Miami Heat||San Antonio Spurs||Fri., June 20||9 p.m.||ABC|
Look, the Spurs won't sustain Game 3's first-half shooting outburst throughout the series. They couldn't keep it up for another half because teams just don't shoot 75.6 percent over 24 minutes without some good fortune, most notably Manu Ginobili banking a three-pointer to end the first quarter.
Gregg Popovich admitted as much, courtesy of NBA on ESPN's Twitter account.
But boy was it fun to watch. At their best, there's nothing better than watching the Spurs spread the ball with fluid perfection. All five players are in a perpetual state of motion, and nobody is holding the ball to set up an isolation play.
Anyone who can watch plays like this and think the Spurs are boring isn't much of a basketball fan.
The most encouraging factor from their Game 3 stomping: Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili all had low-key nights for their standards. They combined to shoot 12-of-25 for 40 points.
Instead, it was the Kawhi Leonard show. The 22-year-old went 10-of-13 for a career-high 29 points. That came while drawing the world's toughest defensive assignment: LeBron James, who coughed up seven turnovers.
Numbers Never Lie had to go back 13 years to find a younger player with such a fertile NBA Finals showing. Leonard now finds himself in nice company with a future Hall of Famer.
Kawhi Leonard is the YOUNGEST player to score 29 Pts in the NBA Finals since Kobe Bryant in 2001. pic.twitter.com/cL1wiTh4Za— Numbers Never Lie (@ESPN_Numbers) June 11, 2014
The Spurs' Big Three are obviously essential to their success, but they're nearly impossible to stop when Leonard is slashing to the run with fervor and draining open buckets from behind the arc. Throw in Danny Green's shooting stroke, and it's just unfair. And don't forget about Boris Diaw, who remains their unsung hero.
Although the forward has offered just 18 points throughout the series, he has added 8.3 rebounds and 4.7 assists per contest. San Antonio's unselfish offense revolves around crisp passing from big men, and Diaw is the perfect piece to fit its system.
As noted by NBA TV's J.E. Skeets, the Spurs are thriving with Diaw on the court.
For the series, the Spurs have outscored the Heat by 45 points with Boris Diaw on the floor.— J.E. Skeets (@jeskeets) June 11, 2014
While role players are stepping up for the Spurs, Mario Chalmers has scored just 10 points for Miami throughout the entire series. ESPN Stats & Info dug deep to embarrass the starting point guard, who becomes a free agent this offseason.
Mario Chalmers: the only starter in last 30 seasons to play 50+ min, score 10 pts or fewer and shoot 25% or less from field in NBA Finals.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 11, 2014
Norris Cole isn't exactly lighting up the scoreboard by going 4-of-15, but Chalmers' struggles could force Erik Spoelstra to play him more, or simply cut both floor generals' minutes.
Rashard Lewis has been Miami's one pleasant surprise. The formerly outcasted forward has revived to score double-digit points in his last five games, dating back to the Eastern Conference Finals. He has already drained 10 three-pointers against the Spurs, accounting for 30 of his 38 points.
In Game 3, however, his involvement came at Chris Bosh's expense. Although the star big man didn't miss a shot, he managed just nine points while receiving just 30 touches, according to ESPN's Tom Haberstroh.
In Game 3, Chris Bosh had 30 touches and Rashard Lewis had 55. Huge reversal from Games 1-2. (per SportVU) pic.twitter.com/vUs5RRLCxO— Tom Haberstroh (@tomhaberstroh) June 11, 2014
Lewis played just 16.2 minutes per game this year before Spoelstra turned to him over a struggling Shane Battier. His deadly outside shooting has worked wonders for the Heat, but they can't continue to ignore Bosh in the process.
If the Heat lose, it won't be because of whatever nonsensical insults ill-informed "fans" tossed James' way after leaving Game 1 with cramps. It'll be a testament to the Spurs' deeper roster that is currently firing on all cylinders.
Of course, we now know never to count the Heat out early.