MIAMI (AP) — Maybe in a video game. Possibly in the pregame layup line. But shoot this way in the NBA Finals, against the two-time defending champions? Kawhi Leonard scored a career-high 29 points and the Spurs made a Finals record 75.8 percent of their shots in the first half in a 111-92 victory over the Miami Heat on Tuesday night at AmericanAirlines Arena that gave them a 2-1 lead.
The Spurs made 19 of their first 21 shots and finished 25 of 33 in the first half, bettering the 75 percent shooting by Orlando against the Lakers in the 2009 finals. “It’s a hit-or-miss league,” Dwyane Wade said. Wade and LeBron James had 22 points for the Heat, who will host Game 4 this Thursday. Returning to the arena where they were oh-so-close to winning a fifth championship last year, the Spurs came out playing like they were trying to build a lead that was impossible to blow.
They shot 13 of 15 and led 41-25 after the first quarter, then hit their first six shots of the second in front of a stunned crowd to go ahead 55-30.
Leonard scored only 18 points in the first two games, looking frustrated while getting into foul trouble trying to defend James in Game 2. But he had his outside shot working early, making his first six shots and finishing 10 of 13 from the field.
“I just found a rhythm and my teammates found me the ball. I made shots,” Leonard said.
The last three NBA seasons ended in the AAA building, the last two followed by Heat championship parades. The Spurs nearly canceled the last one, building a five-point lead in the
final half-minute of regulation of Game 6, a title seeming so certain that workers were already making preparations around the court.
But the Heat rallied to win in overtime and took Game 7, leaving the Spurs with a summer to think about the one that got away.They’re in good shape to get another chance.
With the league scrapping the 2-3-2 format for the Finals – in which the lower seed played three consecutive home games – the Spurs will have a chance to wrap it up in San Antonio on Sunday in Game 5 if they can win Thursday.
Chris Bosh took only four shots and scored nine points for the Heat, who, for the second straight year, will have to overcome a 2-1 finals deficit after being blown out in Game 3.
This rout came on their home floor, where they had been 8-0 this postseason and had won a franchise-record 11 in a row since the Spurs beat them in Game 1 last year.
Coach Erik Spoelstra planned to communicate with James to make sure there were no lingering problems from the cramps that forced him to miss the final minutes of the opener. But there was no way he could rest James early, since he was the only one keeping the Heat in the game. He had 14 of their first 20 points but even James couldn’t keep up with the Spurs’ pace.
The Heat finally got into it in the third, running off 10 straight points to cut a 17-point deficit to 81-74 on a drive by Norris Cole, who replaced an ineffective Mario Chalmers.
That was as close as Miami would get, as the Spurs pulled away in the fourth.