Gary Neal has shot a paltry 36.6 percent from the field in the playoffs, including just 27.3 percent from the 3-point line. He broke out of that funk in a big way on Tuesday, scoring 26 points on nine-of-16 shooting and six-of-10 from the 3-point line.
Danny Green was even better, scoring 27 points on nine-of-15 shooting from the field, including a ridiculous seven-of-nine from the 3-point line. That makes him an incredible 16-of-23 from beyond the arc in the first three games. Someone might want to tell the Heat to close out on this man.
The biggest factor, however, may have been the play of Kawhi Leonard. Despite playing the small forward position, Leonard has managed to average a double-double in the series with 11 points and 12.7 rebounds. More importantly, he has been able to contain LeBron James – the engine of the Heat’s offense. Actually, Leonard has done plenty more than that, holding the reigning MVP to 39 percent shooting from the field – an incredible feat considering how dominant James has been for much of the season and the playoffs.
On Tuesday, LeBron was just seven-of-21 from the field – statistically his worst shooting performance of the season when attempting more than 14 shots. Four of those made shots came in the midst of a mini-run in the third quarter, when Leonard went out of the game to take a breather. Recognizing this, Gregg Popovich threw his small forward right back into the game to start the fourth quarter.
Once again, LeBron became an ordinary – passive, even – player who couldn’t find a way to help his team in other ways. It’s certainly worth noting that the Spurs had a great game plan and LeBron did struggle in general with his jump shot, but it all starts with Leonard. Meanwhile, Neal and Green kept nailing heart-breaking bombs to put the game way, way out of reach.
The Spurs can play all the solid offense in the world, but it’s still anyone’s game when LeBron is active on both ends of the floor, and that proved to be the case in Game 2. When Leonard has him bottled up with his long arms and gigantic hands, however, LeBron becomes as ordinary as you will ever see him at this juncture of his career. The Heat can afford to play through bad games from Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. They cannot overcome poor games from James in the Finals.
If Erik Spoelstra and the Heat can’t figure out how to get LeBron to play more effectively against the defense of Leonard and the Spurs, this series might not make it back to the American Airlines Arena.
Check out some of the notable reactions of the game from players and others from around the league:
True biographical fact: Kawhi Leonard has six arms.
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