NBA: Spurs’ win over Heat bags them series lead spot

Danny Green on Tuesday hit seven of nine 3s in his 27 points, while Gary Neal was six of 10 from deep in his 24. Tim Duncan chipped in 12 points and 14 rebounds for the Spurs, who responded to a 19-point drubbing in game two with a blowout of their own.

Miami's four-time most valuable player (MVP) LeBron James was held to 15 points on 7-of-21 shooting. James also had 11 rebounds and five assists, but missed 11 of his first 14 shots and never looked comfortable against San Antonio's swarming defence.

Duncan bounced back from his worst game ever in the finals, and the Spurs' combination of fresh faces and old reliables dominated the NBA's regular-season leaders before an eager crowd that hadn't seen the finals here since 2007.

"It shouldn't be a surprise," said Spurs coach Gregg Popvich. "These are the last two teams standing. I don't think either one of them is going to get down if they have a bad night."

Game four is on Thursday in San Antonio, where the Heat have won just three of 25 games and will try to pick themselves up after a sobering defeat.

"We got what we deserved," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "I didn't even recognise the team that was out there tonight."

Potentially pivotal victory
It was a potentially pivotal victory for the Spurs in their quest to go 5 for 5 in the finals. Since the NBA finals went to a 2-3-2 format in 1985, the game three winner when the series was tied 1-1 has gone on to win 12 of the 13 titles – though the Heat were the lone one that didn't, in 2011.

Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili combined for 14 assists, but the bigger story was the guys who had never played on this stage before:

  • Neal, who went undrafted after playing for unheralded colleges, then played for three seasons in Italy, Spain and Turkey.
  • Green, who had been cut multiple times – including by James' Cavaliers – and now has the shot to stick.
  • Kawhi Leonard, the draft-night trade acquisition who played the NBA's four-time MVP James to a stalemate.

Mike Miller made all five 3-pointers and scored 15 points for the Heat, who had a brief flurry in the third quarter to get within 15 points and have a sniff of victory with a quarter to play.

But Neal, Green and Leonard combined on a 13-0 run to open the fourth, Green's 3-pointer making it 91-63.

Green said he grown in self-belief with the help of the senior Spurs and coach Gregg Popovich.

"All of my teammates and Pop [Popovich]. They do a great job of encouraging me. They continue to tell me to shoot the ball. They continue to tell me whenever I'm open, to let it fly," Green said.

Excited fans
The NBA hadn't made its way along San Antonio's River Walk this late in the season since 2007, and fans couldn't wait to have the Spurs back.

They were thrilled to see the Duncan they recognised from his first 24 finals appearances.

He got right on the board in this one, with a short jumper 20 seconds into the game. The Spurs, who had played from behind most of the series, had a 24-20 lead after making 11 of 18 shots in the first quarter.

Duncan hit a pair of three throws and another basket, and after a jumper by Neal, he threw a long outlet to Leonard for a dunk that made it 40-30.

Neal's 3 made it 43-32, but Miller hit a pair of 3-pointers in a 12-1 run that tied it at 44 with 37 seconds in the half, the Heat appearing set to go into the half with momentum. But Parker drilled a 3 from the corner, and after Green blocked James' shot, the Spurs rushed it up for a 3-pointer by Neal that fell at the buzzer, the reserve guard pointing back toward his defenders before the Spurs headed to the locker room with a 50-44 advantage.

The party played on all right, with a huge roar when Tracy McGrady, a former perennial All-Star now in his first finals appearance as a member of the Spurs' bench, checked in midway through the fourth quarter. He was scoreless with three assists.

James started 2 for 13 and then made his final four shots of the third as the Heat got within 13 before Ginobili fired a nifty pass to Tiago Splitter under the basket for a score with 0.1 seconds remaining, making it 78-63 and setting the stage for the big fourth-quarter finish.

"We want to make them take tough shots. They missed a couple. It worked this game, but next game we know they'll come out differently," Green said. "We're not comfortable at any point defensively. We have to continue to be active, be aggressive get our hands on loose balls." – Sapa-AP

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