MIAMI -- Before we get to that insane stretch of San Antonio shooting, Miami's frantic response and the Spurs' cold-blooded answer to the response, let's start with two basic premises about the NBA Finals.
1. Nobody knows anything.
2. We're probably going seven games, so we may as well enjoy the ups and downs, the mood swings and momentum shifts that seem to happen on a quarter-by-quarter basis. We may as well enjoy the complete and utter awesomeness of watching the two best teams in basketball at the height of their powers on the sport's biggest stage.
Nothing is sustainable and nothing is real. Boris Diaw has played just over 100 minutes in this series and is a plus-45. Kawhi Leonard broke out of a two-game slump by scoring a career-high 29 points -- on 13 shots, no less -- and Danny Green scored 15 points on just eight shots, while making only one three. The two supporting Spurs took 21 shots and made 17 of them. As one longtime San Antonio observer said at halftime with a look of bewilderment and shock, "What is happening right now?"
Pounding the Rock
Pounding the Rock
No one has a good answer. Gregg Popovich moved Diaw into the starting lineup, and while it's tempting to put all this on the most obvious lineup adjustment, there are a dozen different things happening on both ends of the court that will require spending some quality time with Synergy to suss out. Of course, by the time Thursday rolls around, everything will change again because that's what happens when the two best coaches working the game today are running the sidelines.
Heck, the game's narrative swung wildly between the first and second halves when the Heat whittled a 25-point lead down to just seven late in the third quarter by playing the kind of aggressive, swarming defense that has been their trademark. Like everything else in this series, that defense has shown up and disappeared on a nightly basis.
The Spurs weathered that storm and wound up with a comfortable 111-92 win, giving them the first postseason road victory in Miami since they did it last year in Game 1 of the Finals. But as late as the middle of the fourth quarter, even a double-digit lead didn't feel totally secure.
"You're not going to find many games in which the difference is always plus four, minus four," Manu Ginobili said. "It happens once in a while. Probably you're not going to see a final that often that after 15 minutes we're up by 20. That's pretty unrealistic. But they really have the potential to make runs. I said multiple times, they're very energetic defensively. They've got players that can score in bunches. I'm very proud that we kept playing and we built up the lead again after they cut it to seven."
You can take everything we've learned in the first three games and throw it into a giant blender of analysis, whip it around a few times and you'll get something completely different in Thursday's Game 4. For example, it's highly unlikely that the Spurs will ever shoot 19-for-21 in a scrimmage, let alone a game in the Finals. As Popovich helpfully pointed out, "That will never happen again. I mean, that's crazy."
It's not like the Spurs were hitting crazy, contested shots though. They were getting great looks, in rhythm, thanks to that vaunted ball movement that was stifled at the end of Game 2 when, as Pop so memorably put it, "you move it or you die."
The whole thing was absurd. They had 53 points on those 21 shots and Tony Parker hadn't even scored at that point. Leonard and Green were a combined 12-for-13 in the first half as the Spurs shot 76 percent. If not for LeBron James and Rashard Lewis (who got hot from the outside like it was 2005, because, why not?) it could have been much, much worse than the 71-50 halftime score indicated.
"Oh, they jumped on us and they were the aggressor tonight," James said. "This is something that at this point in the season shouldn't happen."
Despite the lopsided score, the Heat showed signs of life at the half and carried that over into the third quarter when they scared the daylights out of the Spurs. Marco Belinelli made one shot, a three, that put San Antonio back up by 10 points, but it might have been the biggest of the night.
In the fourth quarter, it was Leonard who came through again, scoring nine of his 29 and helping hold LeBron to just four points. It was a Podium Game performance for the soft-spoken forward, but in keeping with his personality, he chose to eschew the spotlight and stay in the relative anonymity of the visitor's locker room.
Coming into the game, Leonard had just scored just 18 points and had battled both foul trouble and LeBron's awesomeness. He was struggling, to put it mildly, and Popovich pulled him aside for a little talk before Game 3. What he said will have to remain a closely-guarded Spurs state secret.
"We talked to Kawhi," Pop confirmed. When pressed for details, he responded, "That's family business."
What Popovich did say was that they wanted Leonard to be himself. "He's got to be one of our better players on the court or we're not good enough. That's just the way it is. He's got that kind of talent where -- you know -- it's the NBA Finals. You can't just be mediocre out there if you want to win a game."
Everyone expected that Leonard would play better, but no one thought he'd wind up being the best player on the court. Again, such is the nature of this series.
Beyond the unexpected, the Heat have some issues. Their point guard play was once again spotty, and Chris Bosh was essentially nonexistent one game after finding his own validation. Their depth is down to basically eight players and Shane Battier didn't make an appearance until the end of the game, when both teams emptied their benches.
Battier saved Miami last season alongside Mike Miller, who moved into the starting lineup and helped spread out San Antonio's defense. Miller is in Memphis and Battier is only a few days from retirement. It's unclear who, if anyone, can come off the bench and provide the kind of support they need to help carry them through the rest of this series.
"You know, that's the nature of the playoffs, man. It's not always good," Dwyane Wade said. "As I told you guys before we started, this time of the year it's dark days for us. Tonight they came in and took care of business on our home floor, which we're a very good team here, but they're a very good team as well."
We'll ride out the momentum swings and the narrative arcs. We'll take everything as it comes and try to make sense of it. But in the end, we're all just waiting for the next plot twist.