Less than halfway through the second quarter, Game 3 was already over.
As John Schuhmann tweeted, in the first frame the Spurs exploded for 41 points in 23 possession -- on pace to score 178 points per 100 possessions, an absurd offensive efficiency rating relative to league averages and human decency. The Spurs dictated the style of play almost from the jump and Kawhi Leonard (with Danny Green as his sidekick) led the way by aggressively driving the ball to the rim and decisively rising up for his outside shot after the defense softened.
When both teams are at their best, the Spurs motion O is a perfect foil to the Heat's trappy D: San Antonio flows quickly from one action into the next, each player cutting constantly as the ball whips around, in search of the open man; on the other side of the ball, the Heat fly all over the court chaotically, disrupting pick-and-roll ball-handlers and then rotating to fill any openings as if each player were part of an amoeba.
Unfortunately for Heat fans, Miami played lazy defense in the first half and the game quickly turned into a one-sided affair.
Kawhi knocked down another jump shot -- a contested 21-footer -- with 8:08 left in the first half, putting the Spurs ahead 55 to 30. Spoelstra immediately called a timeout and I wondered if he might pull a Popovich: pack it in, sit his starters and get ready for Game 4.
It felt like both a reasonable and ridiculous proposition: trotting out bench-warmers with so much of the game left to be played -- and yet shouldn't Spo consider it since the statistical likelihood of actually coming back was, at best, remote?
At that point in the game-- down 25 with more than half of the second quarter still to play -- if all things were equal (read: if the Spurs and Heat were two evenly-matched teams playing on a neutral court without the pressure of the Finals influencing the outcome), the Heat only had a 4.8 percent probability per Inpredictable's NBA Win Probability Calculator to comeback and win it. That's crazy! Almost two-thirds of game still left to be played and the Heat didn't have a chance!
Of course, all things were not equal: the Heat have what Clark Kellog would call, "high spurtability" -- capable of scoring quickly and in bunches -- and they also have the best player in the game on their squad.
Plus, considering Spo has played Lebron about 4,000 minutes every year (regular and postseason combined) since LBJ took his talents to South Beach in 2010 (save the lockout-shortened 2011-12 campaign when Spo, try as he might, could not overplay James because he didn't have enough games to work with), I figured the Big Three would be fighting it out for at least a little while longer.
And the Heat almost made their coach look like a genius, rallying in the third behind Dwyane Wade and an inspired American Airlines Arena crowd, cutting the Spurs' lead to 7 off of Norris Cole reverse layup with two minutes left in the quarter. That was the closest the team would get in the second half and even then, their win probability only climbed to 23.4 percent. On the very next play, Marco Belinelli hit a big three and pushed the lead back to double-digits; after that, the Heat win probability dropped to 17.1 percent and continued to fall more or less without incident until the clock hit double zeroes.
I can hear the critics now: This argument is stupid because anything could have happened and you don't play games on paper -- or more accurately -- you don't play games on a calculator...unless you're in the back of math class -- zing! But the numbers said that the Heat at halftime, down by 21, had less than a 4 percent chance of coming back and then -- to no one's surprise except Frank Isola -- math won and Miami lost.
Even if you think Spo made the right decision, refusing to concede victory and keeping in his best players until the bitter end, look at the Heat's current predicament: they lost by 19 points (111 to 92) and Lebron played almost 40 minutes -- the most of anyone in the game. On top of that, Lebron looked gassed in the second half of Game 3 which is why Spo sat him during the third quarter (and which seemed to strangely (since they've been horrible with him on the bench throughout this series) spark the Heat's only significant run of the second half).
Hindsight is, of course, 20-20: it seems obvious now that, at some point earlier than he did -- maybe not in the second quarter, but before the 1:36 mark of the fourth -- Spoelstra should have thrown in the towel, waved the white flag or performed some other not yet realized act of surrender (ceremonially smash 90 coconuts, mayhaps?) in order to save James's legs. But he didn't and now -- with only a day's rest -- this older Heat team needs to muster the wherewithal to once again follow up a playoff loss with a win. If only he had smashed the coconuts...