The San Antonio Spurs have faced the same questions and doubts at the start of the past few NBA seasons. “The Spurs can’t be good forever.” “The Spurs have to fall off at some point.” “Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili haven’t found the Fountain of Youth.” Yet they’re heading into Game 4 of the 2014 NBA Finals against the Miami Heat with a 2-1 lead.
However, the ever-present doubts about the Spurs weren’t entirely dismissed on Tuesday night as San Antonio mounted a 111-92 victory over Miami. In fact, it was the new guard of the Spurs that led the way on both ends of the floor for the “old” team. Specifically, Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green led a monster offensive display for San Antonio by scoring 29 and 15 points, respectively, and also combining for seven steals and playing big-time defense on the likes of LeBron James.
After a monster effort in Game 2, James looked human against the young Spurs defenders on Tuesday night. The line of 22 points, seven assists, five rebounds and five steals on 9-14 shooting looks impressive, but James found offense hard to come by and looked flustered for much of the night as he mounted seven turnovers on the evening.
As the series moves to Game 4 and the second game in South Beach, though, the Spurs have to be looking for their next generation of playmakers to continue contributing to their efforts at a high level. While Duncan, Ginobili and Tony Parker will almost surely need to put forth better efforts than what they did on Tuesday, it’s the other guys who can give San Antonio command of this series and a 3-1 lead. Leonard specifically has to maintain a high level of play.
If we’re being honest here, Game 3 is an anomaly for Leonard and almost any player in the league on the offensive end of the floor. Sure, Leonard was substantially more aggressive offensively than he had been in the first two games of the series, but replicating a performance that resulted in 29 points on only 13 shots from the field will be nearly impossible. Going into Game 4 and beyond, Leonard has to maintain his aggressiveness on that end of the floor. More importantly, though, he and Green have to provide the defensive effort that they did in Game 3 consistently.
In his post-game press conference on NBA TV, Boris Diaw said the Spurs came into Game 3 trying to just make LeBron work for his shots rather than giving him any space to work. A big part of that was Leonard and Green playing him tight and forcing him into traffic. The result ended up being a quiet night by James’ standard and several changes of possession in favor of San Antonio.
Clearly the Heat have to be better in Game 4 than they were on Tuesday. Chris Bosh can’t have 12 touches and four field goal attempts while James and Dwyane Wade can’t combine for 12 turnovers. Knowing that the Heat will adjust, particularly defensively, and come out inspired for Game 4, the Spurs have to look to maintain what they did on Tuesday.
Spanning across three separate decades, the Spurs have created a dynasty. For much of that time, it’s been the same core leading the way. As that core ages and can’t do it every night, though, the questions and doubts have mounted. However, guys like Leonard and Green showed in Game 3 that the Spurs will be in good hands when their own Big Three are gone. The bigger question is whether or not the young guys will be able to shoulder the load in Game 4 and going forward in these Finals.