MIAMI (AP) — Kawhi Leonard and San Antonio Spurs shot their way into history — and back into the lead in the NBA Finals.
Leonard scored a career-high 29 points, and the Spurs made a finals-record 75.8 percent of their shots in the first half in a 111-92 victory over the Miami Heat on Tuesday night that gave them a 2-1 lead.
The Spurs made 19 of their first 21 shots and finished 25 of 33 in the first half, bettering the 75 percent shooting by Orlando against the Lakers in the 2009 finals.
“I don’t think we’ll ever shoot 76 percent in a half ever again,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said.
The Spurs led by as much as 25 and were only briefly challenged in their second lopsided victory in the series.
Unlike Game 1, when they didn’t pull away until the final minutes, the Spurs were up big before halftime in this one.
Returning to the arena where they were oh-so-close to winning a fifth championship last year, the Spurs came out playing like they were trying to build a lead that was impossible to blow.
They shot 13 of 15 and led 41-25 lead after the first quarter, then hit their first six shots of the second in front of a stunned crowd in Miami to go ahead 55-30.
Leonard scored only 18 points in the first two games, looking frustrated while getting into foul trouble trying to defend James in Game 2. But he had his outside shot working early and the effect on the Spurs’ offense was obvious. He made his first six shots and finished 10 of 13 from the field.
LeBron James and Dwyane Wade had 22 points for the Heat, who host Game 4 on Thursday.
The last three NBA seasons ended in this building, the last two followed by Heat championship parades.
The Spurs nearly canceled the last one, building a five-point lead in the final half-minute of regulation of Game 6, a title seeming so certain that workers were already making preparations around the court.
But the Heat rallied to win in overtime and took Game 7, leaving the Spurs with a summer to think about the one that got away.
They’re in good shape to get another chance.
With the league scrapped the 2-3-2 format for the NBA Finals —in which the lower seed played three consecutive home games — the Spurs would have a chance to wrap it up in San Antonio on Sunday in Game 5 if they can win Thursday.
Chris Bosh took only four points and scored nine points for the Heat, who for the second straight year will have to overcome a 2-1 finals deficit after being blown out in Game 3.
This rout came on their home floor, where they had been 8-0 this postseason and had won a franchise-record 11 in a row since the Spurs beat them in Game 1 last year.
Manu Ginobili scored 11 for the Spurs, who dropped Game 2 thanks to some mistakes down the stretch, then rebounded with a level of ruthless execution that had never been seen before.
They inserted Boris Diaw into the lineup, countering Miami’s small lineup and creating more ball movement that clearly helped Leonard. The game got off to a crisp start, with the Spurs making their first five shots and Miami opening 4 for 4.
Turned out San Antonio was just getting started.
Coach Erik Spoelstra said he would keep communicating with James as he did in Game 2 to make sure there were no lingering problems from the cramps that forced him to miss the final minutes of the opener.
But there was no way he could rest James early because James was the only one keeping the Heat in the game. He had 14 of their first 20 points, but even James couldn’t keep up with the Spurs’ pace.
The Spurs “came out at a different gear than what we were playing at, and it just seemed we were on our heels the most part of the first half,” Spoelstra said.
Miami cut it 14 late in the first half, but the Spurs closed with a 9-2 burst to make it 71-50.
The Heat finally got into it in the third, running off 10 straight points to cut a 17-point deficit to 81-74 on a drive by Norris Cole, who had replaced an ineffective Mario Chalmers.
That was as close as Miami would get, as the Spurs pulled away in the fourth.
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