MIAMI — LeBron James has learned an important lesson during his journey from 19-year-old rookie to two-time NBA champion: Never talk back to the coach during a film session.
“Let him make his point, whether he’s right or wrong, and you live with it and move on,” James said.
Especially when the coach has as much to show his players as Erik Spoelstra did to James and the Miami Heat on Wednesday.
Miami’s defense didn’t offer much resistance early in Game 3 of the NBA Finals; the San Antonio Spurs played like they were on the court by themselves. San Antonio made 19 of its first 21 shots and shot a finals-record 75.8 percent in the first half of a 111-92 victory.
Just like last year, Game 3 was a blowout that left the Heat facing a 2-1 deficit. Miami came back to win the series, so nobody was overreacting to what happened Tuesday, especially since the Spurs themselves don’t expect to shoot that way again. But the Heat have things to clean up before Game 4 on Thursday, or they risk going back to San Antonio facing the end of their title reign.
“You’re always on edge in the postseason, but I don’t want to be concerned at this point,” James said. “For us, we have to make the adjustments.”
The Spurs had the same lead last year after a 113-77 victory in Game 3, a start-to-finish beating that was even more thorough than Tuesday’s win. So they were taking no satisfaction in their position, and certainly not comparing it.
“I don’t think about last year at all at this point,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “I don’t think about last year Game 3, Game 4, at all. This is a different animal and I’m just concerned about the game tomorrow night.”
The bigger concerns belong to the Heat, whose defense was also sliced up by the Spurs in the fourth quarter of Game 1. So Spoelstra gathered his team to look at the painful tape of Tuesday’s performance, which featured among its problems:
—Chris Bosh getting only four shot attempts after scoring 18 points in Games 1 and 2.
—James trying to do too much to rally the Heat and ending up with seven of their 20 turnovers.
—Mario Chalmers missing all five shots and falling to 3 for 12 in the finals.
“We did not play a good basketball game,” Spoelstra said. “All of us have owned that. It doesn’t matter ultimately how many you lose by or what the game is like. You have to learn from it, move on.”
Spoelstra said watching themselves get clobbered on tape was “painful” and “frustrating,” but necessary. He wouldn’t reveal what he told his players, but whatever it was, James wouldn’t have argued. That’s a lesson he said he learned “quite a few years ago, when you realize that it wouldn’t change anything.”
“You know, the coach is always right,” James added. “It’s like a teacher. They’re always right, and that’s fine. That’s fair. They make the rules and we’ve got to live by them.”
Spoelstra’s process suits the Heat, who have won 13 straight postseason games following a loss. They followed last year’s Game 3 no-show with a rout of their own to swing the series back in their favor, and are confident they can make corrections before Thursday.
But the Spurs, who didn’t think they played that well in the first two games, have shown that not even the respected Miami defense can stop them when they execute the way they did Tuesday.
“We finally put a game together for not the full 48, but for as long as we could, where we did exactly what we planned to do and executed in that respect,” Tim Duncan said, “and that’s what we’re going to need again.”
No team has overcome a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals, and a victory Thursday would guarantee the Spurs two chances to win the series on their home floor, starting with Game 5 on Sunday. Dwyane Wade said the Heat aren’t thinking that far ahead.
“We’re an in-the-moment team,” he said. “And right now in the moment is the day after a loss, getting better mentally, physically and then coming into tomorrow and playing the game of basketball here on our home floor and trying to win Game 4. That is all we focus on.”