MIAMI – Kawhi Leonard and the 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 in the best-of-seven series.
“I don’t think we’ll ever shoot 76 percent in a half ever again,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said.
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 Los Angeles Lakers in the 2009 Finals.
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The Spurs led by as many as 25 points 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 far ahead 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 in building a 41-25 lead after one quarter, then made their first six shots of the second in front of a stunned crowd in Miami while going ahead 55-30.
“What it feels like is the Finals,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “And you have to deal with all the emotions there are in the Finals — frustration, anger, pain, elation, all of it, and it can swing back and forth. It’s a long series. We have to be able to manage this and it starts with tomorrow, owning it.”
Leonard scored a total of 18 points in the first two games, looking frustrated while getting into foul trouble trying to defend Heat superstar LeBron James in Game 2. But he had his outside shot working early.
“I just found a rhythm and my teammates found me the ball. I made shots,” said Leonard, who was 10 of 13 from the field.
James and Dwyane Wade had 22 points each for the Heat, which hosts Game 4 on Thursday.
“We will get better from tonight,” James said. “We hate the performance that we put on. But it’s 2-1. It’s not 4-1.”
The Finals were back along the shores of Biscayne Bay for the fourth straight year. The last three NBA seasons ended in Miami, the last two followed by championship parades for the Heat.
But 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 are in good shape to get another chance.
With the NBA Finals scrapping the 2-3-2 format — with the lower seed playing 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 scored nine points for the Heat, which for the second straight year will have to overcome a 2-1 Finals deficit after being blown out in Game 3.
“We have to take this one on the chin,” Bosh said. “We are kidding ourselves if we’re going to win a championship with that kind of effort, home or away.”
This one came on Miami’s home floor, where it had been 8-0 this postseason.
Manu Ginobili scored 11 for the Spurs, who dropped Game 2 thanks to some mistakes down the stretch, then bounced back.
They inserted Boris Diaw into the lineup, countering Miami’s small lineup and creating more ball movement that clearly helped Leonard.