Miami Heat Index: San Antonio Spurs
Hard to stomach how his team showed up. After some early intestinal distress, LeBron's issues cleared up in the second half, as one dunk punctuated 19 of the Heat's 21 third-quarter points. But he needs relief to come from his teammates, and for 48 minutes, none came. He's not on a superteam, he is the superstar, and that's just not enough against these Spurs.
Paging Dwyane Wade to the American Airlines Arena. Sure, someone was wearing No. 3 for the Heat, but it didn't look like the guy who averaged 20 points on .545-.462-.850 shooting against the Indiana Pacers a series ago. Wade couldn't elevate, couldn't finish shots in the paint, and got beat off the dribble by the paunchy Boris Diaw. Not what you want from your No. 2 option in the Finals.
That didn't last long. After an early effort got him as many shots in the first seven minutes as he took in all of Game 3, his touches and impact tailed off, and the Spurs' spread-out motion offense meant he couldn't make a big defensive impact. It's not that the Heat need more from him -- they need to let him do more.
What happened to Miami's backcourt? Chalmers looked more like an NBA player than he did in the first three games, but that's kind of like saying Jacksonville is closer than Miami to San Antonio: technically true, but you're still in the wrong area code. Chalmers started the game nearly air-balling a layup, and was confounded by Tony Parker and Patty Mills scampering courtwide throughout.
You've probably seen a commercial in these Finals for the movie "Lucy," about a woman (Scarlett Johansson) unlocking her full 100 percent brain capacity, giving her telekinesis and the ability to defy physics. Related: the Spurs' offense. They may not have set any Finals records, but man, it didn't take them long to put this one away -- again. Does the season end Sunday?
"It was a cumulative of everything," James said after a 111-92 loss to the San Antonio Spurs pushed the Heat into a 2-1 series deficit. "One thing about [the Spurs], if you make a mistake, they're going to make you pay. And they made us pay more often than not."
The Heat better learn quickly from these costly lessons.
Defensively, Miami was torched from the outset in a game that saw the Spurs make 19 of their first 21 shots and eventually set a Finals record for a half by converting 75.8 percent of their attempts from the field.
San Antonio also set postseason records by a Heat opponent for most points in a quarter (41 in the first) and a half (71 by intermission) on the way to building a 25-point lead before halftime that created enough cushion to withstand a late Miami run. To say this game was essentially over from the start wouldn't be a stretch.
With Kawhi Leonard playing the best game of his NBA career after fouling out in Game 2, the Spurs took control early. And then they kept taking away the ball seemingly every time the Heat even thought about mounting any semblance of offensive rhythm.
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He shot efficiently, but let Kawhi Leonard get loose at the outset. Also, he coughed up too many turnovers when trying to orchestrate Miami's offense from the paint. It's difficult to fault the effort, but James seemed to play out of control at times.
He had a terrible start, but recovered during Miami's third-quarter comeback. He's struggling to get past defenders, but compensating with great touch on his floaters. Overall, he had little to do with what went wrong for Miami tonight.
Bosh ran into foul trouble and found himself on the game's periphery. He had what felt like a big trailer 3-pointer to kick off a comeback in the third quarter. Ultimately though, he just wasn't too involved offensively, and he didn't protect the rim on defense.
Few will care that this was one of Lewis' better games in a Heat uniform. He shot quickly, confidently and accurately. He also did all he could to keep from getting flattened by Boris Diaw in the post. This loss was on a lot of Heat players, but certainly not on Lewis.
In the first half, the Spurs were nature -- just a completely inexorable force to a degree that you couldn't blame any Heat player in particular for what was happening. They didn't stop there, either, thwarting a few Miami comebacks in the second half. Kawhi Leonard stood out, playing incredibly well on both sides of the ball.
And then Bosh admitted he, himself, was selfish on this night.
Asked if he was just looking for his shot a little bit on a night when he unleashed his entire repertoire in scoring 18 points for the second straight game, Bosh laughed and offered this in what sounded like a sarcastic tone:
"Yeah, I'm just looking for mine a little bit."
No, but seriously.
"Sometimes, in this offense, the coaches give me the freedom to be aggressive and make the right plays," Bosh said. "Coach told me, 'I like your aggressiveness. Keep being aggressive.' I was like, 'Aight.'
"You tell me once, you don't have to tell me anymore. So I just wanted to keep it up."
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He was furious that he'd just lost an NBA Finals game because of a stupid case of cramps. Of all the things that could cost his team a game, all the mistakes and decisions and bad luck that have cost him past Finals games, how in the world could he be derailed by cramps triggered by an air conditioning failure? This went through his mind again and again.
How in the world, James raged, could something as common as an HVAC unit on the fritz in sweltering San Antonio break and not be fixed? Everyone heard a report on the ABC broadcast that the arena temperature reached 90 degrees in Game 1. The reality was that one of the gauges fetched midgame showed a reading of more than 100 degrees in the fourth quarter when James was carried off the floor.
You did not want to be around James that night. Or, for that matter, the next day.
When he first played in the Finals in San Antonio back with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2007, his team made the mistake of staying in downtown along the Riverwalk. He was kept up half the night after losing Game 1 that June because of Spurs fans' long-running tradition of stalking the streets and honking their horns deep into the night after playoff victories.
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SAN ANTONIO -- Tim Duncan is still trying to figure out what hit him -- and why.
LeBron James and the Miami Heat are simply on edge.
Blame it on their inner Floyd Mayweather that has the Heat getting defensive about the slightest perceived, well, slights these days. It’s an attitude that’s eight months in the making. The two-time defending champions have reached the point after four straight trips to the NBA Finals that just going out and trying to win for the sake of winning is not only expected, it’s boring.
Why not shake things up, at least for show?
So when Duncan, the most decorated power forward in NBA history, suggested his San Antonio Spurs wouldn’t squander another opportunity to beat the Heat this time in the Finals that open with Game 1 on Thursday, it was akin to tossing raw meat into the lion’s den at a local zoo.
Never mind that, in reality, it was processed food. Technically, Duncan’s comments, which came immediately after San Antonio put away Oklahoma City in the Western Conference finals last week to set up the rematch with the Heat, were benign and far from legitimate bulletin-board material.
Yet still, the Heat parlayed it into motivational meat -- with James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh feasting on the manufactured disrespect from a Spurs team that had Miami in a 3-2 series deficit and was 28 seconds away from securing the fifth title in franchise history last June.
At this stage, those are fighting words for Miami.
"I can't sit here and lie to you," James said Wednesday of the perception Miami was gifted a title last season by a fluky Spurs collapse in Game 6, followed by another close loss in Game 7. "We feel slighted. It went seven. It wasn't like it was 3-0 and they had us in Game 4 and we took it and won four straight."
Two of the most respected and professional franchises in the NBA have traded some barbs that have turned a Finals rematch in basketball into one that feels like the prefight buildup to one in boxing.
So it's only fitting some members of the Heat continue to draw inspiration from a message Mayweather delivered to the team during a preseason visit that was arranged after he received a text from James. If there has been a collective chip on the Heat's shoulder as of late, it was placed there by the most polarizing boxer in the game eight months ago and has reemerged at the peak of the postseason.
"Basically, what I told LeBron and the team is that these guys are going to be gunning for you because you're world champions and people are coming for that throne," Mayweather said during a conference call about the Heat's quest for a third straight title. "I told them back then that each step was going to be rougher and rougher, and you have to get tougher to stay in this position."
If the Heat, collectively, were a prizefighter, they'd be Mayweather -- the "Pound for Pound" king of his sport who is as divisive among global fans as he is dominant in the ring. The flamboyant Mayweather remains undefeated through 46 fights and has defended titles in five weight classes.
Mayweather has attended Heat games during the playoffs and was at AmericanAirlines Arena to watch Miami’s most impressive performance of the postseason when they routed Indiana by 25 points in Game 6 last week to advance to the Finals.
As the Heat prepared to sharpen their title defense entering the season, they reached out to Mayweather, who recently recalled several points he made during his brief time with the team.
"Man, it's a lot of similarities," Mayweather said of the way he and the Heat have to deal with critics. "But it's different also because these guys are a team. With me, it's a one-on-one battle. But if the team loses, you realize still, LeBron James is going to have to take all the slack ... no different from a fighter."
Each round of the playoffs has brought out more feistiness from the Heat.
It started against Charlotte, when James was rocked as he drove to the basket by a forearm shot to the neck late in Game 2 by forward Josh McRoberts. James responded by averaging 30.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 7.5 assists in the final two games to complete a 4-0 sweep in the first round.
In the second round against Brooklyn, James and the Heat scoffed at some of the tough talk from Nets forward Paul Pierce. James also laughed off rumors that he had an altercation with Pierce and the two had to be separated in the tunnels of the Barclays Center after a game in Brooklyn.
James countered with a 49-point effort in Game 4 and combined with Wade for 57 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists to eliminate the Nets a game later in Miami. Miami then answered the irritating antics of Indiana's Lance Stephenson by annihilating the Pacers to close out the series in six games.
Veteran Heat forward Udonis Haslem, considered the team's resident enforcer, said he has carried one story from Mayweather's early-season testimony with him into the postseason. Mayweather told the Heat how he was nearly knocked out on his feet by a punch from Shane Mosley in the second round of their 2010 fight. It took Mayweather several rounds to recover before he won a unanimous decision.
"I remember him saying that was probably the closest he's ever been to being knocked out in a title fight," Haslem said. "We've been there before, too. He took a good hit. He was dazed a little bit. But he got himself together, finished the fight and won the fight. That's the same thing with us. It's been a long season to get back here. We've taken some hits. At times, we might have looked dazed a little bit, but as champions, you get up, keep going and get the job done. And that's what we're going to try to do."
Mayweather sees the spirit of a sharp fighter in the Heat after all their battles.
"You don't stay on top by keep doing things one way," he said. "You have to make adjustments and always be ready to adapt to many styles. That's basically what I told them."
The Heat apparently listened and applied those lessons all these months later.
Much like Mayweather, they don't just take on good fights; they have a flair for finishing them.
Even if it requires a bit of manufactured motivation to remain on edge in the Finals.
SAN ANTONIO -- Eight months later, it’s still difficult to discern which element nagged the Miami Heat most back then.
Was it the noise?
Or the numbers?
In customary fashion after big home playoff wins, many San Antonio Spurs fans had filled the streets and were banging pots and pans to celebrate being just one victory from the franchise’s fifth NBA title after the Spurs beat the Heat in Game 5 of the Finals this past summer.
But the more annoying noise for the Heat was the line of questions they took, facing the brink of elimination and a disastrous end to their season. And then there were the numbers.
The Spurs had just shot 60 percent from the field to obliterate Miami’s defense in a 114-104 victory that gave them a 3-2 series lead. And history revealed that the Game 5 winner of a series that was tied 2-2 had gone on to win the NBA championship 20 out of 27 times.
“We’re going to see if we’re better prepared for this moment,” Heat guard Dwyane Wade said then.
Of course, those days of uncertainty last summer are long gone now for the Heat, who rallied to win the last two games of the series back in Miami to secure their second straight NBA title. But, as stunning as Ray Allen's clutch 3-pointer was in Game 6 and as remarkably efficient as LeBron James was in the Game 7 clincher, it was the moments after Game 5 that proved most pivotal for Miami.
When the Heat enter the AT&T Center for Thursday’s game against the Spurs, it will be their first trip back to San Antonio since June 16, 2013. That’s the date James, Chris Bosh and Wade left the arena facing elimination and speculation that their run as teammates might be over.
This time, the Heat return with a completely different vibe as they look to regroup from their first loss in nine games and fine-tune for a postseason run they hope will end with a third consecutive championship. But if there’s any place in the league that serves as a reminder heading down the stretch of the resolve necessary for Miami to push through any obstacles, it’s San Antonio.
After Tuesday’s loss in Houston, the Heat had a full day off in San Antonio on Wednesday to get reacquainted with the place before Thursday’s game. It remains a city they’d just as soon forget.
“It’s memories,” said James, who on Wednesday was named the league’s Eastern Conference Player of the Month. “We just played them in the Finals. Obviously, just going there is always a place of horrors. I haven’t had a lot of success there in my career. But it’s always fun going against a very, very well-coached, well-machined organization and team with so many great players.”
Barring any late developments, the Heat and the Spurs will have the core of their respective rotations available Thursday for the first time since Game 7 of the Finals. The Heat took the first meeting of the season with a 113-101 victory Jan. 26 in Miami, but the Spurs were without three injured starters.
The Spurs played all five of their starters from the Finals in Tuesday’s 122-101 win in Cleveland, with All-Star point guard Tony Parker in his second game back from a six-game absence to address injuries. It was one of the best performances of the season for San Antonio, which had 39 assists on 43 field goals.
The Heat (43-15) and Spurs (44-16) always have had plenty in common beyond their respective runs last year through the postseason. Miami’s Erik Spoelstra and San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich are the league’s two longest-tenured coaches with their teams, and they lead two of the NBA’s most decorated cores.
But they share more than recent history. The Heat and Spurs have the second-best records in their respective conferences and sit 1½ games back of the No. 1 seeds with six weeks left in the regular season. Both also have won eight of their past 10 games and have overcome some recent nagging injuries.
Nearly a year has passed, but not much has changed between these perennial contenders. That’s why the Heat had little interest in looking back to last season when it’s a strong possibility they could be looking down the road toward another June meeting with the Spurs in a Finals rematch.
“We don’t necessarily have fond memories; we did drop two of three there,” Spoelstra said of losing Games 3 and 5 in San Antonio in June. “The last game we had there was a tough one. That was probably the worst game we had over there. We had to really be able to collect ourselves, to be able to have that energy [needed] to win two games at home.”
The last time the Heat were on the Spurs' court, Manu Ginobili emerged from a postseason slump to finish with 24 points and 10 assists in Game 5. It was also the night Danny Green set the Finals records for 3-pointers by making six to bring his series total to 25 through five games. San Antonio had all five starters score in double figures, which prompted Spoelstra to rip his team’s effort afterward.
“At times, they were just picking one guy out at a time and going at us mano a mano,” Spoelstra said in his postgame comments. “That’s got to change.”
James then declared that Miami’s effort would be better in Game 6 out of necessity. Still, the Heat needed a miraculous finish -- and got one by rallying from a five-point deficit in the final 20 seconds -- to force a Game 7. When Popovich brought the Spurs to Miami for a preseason game, he told reporters he still has nightmares about how the final two games played out at AmericanAirlines Arena this past June. So evidently, there’s enough heartache on each opposing team’s home court to spread around.
The Spurs and Heat are two of the oldest teams in the league, although James, Wade and Bosh are much younger overall than Duncan, Parker and Ginobili. Still, James suggests it’s always foolish to count out the Spurs based on their age. James said the Boston Celtics were the same way when skeptics thought they were over the hill in those last seasons with Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen.
“I never buy into that,” James said. “I’ve always been asked about that. I never bought into that. I never bought into that with the Celtics team with Ray and KG and all of them. Everybody talked about they were too old, and next thing you know they’re in the Finals again.”
For now, the Heat aim to shake off Tuesday’s 106-103 loss in Houston and avoid being swept on the Texas leg of a three-game trip that wraps up Sunday in Chicago. Wade said the Heat can overlook the June losses in San Antonio and focus on their road victory there in Game 4 instead.
“We have to step up to the challenge,” Wade said. “We lost the first one on this road trip. And [San Antonio] is a place where, obviously, everyone has a tough time playing. But we’ve shown that we can win there. We’ve got to go in there and play a complete game.”
But the San Antonio Spurs' big men clearly experienced the downside of being on one side of Oden, who made his most explosive move amid his comeback from multiple knee surgeries that sidelined him for four years.
The play came late in the second quarter, when Oden slipped into the lane, caught a pass from Dwyane Wade and slammed down a dunk in traffic while sandwiched between Duncan and burly Spurs forward Boris Diaw. Oden insisted after the game that it was no big deal, and worth only two points.
Literally speaking, he’s correct.
Figuratively, it was the latest point Oden has made to show just how much of a potential impact he can make in the rotation as the Heat try to hit their stride over the second half of the season. Oden's dunk was the only field goal he made in Sunday's 113-101 Heat victory against the Spurs in their first regular-season meeting since Miami won Game 7 of the NBA Finals in June.
The bigger sign of progress for Oden was the season-high 13 minutes he played in his fifth game back.
“He looked good in the minutes he played; he played solid for them,” Duncan said when asked what kind of lift Oden might provide down the line. “He’s a big body in there, obviously, and finished around the rim. They’re very good at moving bodies in and out of there, so who knows what he’ll bring?”
Duncan is the latest in a growing line of the league’s high-profile post players to face Oden as he takes the initial steps in a long-awaited journey back to becoming a regular contributor to an NBA rotation. Duncan, who finished with 23 points, missed his first two shots and had a turnover on his first three touches after Oden entered the game with 7:22 left in the second quarter.
Oden is still searching for his offensive rhythm, something that may be a long time coming, but the former No. 1 overall pick has already shown flashes of how disruptive he can be defensively. Oden had similar stints in recent appearances against Pau Gasol of the Lakers and Bobcats center Al Jefferson.
After the Heat’s win against the Lakers on Thursday, Gasol said it was good to have Oden back as an active member of the NBA’s big-man fraternity.
“I was happy that he was on the floor [and] I wish him luck,” Gasol said. “I hope he can just play and hopefully the knee won’t bother him too much and he continues to get better.”
Jefferson offered a similar sentiment when he stopped by the visitors locker room to speak to Heat assistant coaches after Miami’s win in Charlotte a week ago. Oden said he appreciates the acknowledgement from his peers, but knows he’s a long way from being a consistently effective player.
“It’s been a long road for me, and just to get back on the court and battle against those guys, it definitely means a lot,” Oden said. “They’re the best of the best. Just for me to be out there, knowing everything I’ve been through, I’m just happy to be doing it.”
Oden, sitting quietly at his Heat locker, then shook his head and looked toward the dozens of reporters who were waiting near the lockers belonging to Wade, Chris Bosh and LeBron James. He then pointed out all of the things he didn't do well on the court Sunday, and how he wishes he could help his teammates more during his short stints. Oden has been his own biggest critic, at times even strangely self-deprecating, since he first returned to action Jan. 15 against Washington.
In five games, Oden has played 42 minutes with totals of 17 points, 10 rebounds, 10 fouls and 3 blocks. His teammates are more appreciative of things he does that don’t show up in the box score.
“He’s continuing to get comfortable, and we’re continuing to get comfortable with him,” Wade said. “He’s causing a little havoc down there, just getting tipped balls. Going to the basket on him isn't going to be easy. He’ll make you change your shot. He’s working very hard, and we love when he’s in there. Hopefully he continues to progress to where we need him to be come April, May and hopefully June.”
Meanwhile, Oden looks to continue to work off the rust.
“I know there are a couple of plays when I was setting picks and I probably picked two guys at once,” Oden said of the difference his presence makes. “Just going down there and making two guys come and try to block me out, that's just taking another man off our guys and freeing them up somewhat. That’s how I can make a difference right now, because my offense isn't where I want it to be and my wind isn't where I want it to be. So the more I’m working on that, the more I’m working on things I can do.”
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich insisted it’s important to keep the long view in mind with Oden as he works through some conditioning issues in his attempt to play longer stretches in games. But in short bursts, he’s already proved to be a handful.
“I was impressed,” Popovich said. “He can plug some holes in there, block some shots, get some boards and be there for dump-offs [offensively]. He can be a big help. I just don’t know how far that he’s progressed or what’s his ceiling. But I was impressed with him.”
Oden is embracing the small strides along the way.
There was the blocked shot on a driving Jeff Green against the Celtics on Tuesday. Before that, it was pounding in the paint against the rugged Jefferson in Charlotte. And this week, there were the props from Pau followed by Sunday’s dunk on Duncan.
It’s all incremental progress for Oden.
“Considering that I missed my [previous] dunk, I’m just happy that one went in,” Oden said. “I didn’t score after that. But it was a good play. I can get better. But any time I walk off the court OK, it’s good.”