After getting beaten mercilessly in the paint for three quarters, the Heat switched to the same lineup that had given it its best quarter of basketball earlier in the NBA Finals.
On Tuesday night, it helped the Heat force overtime and save its season in a dramatic Game 6 win.
A vintage performance by Tim Duncan (30 points, 17 rebounds) helped him and the rest of the Spurs frontcourt dominate Miami’s power forwards until the fourth.
That’s when the Heat’s smaller lineup that had two of the Heat’s “Big 3” on the bench helped it rally.
The five-man set was the same look the Heat threw at the Spurs during its memorable 33-5 surge in the second half of Game 2 that turned a 62-61 deficit into a 94-67 lead in a matter of eight minutes.
The same lineup of LeBron James, Ray Allen, Mike Miller, Mario Chalmers and Chris Andersen erased a 12-point deficit and helped the Heat overcome what was at one point a 30-point disparity in points in the paint.
Chris Bosh re-entered the game after the Heat took the lead 85-82 in the fourth quarter. His defensive effort down the stretch was a key, including the clinching block on Danny Green as time expired.
“We have to get contributions from everybody,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “This is elite competition. These two teams aren’t backing down. Different rotations work at different times during the game. We’ll see what happens in the next one.”
The Heat opened the fourth quarter with those five players, and they outscored the Spurs 19-7, taking a three-point lead with 5:28 left.
The tide turned when James scored on three layups and a dunk, playing the best he had in the fourth quarter in the series.
A foul-plagued Chris Andersen returned to the game after going scoreless for the first three quarters and drew a foul on Duncan.
Mike Miller hit a three with one shoe on, and Ray Allen scored on a drive to the basket.
Allen hit the score-tying three-pointer with five seconds remaining to tie it at 95.
“We talked about not taking possessions off,’’ Allen said. “After the second quarter, we did that less and less.’’
And Mario Chalmers carried over his efforts from a first half in which he scored 14 points.
It momentarily overshadowed an ineffective effort that had the Spurs entering the quarter having outscored the Heat down low 44-16.
San Antonio outscored the Heat in the paint in each of its victories in the series, but this was the highest margin. The largest disparity before that was 10 points in Game 5.
San Antonio picked up only two more rebounds than Miami in the first half, but it outscored the Heat 32-12 in the paint. The disparity increased to 46-16 early in the fourth quarter.
Andersen got in foul trouble, picking up three in a little over six minutes after not having played in Game 5.
Bosh defended Duncan through most of it but could not slow him down as Duncan made each of his first eight shots and 11 of his first 13.
Duncan outscored the trio of James, Bosh and Wade 25-21 in the first half.
Udonis Haslem, one of the Heat’s best interior defenders, did not play.
Kawhi Leonard’s tip-in with one second left capped the 11 consecutive points the Spurs scored to take a 50-44 halftime lead.