SAN ANTONIO -- The mask came off in the first half, but it didn’t help. Nothing did on this night.
LeBron James called the Spurs’ arena a house of “horror” planted hauntingly throughout his career, and his recurring nightmare resurfaced once again Thursday night at AT&T Center. It was the Heat’s first game in San Antonio since the 2013 NBA Finals, and the 111-87 loss made it hard to believe the two-time defending champions actually won a game here during the seven-game series.
James ditched his mask after the game’s first timeout, and he also wasn’t very comfortable in the Heat’s sleeved “El Heat” jerseys, which the NBA has required six teams to wear during the league’s eighth annual “Latin Nights” program. James scored 61 points on Monday night against the Bobcats, but the wardrobe distractions, the broken nose and, most importantly, the Spurs’ defensive pressure reduced the back-to-back MVP to merely mortal. He finished with 19 points, going 6 of 18 from the field and 0 of 3 from three-point range.
It was the Heat’s largest margin of defeat this season. Stunningly, the team is now 3-32 all-time against the Spurs in San Antonio. The loss also marked the first time since James went to Miami that the Heat (43-16) has trailed wire-to-wire in back-to-back games. The Rockets defeated the Heat on Tuesday.
James said the sleeved jerseys constricted his shooting motion and joked that he already didn’t “have much room for error on my jump shot anyway.”
“I’m not making any excuses, but I’m not a big fan of the jerseys,” James said. “So I got to figure something out the next time I wear the short-sleeved jerseys. … Every time I shoot, it just feels like it’s pulling.”
On the mask, James said his wife, Savannah, messaged him at halftime to put it back on.
“So I may be in trouble when I get home,” he said.
Following a timeout with 6:06 left in the fourth quarter, James lost his possession at the top of the key and then kicked the ball down the court for a turnover. The sequence, initiated by the defensive work of Kawhi Leonard, summed up the second game of this three-game road trip. The Heat, which had 10 turnovers in the fourth quarter, lacked the focus required to walk into AT&T and steal a victory.
“[San Antonio] is a very good team offensively,” Dwyane Wade said. “They move the ball well and they get great shots, and then you give them the ball right back on a turnover … we didn’t help ourselves [Thursday night].”
Tim Duncan led the Spurs with 23 points, going 9 of 13 from the field. He also had 11 rebounds. The cerebral forward made a jumper in the fourth quarter to extend the Spurs’ lead and then pumped his fist ever so slightly.
For a player who rarely shows emotion, the body language spoke volumes. The Spurs wanted this one badly. Tony Parker had 17 points and four assists, and Boris Diaw, a late addition to the starting lineup, had 16 points. Diaw, a mismatch for the Heat’s defense, was 5 of 5 from the field and 2 of 2 from three-point range.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich joked before the game that he decided to start Diaw over Tiago Splitter to fool the Heat. It worked.
“We’re just tricking the hell out of them,” Popovich said. “They’ll never know what hit them.”
Chris Bosh led the Heat with 24 points, going 10 of 16 from the field, and kept Miami in the game for the first three quarters.
But the Spurs put the game away with plenty of time to celebrate in the fourth. A throwaway pass by Bosh ended with a breakaway dunk by Leonard midway through the fourth quarter and gave the Spurs a 95-80 lead.
Wade had 16 points and was 7 of 15 from the field. Michael Beasley had 11 points off the bench. Guards Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole struggled for the second game in a row.
Ray Allen, who demoralized the Spurs with his three-pointer in Game 6 of last year’s Finals, had just six points. He was 2 of 5 from the field.
The Heat had 21 turnovers, which the Spurs converted into 21 points. James led the Heat with five giveaways. The Spurs outrebounded the Heat 45-36 and scored 46 points in the paint compared with 38 for the Heat.
Beasley and Allen finished the first half alongside Wade, James and Bosh, and Beasley’s three-pointer from the corner with 9.7 seconds left cut San Antonio’s lead to eight points.
But momentum shifted back to the Spurs before the break.
With 1.8 seconds left in the second quarter, Diaw drained a wide-open three-pointer to give San Antonio a 62-51 lead at halftime.