One of the NBA’s marquee games of the first half of the season turned into an embarrassment for the league on Thursday at AmericanAirlines Arena.
Citing logic and a home game against the Grizzlies on Saturday, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich showed up to the arena without stars Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. Instead of taking on the NBA’s defending champions with his full roster of players, Popovich sent Duncan, Parker, Ginobili and Danny Green home to San Antonio a day before the end of the Spurs’ six-game road trip.
Then, after NBA commissioner David Stern publicly apologized to fans in a statement and scolded the Spurs, San Antonio nearly won the game. The Heat was pushed to the brink by the dregs of the Spurs’ roster, winning 105-100 in another come-from-behind victory.
“Add that to something I’ve seen in my years throughout this league,” Heat forward Chris Bosh said. “Maybe next time we’ll get to play them at full strength.
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The game was nationally televised on TNT, and Stern was none too happy about Popovich and the Spurs’ decision to fly their stars home after Wednesday’s victory against Orlando.
“I apologize to all NBA fans,” Stern said. “This was an unacceptable decision by the San Antonio Spurs and substantial sanctions will be forthcoming.”
Stern’s tough pregame words seemed to have a little less bite after the first quarter, when the Spurs unexpectedly were ahead by four points. Still, the Heat’s players even seemed a little perturbed by Popovich’s maverick decision.
“There’s a part of you that’s disappointed,” said Bosh, who had 18 points and a team-high 12 rebounds. “And I’m sure there were a lot of people that were disappointed in not being able to watch two of the best teams in the league play.
“I’m always a competitor. I don’t care about wins and losses. I care about competing. That’s what’s most important to me and not being able to go against the best, especially when you only play them two times a year.”
The weird circumstances of the game set the stage for a dramatic, if not bizarrely close, game.
Of course, this whole broken-record scenario of Ray Allen hitting a three-pointer to give the Heat (11-3) its lead in the final seconds is getting a bit predictable.
Allen won Saturday’s game against Cleveland with a late-game three-pointer and did it again against the Spurs. LeBron James assisted Allen on Saturday and did once again with 22.6 seconds left on Thursday.
“It’s nothing we practice,” Allen said. “It’s just playing good basketball down the stretch, keeping the floor spaced.”
Allen’s three-pointer from the left wing gave the Heat a 100-98 lead after trailing by five points with two minutes to play.
A key steal by James with 20 seconds left helped Miami pad its lead, but the Spurs still wouldn’t go away.
San Antonio (13-4) trailed 103-100 with 6.9 seconds left when Gary Neal’s three-point attempt caromed off the side of the rim and into Dwyane Wade’s outstretched arms.
James led the Heat with 23 points, nine rebounds and seven assists, despite appearing a bit uninterested early in the game. He had seven points in the fourth quarter.
Allen finished with 20 points off the bench and had 11 in the fourth quarter. He was 7 of 15 from the floor.
Wade had 19 points, five rebounds and five assists. Bosh was 8 of 14 from the field.
Neal led the Spurs with 20 points off the bench. Tiago Splitter had 19 points and nine rebounds, and rookie Lando De Colo had 15 points, six rebounds and five assists.
Patty Mills swished a three-pointer out of a Spurs timeout to tie the score at 81 with 9:05 remaining. The Heat trailed by four points with 5:28 left in the game
Wade flipped the ball high over his head in frustration after Udonis Haslem was called for a foul inside against Splitter with 3:04 left. Splitter made 1 of 2 free throws to put the Spurs ahead 95-89.