Get ready for the madness, Miami.
These crazy, unpredictable, back-and-forth NBA Finals are headed back to where it started for the big finish. Miami’s championship hopes now teeter on the edge of oblivion after Sunday’s 114-104 loss to the Spurs in Game 5 of the NBA Finals. The Heat, which trails San Antonio 3-2 in the series, must now win two games in a row to win its second consecutive NBA championship.
And that’s going to be difficult. The Heat hasn’t won back-to-back games since Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals.
“We’re going to see if we’re a better team than our first year together,” LeBron James said, reminding everyone of how the Heat collapsed on its home court to the Mavericks in Game 6 of the 2011 Finals.
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After blowing out the Spurs on their home court on Thursday with one of its best playoff games in the Big 3 Era, the Heat looked equally as awful in Game 5.
After winning 27 games in a row during the regular season, the Heat’s bipolar act is now a troubling trend.
The good news: The Heat hasn’t lost back-to-back games since Jan. 10.
But that provides little comfort for South Florida now that the Heat is one loss away from losing the series. The Heat must win Game 6 on Tuesday at AmericanAirlines Arena to extend the series.
It’s do-or-die time.
“The most important game is Game 6 and we can’t worry about a Game 7,” James said. “We got a Game 6 on our home floor.”
The Spurs responded to the pressure of a must-win scenario on Sunday with arguably their best game this postseason.
Manu Ginobili, inserted into the starting lineup after struggling to find his rhythm to begin the series, scored a season-high 24 points in San Antonio’s rout while also dishing out 10 assists. The series has featured four blowouts since the Spurs defeated the Heat in Game 1 in Miami by four points.
“We just need one more,” Spurs forward Tim Duncan said. “I think everyone from the top on down wants this one really badly.”
The Heat evened the series with 85 points from the Big 3 in Game 4, and the Spurs responded with big performances from pretty much everyone in Game 5.
Tony Parker, playing with a strained hamstring, led San Antonio with 26 points, going 10 of 14 from the field with five assists. Duncan had 17 points and 12 rebounds. Kawhi Leonard had 16 points.
And then there was Danny Green, the Spurs’ breakout performer of series. He had 24 points with a barrage of three-pointers, which always seemed to be wide-open looks at the basket.
“That will be something that we have to correct, and we just got to do it better,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of guarding Green. “Got to do it harder, and be more committed. He’s getting some open looks, and he’s making some contested looks. But the open looks are the ones that are killing us.”
Green made his sixth three-pointer of the game with 1:06 left to begin the celebration early in the Spurs’ final home game of the season. The shot gave San Antonio a 114-101 lead and gave Green 25 three-pointers in the series, an NBA Finals record.
“I’ve just been getting lucky,” Green said.
Green went 6 of 10 from three-point range in Game 5 and is 25 of 48 from distance in the series.
Meanwhile, the Heat once again responded to a victory by playing terribly to begin the game. The Heat was outscored 32-19 in the first period and never led in the game.
“They continue to have great starts; we continue to start slow,” Dwyane Wade said. “We just dug ourselves in a deep hole very early.”
The Heat made it interesting, but only briefly.
Miami cut the Spurs’ lead to 75-74 in the third quarter and the game appeared to be headed for a dramatic finish, but the Spurs responded with a 19-1 run into the fourth quarter. A put-back back by Duncan gave San Antonio a 19-point lead with 9:33 to play.
“Once we got it back to one and we felt that we had weathered the storm, then we missed a couple of shots that we normally are accustomed to making, and then it just snowballed down the hill from there,” Spoelstra said. “And we couldn’t control it. And so we just didn’t show the mental resolve that we needed to at that point.”
The Spurs won handily despite turning the ball over 19 times for 20 points.
James, Wade, Chris Bosh and Ray Allen played well, combining to score 87 points, but couldn’t overcome the Spurs’ efficient performance.
San Antonio shot 60 percent from the field and 40.9 percent (9 of 22) from three-point range. The Heat was 11 of 23 from three-point range, but shot just 43 percent overall.
“All of them made shots,” Wade said. “They shot 60 percent from the field in a tough game, so credit to the Spurs.”
James and Wade scored 25 points each in another excellent performance by the Heat’s attacking wings. Wade also had 10 assists and four rebounds. James had eight assists and six rebounds.
Bosh was 7 of 11 from the field for 16 points to go along with six rebounds. He had four offensive rebounds in the first half to help keep the game close.
Allen had 21 points off the bench, including a pair of four-point plays. He was 7 of 10 from the field, 4 of 4 from three-point range and 3 of 3 from the free-throw line in 30 1/2 minutes.
On a normal night, three scorers with more than 20 points would guarantee a Heat victory, but the Spurs were too good. Ginobili, seemingly absent from the series for the first four games, turned in a vintage performance similar to Wade’s resurgent effort in Game 4. The Argentine was averaging 7.5 points in The Finals before Sunday.
“I had a better game but I’m not sure it was because I started,” Ginobili said. “I attacked better and got to the free-throw line a little more and those things combined got me going.”
His nine points in the third quarter gave San Antonio a 12-point lead entering the final period and the AT&T Center serenaded him with chants of “Manu! Manu!”
“I needed it,” said Ginobili, who last had a 24-point, 10-assist performance in 2008. “It felt great when I heard that and it was a much-needed moment it the series.”