LeBron James stood under the basket in disbelief, as if he were too shocked to move. It was only a second, but it was long enough to understand the power of the moment. Danny Green had blocked James at the rim in transition, and James was having a hard time processing the information.
James retained possession after the block but then blew a layup, which added to the surreal look on his face.
With James in a trance, the Spurs raced down the court and Tony Parker knocked down a floater to put San Antonio ahead by six points with six minutes left in the third quarter.
In that crucial period — the Spurs later linked together a 19-1 run that stretched into the final quarter — James and Dwyane Wade combined to go 1 of 6 on shots from point-blank range.
What’s the key to Game 6 for the Heat, which trails the Spurs 3-2 in the NBA Finals? It might be as simple as making a few more layups.
“They’re a very great team; we’re a great team as well,” Wade said. “So at this time we’re going to make another adjustment. It’s going to be very small. But that’s not what’s going to win the ball game. Just like [Sunday night], the adjustment they made with throwing more isolations at Tony Parker didn’t necessarily win the ball game but it helped. It changed things.
“So we have to go back, we have to make adjustments. But more so than that, it’s a lot of mental mistakes we made. … If we make those mistakes in Game 6, it will be the same result. So we have to be more locked in from start to finish.”
In Game 5, the Heat was 19 of 41 on shots around the basket, which is more than 10 percent below the league average from that distance. But James and Wade were worse — much, much worse.
The Heat’s attacking wings, inexplicably, combined to go 9 of 25 (36 percent) on layups, dunks and shots taken only a few feet from the rim.
“I think that’s where it starts for us, honestly,” James said. “Getting into the paint.”
And that’s where it ended. James and Wade went 2 of 12 on shots around the basket in the second half.
“I think between the two of us, we probably missed 12 layups [Sunday night] — transition layups that we usually convert,” James said. “I missed a lob. I missed two layups, transition on the same possession. I know D-Wade had a few layups that we’re accustomed to making.
“Those are points in the paint that we weren’t able to convert, which we are not worried about. Those are shots we make. And maybe it would be a different turnout at that point.”
Maybe it’s time to start worrying just a bit.
The Spurs can win the series with a victory on Tuesday in Game 6. The Heat must win Games 6 and 7 to earn its second consecutive championship, but the Heat hasn’t won back-to-back games since Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals. Of course, the Heat hasn’t lost back-to-back games since Jan. 10.
With the Heat missing layups and dunks — James’ blown alley-oop from Mario Chalmers in the first quarter was one of the most memorable and a sign of things to come — it had no chance of keeping pace with the Spurs, who shot 60 percent from the field (42 of 70).
Green’s performance from three-point range was the headline grabber from Sunday night, but the Spurs went an efficient 22 of 31 (71 percent) from around the basket.
Tim Duncan, Kawhi Leonard and Parker combined to shoot 14 of 17(82.4 percent) at the rim. Overall, the Spurs outscored the Heat 50-40 in the paint.
“We have to bring a lot more energy and we will have to accept the challenge playing defense one-on-one,” Chris Bosh said. “They are really coming at us one-on-one and we will have to keep the ball in front of us and force them to miss more shots.
“We weren’t able to get our fast-break game going and our defensive rebounding wasn’t there because they didn’t miss many shots. This is the reason that you play 82 games, to get home court, and we have to defend home court.”