It had all the makings of the Miami Heat’s initial matchup with the San Antonio Spurs in late December.
Only this time around, however, the roles were reversed. The Spurs, who played without Tim Duncan, Danny Green, and Tony Parker the first game, were at full strength with the exception of Manu Ginobili, who ended up missing both meetings with Miami this season.
Miami, who played with their “Big Three” in the first meeting”, decided to send out a team that would be playing without LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Mario Chalmers.
They instead started a lineup composed of Norris Cole, Mike Miller, Rashard Lewis, Udonis Haslem, and Chris Bosh into a stadium where they had only won two times in franchise history, as well as facing the Western Conference’s best team led by an MVP candidate in Tony Parker and a Defensive Player of the Year candidate in Tim Duncan.
The Heat found a way to open up an eight-point lead in the third quarter, and even went into the fourth with a seven-point lead. Naturally it was expected the Spurs were going to make their run and steal a victory, since they were a 55-17 team with four losses at home on the season.
The Spurs took back the lead on a Duncan jumper that made it 83-82 with 2:59 remaining in the fourth. He then added some cushion to the lead with a fadeaway that gave the Spurs a three-point lead with 1:21 remaining.
Neither team was scoring anything with ease. The Spurs shot 3-of-10 in the final five minutes, but the Heat were no better shooting 1-of-5 and coughing up the ball twice in that same five minute span.
That one field-goal for the Heat turned out to be the most significant of the game.
Following outstanding one-on-one defense by Udonis Haslem on Duncan, the Heat chose not to call a time-out and set up a play with less than ten seconds remaining. Instead, Ray Allen scooped up the board and immediately ran down court.
Allen attracted the attention of the Spurs’ defense, leaving Bosh wide-open for a three-pointer at the top of the perimeter. After missing a go-ahead three-pointer with 2:29 remaining, Bosh rose up without hesitation and drained the 26-footer to give the Heat an 88-86 lead with 1.1 seconds remaining.
Bosh shot 3-of-5 from beyond the arc and 9-of-15 overall, good enough for 23 points to also accompany nine rebounds, three assists, and two blocks.
The Spurs couldn’t get off a clean look and the Heat did what San Antonio couldn’t do in their first meeting: finish off the better team.
The main problem was San Antonio not having LeBron James. That may have ended up playing a key factor in losing to a team playing without three starters.
Every Heat player that stepped on the floor played a significant role in the victory. The team collectively shot 12-of-28 from beyond the arc, receiving a game-high four from Mike Miller alone.
Ray Allen and Shane Battier each hit two three-pointers, while Rashard Lewis was able to drain one of his six attempts. Lewis may have struggled from the perimeter, but a season-high four blocks laid the groundwork for a strong defensive effort from a team that was without its two best scorers and one of its best three-point threats.
Miami forced the Spurs into 44 percent shooting overall and 29 percent shooting from deep, while also forcing 12 turnovers. The Spurs rank second in the league in field-goal percentage at 48.6 percent and third in three-point percentage at 38.2 percent.
It seems that the Spurs fell into the same trap the Heat have nearly fallen victim to so many times: not taking an opponent seriously. Miami rocketed off to a 7-0 lead, and the Spurs were never able to create distance when equipped with a decent-sized lead.
San Antonio appeared ready to run away with it following a Kawhi Leonard layup that gave the Spurs an eight-point lead with two minutes left in the second. However, the Spurs missed their final three shots of the half and Allen hit a three-pointer to cut San Antonio’s halftime lead to five.
Miami then used a huge run to start the third to take as much as an eight-point lead following a Rashard Lewis fastbreak layup with three minutes left in the third.
Seeing the Heat’s role players and Chris Bosh never stop fighting, even when facing an eight-point deficit and the Spurs carrying momentum, was one of the most admirable sights of what has been a historic season for the 2012-’13 Miami Heat.
It also brings about memories of the Heat’s short-handed win over the Atlanta Hawks. Playing alongside the likes of Terrel Harris and Mario Chalmers as his most significant contributors that night, Bosh hit a game-tying three-pointer at the buzzer to send the game into overtime.
Miami eventually pulled out a victory in two overtimes.
What a boost on confidence for Bosh, too. He hasn’t been the same player since before the All-Star break. Having him as the primary scoring option where he was free to take as many shots as he wanted in an otherwise meaningless game, even if there were home-court in the playoffs implications, was one of the Erik Spoelstra’s greatest ideas of the season.
He couldn’t have picked a better time. The playoffs are not even three weeks away, and it appears that Miami will secure home-court advantage throughout the playoffs thanks to the win over the Spurs that gave the Heat a tiebreaker edge for best record in the league.
Miami moves to 58-15 on the season and are winners of 29 of their past 30 games. They are three wins away from tying the all-time record for victories in a season, set by the 1996-’97 Miami Heat.
The Heat play the New York Knicks back home on Tuesday. Miami is 1-2 against the Knicks this season, winning the prior matchup in New York behind a huge fourth quarter by LeBron.
There is no word on whether James and Wade will play, but my guess would be a resounding yes.
Also, HOW YOU LOVE THAT, CHRIS BOSH HATERS? TREMENDOUS AMOUNTS OF HATE AND HE HITS A GAME-WINNER OVER THE BEST POWER FORWARD IN NBA HISTORY.
THEN HE HAD SEX WITH HIS WIFE AND YOURS, TOO, FOR GOOD MEASURE.