MIAMI — The Miami Heat weren’t supposed to be in this situation. Not now, anyway.
Coming home from Texas with their season on the line in 2011 was one thing. They were at the end of their first year together — LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh were still learners.
But this season they were the NBA’s best team, one that lost three games in three months and made losing three times in one series look unlikely, if not downright unimaginable.
The San Antonio Spurs can finish Miami off on Tuesday in Game 6 of the NBA Finals, reaffirming themselves as one of the league’s greatest franchises.
If so, the Heat’s Big Three once again go from celebrated to devastated.
“We’re going to see if we’re a better team than we were our first year together,” James said.
The Spurs took a 3-2 series lead with their 114-104 victory on Sunday. Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili were all brilliant again, and Danny Green added to what could become one of the most out-of-nowhere campaigns ever for the finals’ most valuable player.
One more victory makes the Spurs 5-0 in the NBA Finals, keeping pace with Michael Jordan’s 6-0 Chicago Bulls as the only teams to make it here multiple times and never lose.
“Obviously, you want to finish in the first opportunity you get,” Parker said. “We understand that Miami is going to come out with a lot more energy, and they’re going to play better at home. They’re going to shoot the ball better. Their crowd is going to be behind them.”
None of that mattered two years ago.
Clearly reeling and their psyches shaken after dropping two straight games in Dallas to the Mavericks, the Heat were blitzed early in Game 6. They never recovered. Bosh was inconsolable as he made his way back to the locker room afterward while the Mavericks celebrated at center court.
James had to endure the criticisms that came with not getting it done in the finals, a story line that was put to rest last year but will be back again if the Heat don’t win.
The Heat would also host Game 7 on Thursday. They’re trying to join the 1988 and 2010 Los Angeles Lakers and 1994 Houston Rockets as the only teams to rally from 3-2 down by winning the final two on their home floor since the NBA Finals went to a 2-3-2 format in 1985.
Of course, the Heat — who won 27 in a row during the second-longest winning streak in league history — haven’t put together consecutive victories now in close to a month.
“Everything that we’ve done all year comes to this point, and we have to win,” Heat guard Ray Allen said. “We’ve found ourselves in so many situations this year, and we’ve thrived in tough moments because this is a tough team. We will be ready for Game 6.”
Their four titles have made the Spurs respected but never beloved. Their first, in 1999, came following a 50-game lockout season, and they certainly weren’t the team to help the NBA regain its jilted fan base.
Victories in 2003 over New Jersey, in 2005 over Detroit and in 2007 over James’ Cleveland Cavaliers were all low-rated, lukewarm-interest series in which the Spurs were supposed to win and did, just not in a way that erased the idea that they had boring players with a boring brand of basketball.
Win this one, though, and they will surely receive their due. They would be knocking off the league’s most successful team and the game’s best player, with Duncan at 37 and Ginobili soon to be 36, behind a more wide-open offense that has helped Green break Allen’s finals record for 3-pointers.
“We’ll reflect back and let it hit us when it’s over,” said Green, who was cut previously by the Cavaliers and Spurs and now has made 25 3-pointers in the first five games. “We still have a lot more work to do. There’s still some business to be done. We have to carry it out and finish it.”